Historical Markers
Johnny Appleseed Historical Marker
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Johnny Appleseed

Lake Erie Region


Dedication Date:
September 26, 1982

Behind the Marker

A sketch of Johnny Appleseed hoeing his seeds.
Fanciful image of Johnny Appleseed hoeing his seeds, Harper’s New Monthly...
Folklore and legends have created an enduring image of John Chapman - tall and thin, dressed in raggedy, worn-out clothes, barefoot, with a tin pot on his head, a Bible under his arm, and a large leather pouch slung over his shoulders, he scatters apple seeds as he wanders westward into the sunset. A friend to Indians and settlers alike, he was kind to every living creature, and talked with the wild animals of the forest, even making friends with bears and wolves.

While there are some kernels of truth in the myth of Johnny Appleseed, there is much more to his story than animated films and legends tell, for John Chapman played an important part in the lives of settlers and the early development of the apple industry in Pennsylvania and other states.

Born in Leominster, Massachusetts on September 26, 1774, John Chapman was the second child of Elizabeth Simonds and Nathaniel Chapman. His father was a farmer, carpenter, and soldier in the American Revolution. In 1776, while his father was off to the war, his mother died and John was placed with other family members who cared for him and his older sister Elizabeth. Although his father returned to Massachusetts and married Lucy Cooley in 1780, it is not known if the two children joined the growing family of their father and stepmother or continued to stay with relatives.
Men sucking freshly pressed juice fresh from an apple press through rye straws.
Men sucking freshly pressed juice fresh from an apple press through rye straws,...

In 1792, at the age of eighteen, John headed west, to Pennsylvania, where he began an unusual life as an itinerant nurseryman on the frontier. "John Appleseed," as he was known in Ohio by the early 1820s, visited cider mills where he picked out apple seeds from the pumice and traveled to remote western regions where he planted them and provided young trees to settlers. He never settled down, preferring instead to wander and establish orchards in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and perhaps other states as well.

Rather than scatter seeds in clearings, as the legends tell us, he actually created nurseries by clearing areas of scrub and building brush fences to protect the developing "whips,"as the young trees were called, from deer and other animals. As the whips grew, he camped nearby in a wigwam-like structure and busied himself by weeding his orchard, mending the fence, starting other nurseries, or visiting frontier families. And depending on his assessment of a person's ability to pay, he sold, traded, or simply gave away his little apple trees. When he had no more seedlings or simply decided it was time to move on, he headed west.

By the 1840s he was living in Indiana; on March 18, 1845, he died from pneumonia at the home of his friend William Worth and was buried near present-day Fort Wayne.

Fegley photo, Women preparing apple butter
Women preparing apple butter, southeastern PA, circa 1910.
The apple trees that John Chapman gave away and sold were very important to American frontier families. Apples were a valuable food source for both human and beast. Farmers used most of the fruit to make cider, which kept well and was a popular drink in a day and age when water quality was questionable. Some folks distilled more ardent spirits from apple cider and made apple brandy or "applejack." Apples were also used to feed livestock - pigs mainly - and as an occasional treat for a cow or horse.

People ate apples, too. They stored well and kept for months in barrels or boxes in root cellars, and as such provided fresh fruit in the wintertime. The Pennsylvania Dutch preserved apples by making "apple butter" or drying them. (They called the dried fruit slices "schnitzen.") Frontier farmers also liked the wood of the apple tree, which they used to heat their homes, to dry fruit, and to smoke meat. Apple orchards were vital to farmers. There were very few farms without them.
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