History of Logan County and Ohio
O. L. Baskin & Co, Historical Publishers
In marked contrast to the early characters just reviewed, was one who knew no foe, and whose only protection where murder and rapine possessed the land, was the "gospel of peace." This was Johnny Appleseed. The territory now embraced within the limits of Logan County was in the line of his travels, and the remains of several orchards in the county still exist to "point the moral" of his life. He was frequently in this county about 1809, and planted several nurseries here. Mr. Antrim, in his work, locates one on the farm owned by Alonzo and Allen West in 1872, "on Mill Branch, about six hundred yards west of their residence."* Waller Marshall and Joshua Ballenger are stated by the same writer to possess trees in their orchard from this nursery, that were bearing good fruit. Another orchard or nursery is said to be somewhere on Stony Creek.
But little is known of this strange character. His proper name was Jonathan Chapman, and he was, it is supposed, a native of New England. He was a Swedenborgian in religious faith, and, it seems, became demented on this subject, his eccentricity consisting in a peculiar gentleness toward all living creatures, and the planting of apple-seeds on the frontier far in advance of the white settlements. It was his custom to go into Pennsylvania at the time of making cider, and, carefully gathering a peck or more of appleseeds from the pomace, place them in a bag and start on foot for the western wilds. He was familiar with all the trails, and seemed as welcome with the Indians as with the whites. Whenever, in his wanderings, he found a fit opening, he would plant his seed, sometimes in the villages of the natives, sometimes in the villages of the whites, but more often in some loamy land along the bank of a stream where an open space gave promise of their growing. These plantings he frequently visited to insure their triumph over the choking influence of grass and underbrush. The traditions of his operations are found from Wayne County in Ohio, to Fort Wayne, Ind., a space of some two hundred miles long, and fifty or sixty miles wide, which formed the principal scene of his labors.
The first reliable trace of this character in the territory of Ohio is in 1801. At that time he came with a horse-load of apple seed, which he planted in various places along the Licking Creek, the first orchard originated by him being on the farm of Isaac Stauden, in Licking County. He is next heard of on a pleasant day in the spring of 1806. A pioneer settler in Jefferson County, Ohio, noticed a peculiar craft, with a remarkable occupant and a curious cargo slowly dropping down with the current of the Ohio River. With two canoes lashed together, he was transporting a load of apple seeds to the western frontier. With his canoes he passed down the Ohio to Marietta, where he entered the Muskingum, ascending the stream of that river until he reached the mouth of the Walhonding, or White Woman Creek, and still onward, up the Mohican into the Black Fork, to the head of navigation, in the region now known as Ashland and Richland Counties, in Ohio.
He was quite as earnest in the propagation of his religious views as of his apple-trees. Wherever he went, he carried and distributed books relating to his sect's peculiar tenet, and when his stock ran low he would tear a book in two, giving each part to a different person. His aim was to follow the life of the primitive Christians, taking no thought for the morrow, and leading a moral, blameless life. "His personal appearance was as singular as his character. He was a small, 'chunked' man, quick and restless in his motions and conversation. His beard and hair were long and dark, and his eye black and sparkling." This is hardly the picture of him remembered at the present day in Logan County, but it may be accounted for by the fact that age had probably "dimmed the fire of his eye" before the firing generation knew him. He lived the roughest kind of a life, sleeping a large part of the year in the woods with such accommodations as the bare ground or a hollow log afforded. During the most severe weather of the winter, he usually spent his time in the white settlements, but even then, though barefooted, the rigor of the weather could not restrain him from taking short journeys here and there. In the matter of dress, he carried his eccentricity to the farthest extreme. He exchanged his seedlings for old garments, and donned them without regard to their size or design, and frequently had nothing but an inverted coffee-sack, through which he thrust his head and arms, for an outer garment. In the matter of head covering, he was especially careless. As times, he wore a cap fashioned from the skin of some animal or cloth, and frequently a cast-off tin can did service in preserving his head from exposure to the elements.
For a time, it is said, Johnny Appleseed wore an old military chapeau, which some officer had given him, and, thus accoutered, he came suddenly upon a Dutchman, who had just moved into the country. The sides were ripped, and the loose ends flopping in the wind, made it seem a thing of evil. Decked with this fantastic head-gear, Johnny came noiselessly upon the pioneer, and, without uttering a word, thrust his face, completely covered with a wilderness of black hair, out of which peered the unnatural light of his dark eves, into the astonished man's presence. The backwoodsman, suddenly confronted by such an apparition, would not have been more disconcerted had he met a painted savage in the act of appropriating his hair, and he never ceased to relate what a scare he got from Johnny, standing with bare feet and "one tam muscle-shell cocked on his head." His tenderness for all of "God's creatures " was as proverbial, and many incidents in this connection are related. In the "Historical Collections of Ohio" is found the following: "On one cool, autumnal night, while lying by his camp-fire in the woods, he observed that the mosquitoes flew into the blaze and were burnt. Johnny, who wore on his head a tin utensil, which answered both as cap and mush-pot, filled it with water and quenched the fire, and afterward remarked, 'God forbid that I should build a fire for my comfort, that should be the means of destroying any of His creatures.' Another time, he made his campfire at the end of a hollow log in which he intended to pass the night, but finding it occupied by a bear and her cubs, he removed his fire to the other end, and slept on the snow in the open air rather than to disturb the bear. On one occasion, while on a prairie, a rattlesnake attacked him. Some time after, a friend inquired of him about the matter. He drew a long sigh, and replied, 'Poor fellow! he only just touched me, when I, in an ungodly passion, put the heel of my scythe upon him and went home. Some time after I went there for my scythe, and there lay the poor fellow, dead.'"
He was a zealous Christian, and was always to be found where religious services were held, if in the neighborhood. At one time, when be was at Mansfield, an itinerant preacher held an out-door service, and Johnny was enjoying the sermon, lying on his back upon a piece of timber. The minister was describing the Christian's way of trial, on his journey to the better land, and had described the tedious journey of a barefooted man through the wilderness. Pausing in his description of such physical difficulties, he cried out, in an elevated tone, "Where is the barefooted Christian traveling to heaven?" Throwing his feet high in the air, Johnny responded, "Here he is!" It was not quite what the speaker expected, but the audience, doubtless, recognized the fitness of the response. Speaking of his bare feet, it is related that by constant exposure, and the roughness of his way through the wilderness, his feet became incredibly tough and insensible to cold. It appears to have been almost a matter of principle with him not to wear shoes, as he was seldom without money to dispense in charitable ways. A writer relates that on one occasion, on an unusually cold day in early winter, while traveling along the muddy thoroughfare, his bare feet exposed to the bleak air and colder snow mixed with the "slush," a kindly settler, possessing a pair of shoes too small for his own comfort, gave them to Johnny Appleseed. A few days afterward, the donor met him plodding along as usual, barefooted and half frozen. He at once took him to task for not wearing the shoes presented a short time before, when Johnny confessed that he overtook a poor family moving west; and their need of clothing so moved upon his sympathies, that he gave them the shoes. At another time, he attempted to cross Lake Erie barefooted on the ice in company with another man. Night overtook them before they had completed the journey, and, in the bitter coldness of the night, his companion froze to death. Johnny, by rolling violently about the ice, kept warm, and in after times appeared none the worse for his trying adventure.
In the early part of the war of 1812, he was very active in Richland and Knox Counties, carrying the news of approaching danger to the whites settled along the river courses in these counties. He did not seem to have any fear of personal violence to himself, and often in the dead of night a settler would arouse his neighbors with the announcement that Johnny Appleseed had brought news of the approach of danger. His word was never doubted, and no further confirmation of the tidings was asked. His form of announcing approaching dangers was dramatic in the extreme, and those who remember his solemn utterances speak of the thrill that they sent through his awe-stricken auditors. His usual announcement was, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, and he hath anointed me to blow the trumpet in the wilderness, and sound an alarm in the forest; for, behold, the tribes of the heathen are round about your doors, and a devouring flame followeth after them."
He was faithful to his trusts, and his word was as good as his bond. Norton, in his History of Knox County, relates that, "in 1819, Isaiah Roberts, then on his way to Missouri, finding no boat at Zanesville ready to start on the trip down the river, footed it to Marietta, and on the road met Johnny Appleseed, who promised to call at his father's in Knox County, and tell him when he parted with him, etc. Shortly afterward, Johnny made his appearance one night about dark, and was cheerfully received. He then had on an old tattered coat and slouch hat, with hair and beard uncut and uncombed, and barefooted. After eating some supper, he espied a copy of Ballou on the Atonement, which he took and read for some time by candle light, thinking at first it was good Swedenborg doctrine, and desired to take it with him, but after reading further, and finding the kind of doctrine it inculcated, he threw it down, expressing his disappointment, and, in a few moments after, stretched himself out and went to sleep."
It was his custom, when he had been hospitably received into some cabin after a weary day's journey, to take his favorite position, stretched out on the floor, and after asking his entertainers if they would hear "some news right fresh from heaven," produce a tattered New Testament and read and expound its pages until, carried away with his earnestness, the settlers looked upon him with reverence due a prophet.
About 1830, he left this region and went to the newer portion of the West. "The last time he was in this country," says Norton, " He took Joseph Mahaffey aside, and pointed out to him two lots of land at the lower end of Main street, Mount Vernon, west side, about where Morey's soap factory was carried on, which he said belonged to him, and some time he might come back to them. The tail-race of the Clinton Mill Company passed along there, and some of the ground has since been washed away by the water, and upon another portion stands the Mount Vernon Woolen Factory building." In the same work, it is said that the Rev. John Mitchell, when traveling on the Plymouth circuit in 1837, met Johnny wending his way along the road on foot and in his shirt sleeves. He told him then he was living "out West."
Johnny's mission was to prepare the wilds for the approach of civilization ; he was "the voice of one in the wilderness, crying, prepare ye the way." But the accelerated advance of the white settlements began to overtake him. For nearly forty years he had been able, single-handed, to carry on his self-appointed mission in advance of the "star of empire," but now he found the church and schoolhouse on every hand; towns were springing up like mushroom growths, and the busy hum of villages and the echo of the stave-horn warned him that he must make a long stride to the west if he was to lead the advancing hosts. It was with this feeling that he visited the cabins where he had been a frequent and welcome guest. With parting words of admonition, mingled with words of oracular prophesy he took his way to the frontier. This was about 1837, and during the succeeding decade he pursued his work on the western borders of Ohio and in Indiana, pushing his journey at times far into the wilds of Illinois and Iowa. "In the summer of 1847, when his labors had literally borne fruit over a hundred thousand square miles of territory, at the close of a warm day, after traveling twenty miles, he entered the house of a settler in Allen county, Indiana, and was, as usual, warmly welcomed. He declined to eat with the family, but accepted some bread and milk, which he partook of sitting on the door-step and gazing on the setting sun. Later in the evening, he delivered his "news fresh from heaven," by reading the beatitudes. Declining other accommodation, he slept as usual on the floor, and in the early morning he was found with his features all aglow with a supernal light, and his body so near death that his tongue refused its office. The physician who was hastily summoned pronounced him dying, but added that he had never seen a man in so placid a state at the approach of death. At seventy-two years of age, he ripened into death as naturally and beautifully as the seeds of his own planting had grown into fibre, and bud and blossom, and the matured fruit."
So passed away this self-denying benefactor of his race, whose memory will linger in the hearts of the present generation for years to come, and their children will learn to revere the decaying monuments of his industry as the memorial of one whose mind, though seemingly unbalanced, swayed to the brighter side of human nature.
* Antrim's History. [Back]