In cities, some said the old man was crazy
While others said he was only lazy;
But he took no notice of gibes and jeers,
He knew he was working for future years…
And if they inquire whence came such trees
Where not a bough once swayed in the breeze,
The answer still comes, as they travel on,
“These trees were planted by Apple-Seed John.”
– Lydia Maria Child
When one thinks of the name Johnny Appleseed, many a look of confusion may come across the reader’s faces, or perhaps the slight memory of a Disney Animated Short of the same name, brought back from its 1948 obscurity thanks to a 2001 Release of animated shorts released as Disney’s American Legends. Like many of America’s mythological figures in its frontier and settler culture, Johnny Appleseed was a real man much like that of Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett.
Johnny Appleseed was born on September 26, 1774 as John Chapman in Leominster Massachusetts. His father Nathaniel served in the War of Independence, and after the death of John’s mother, he would return to raise his children and remarry a Miss Lucy Cooley. Mr. Chapman (Appleseed) would grow up and head to the West as the nation expanded past the Appalachian Mountains into the Ohio territories, which we associate as the Midwestern part of the United States. At just 26 years old, he had already learned the trade of being an orchardist, and his journey out into the frontier began just 6 years later in 1806 with two strapped canoes, his seeds, and his bible.
Johnny Appleseed was a devout Christian of the Swedenborgian New Church Movement, a “primitive Christian movement” labeled by some of its detractors, but nevertheless he was quick to read the Gospel when he wasn’t at his labors, and had famously taken a form of frontiersman-like asceticism, planting his trees and exchanging seeds for the clothes he’d wear, and to preach out in the open, despite his massive business success and some acquiring 1200 acres for conservation and his own orcharding craft. Even while he was still alive, the man had achieved the status of a nationwide folk hero, a Christian teacher, a lover of nature, a man, who despite his wealth and charm, stuck to his folkish ways.
When I say “Missionary Mindset” I speak to Mr. Appleseed’s zealotry for his faith and his craft as an orchardist and conservationist. While I am no Swedenborgian, I can recognize that Christ, Nation, and Glory were the three major motivators of the early American move to the frontier. To settle out a new land for the nation, to make something of yourself in glory to your family name, or to spread the good news of the Gospel. Nowadays there is little of an animating will for Americans, who think nothing of nature other than allergies or some jilted sense of “environmentalism” that has nothing to with nature at all, but rather globalizing managerialism that lessens the quality of living.
Did you know he was man of a distinct Christian faith? Unless one is looking for it, or has even seen the old Disney cartoon you wouldn’t notice that he was a man willing to defend his “Primitive Christian” ideals and read from his Bible. So often does the mainstream culture gloss over the fact that man was indeed motivated by the Lord or some higher sense of purpose to send him going out into the brave unknown, facing savage beast or wild tribes as he set to fulfill his mission. This feeling, this faith, this calling, is all but lost by many today wondering what the country even is anymore.
What is needed now more than ever is the animating spirit, a general mobilizing will that moves men to do great things in the name of faith, glory, people, or nation. In America today the nation is a mess, polarized, transformed, and many living here have no idea who Johnny Appleseed even is. He is indeed an American legend, a minor one in a pantheon of folk tales of an American Mythology that describes a people motivated by the Lord willing to learn trades, keep to their traditions and practices, and recognize the beauty that surrounded them in their providential move West.
The legend of Johnny Appleseed still lives on, both in his estate and his orchards, but also the tall tales and numerous records about his life and death. The Goshen Democrat published a death notice for him in its March 27, 1845 saying the following:
In Fort Wayne, on Tuesday, 18th, inst John Chapman, commonly known by the name of Johnny Appleseed, about 70 years of age. Many of our citizens will remember this eccentric individual, as he sauntered through town eating his dry rusk and cold meat, and freely conversing on the mysteries of his religious faith. He was a devoted follower of Emanuel Swedenborg, and notwithstanding his apparent poverty, was reputed to be in good circumstances.
You can visit the grave of Mr. Chapman (Appleseed) in Fort Wayne, Indiana at the Archer Cemetery.
The question becomes, who shall be the Johnny Appleseeds of this day? What shall motivate you to take up your craft and beliefs to bring about tradition and respect for the land around you? A Missionary Mindset, to tell the people in your travels that life doesn’t have to be this way, that one can affirm a respect for the land without the Greta Thunbergs of the world, that our agricultural industry is making us sicker and fatter, and that having a firm belief in conviction in God or a tradition of your choosing will anchor you against the deracinating wilderness of modernity.
What seeds will you plant? Seeds of faith? Seeds of change? Will you tend for the land by those who care not for it?
This article is reprinted with permission from the Old Glory Club.
Image credits: Youtube