The Spirit of Johnny Appleseed

Johnny Appleseed

Jonathan Chapman (aka. Johnny Appleseed)

I was in 6th grade when I went my last time to church camp in Johnsonburg, New Jersey. Every meal was preceded by a prayer of blessing or a song of blessing. Our vocally challenged group of campers chose to sing almost every time. The song of choice was the Johnny Appleseed song that went:

“Oh the Lord is good to me and so I thank the Lord for giving me the things I need the sun and the rain and the apple seeds. The Lord is good to me, Amen!”

I later learned that the song was set to a Swedenborgian (or New Church) hymn. We Presbyterians obviously were not too snooty to adopt this. This song was more powerful than any rain dance or high tech cloud seeding operation. Whenever we sang this song, it rained. Not just a drizzle, but a torrent of rain (not too fun when you are actually camping out in tents on a wooden platform). Other campers pleaded with us not to sing it and we could have cleaned up on desserts, too; however it would not have been a Christian thing to do.

That very summer, we were on a family car trip from New Jersey to Ohio to visit relatives. We were mid way through the state of Pennsylvania. The sun was shining and there was not a single cloud in the sky. I told my mother about the power of this song. She did not believe me. Of course, I had to prove it. Well you can guess what happened next. A huge cloud burst occurred and she made me promise not to sing it again for the rest of the trip. Little did I know we were traveling through Johnny Appleseed country…

Who is Johnny Appleseed? Well, he was a fellow named Jonathan Chapman who was born in Leominster, Massachusetts in 1774. His father apprenticed him to Mr. Crawford from whom he learned the apple orchard business. He developed an affinity to trees, nature and animals. Later Chapman became known as wandering preacher with direction and business savvy. He predated Warren Buffett’s philosophy by living below his means, but to an extreme. His eccentric dress consisted of raggedy clothes, bare feet and a tin pan that served a dual purpose of hat and cooking device. He always helped a person in need. He never used the banking system, but relied on a system of burying his money instead. He preferred to barter for food and clothing for his trees (

In a time when the situation between settlers and Native American Indians was still in a tumultuous state, Chapman could walk between both cultures unscathed. He was knowledgeable in many different Indian languages and was seen as being blessed by the Great Spirit.

Chapman specialized in planting and cultivating small sour apples throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana, Illinois and the northern most counties of West Virginia. He did not believe in tree grafting. The small sour apples were very popular among settlers not for eating purposes but for drinking. The spirits derived from the apples were hard cider and applejack (a brandy derived from freeze or evaporative distillation []). In much of the Midwest, the planting of orchards, pear or apple, was required to mark land claims.

Upon his death at the age of 71 in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Chapman had accumulated quite a bit of acreage. His sister inherited over 1200 acres of nurseries. He also had land holdings in Allen County, Indiana and Ashland County, Ohio (

They say that a person remains known in collective memory for three generations. After that, they are lost to time. Here was a man with no direct descendents, but has a legacy bound in lore. Let’s raise our glasses “To Johnny Appleseed”.

2 thoughts on “The Spirit of Johnny Appleseed

  1. Pingback: Wretched Richard’s Almanac: I’ll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time | Tis Pity He's a Writer

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