History of Licking/Knox County, Ohio,
Its Past and Present

Compiled by N. N. Hill, Jr.
A. A. Graham & Co., Publishers
1881


These two books, by the same author, have essentially the same narrative.


Licking County
Chapter XXVIII, Johnny Appleseed
Pp. 239-240
Knox County
Chapter XXIII, Johnny Appleseed
Pp. 222-225
"Give fools their gold, and knaves their power;
Let fortune's bubbles rise and fall;
Who sows a field, or trains a flower,
Or plants a tree, is more than all." —WHITTIER.


A HISTORY of Ohio and especially of Licking county, would be incomplete without some I account of this very eccentric individual, known as Johnny Appleseed, from the fact that he was the pioneer nursery man of Ohio.

Give fools their gold, and knaves their power;
Let fortune's bubbles rise and fall;
Who sows a field, or trains a flower,
Or plants a tree, is more than all.
—WHITTIER.

A HISTORY of Ohio, and especially of Knox county, would be incomplete without some account of this very eccentric individual, well-known among the pioneers of Ohio as Johnny Appleseed, from the fact that he was the pioneer nurseryman.

Johnny Appleseed deserves a place in history among the heroes and martyrs, for he was both in his peculiar calling. His whole life was devoted to what he considered the public good, without regard to personal feeling, or hope of pecuniary reward. Of once in a century is such a life of self-sacrifice for the good of others known. There has been but one Johnny Appleseed; it is hardly possible there will ever be another.

He seems to deserve a place in history among the heroes and martyrs, for he was both in his peculiar calling. His whole life was devoted to what he believed the public good, without regard to personal feeling or hope of pecuniary reward. Not once in a century is such a life of self-sacrifice for the good of others known. There has been but one Johnny Appleseed, and he lived a life so peculiar, so isolated, and withal so worthy, that his name should be perpetuated.

He was born, according to one or two authorities, in Massachusetts, about the year 1775: was first heard of in Ohio about the year 1801, and was known to have traversed Licking county soon then after.

He was a native of Massachusetts. His father, Nathaniel Chapman, emigrated from the vicinity of Springfield, Massachusetts, to Marietta, Ohio, in very early times, probably about the beginning of the present century. He had a large family, and they all came with him except John. His children were John, Nathaniel, Perley, Abner, Jonathan, Davis, Lucy, Patty, Persis, Mary, and Sally. The family once published a book, containing their genealogy, which, although rare, may yet be found among the descendants of the family, who are scattered over Ohio and Indiana.

The date of his birth is shrouded in uncertainty. Mr. C. S. Coffinberry writes the following regarding this matter: "He was born in the State of Massachusetts, but at what period the writer never knew. As early as 1780, he was seen in the autumn, for two or three successive years, along the banks of the Potomac river, in eastern Virginia." If this be true, he must have been born some years before 1775.

The date of John Chapman's birth is not certainly known at present. Mr. C. S. Coffinberry writes that "as early as 1780, he was seen in the autumn, for two or three successive years, along the banks of the Potomac, in eastern Virginia." He must have been quite a young man at that time, and was no doubt following the same calling that so distinguished him in after life. He did not accompany his father when he came west, but had without doubt, preceded him, and was then planting appleseeds in western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.

Why he left his native State and devoted his life to the planting of apple-seeds in the west, is known only to himself. He may have been insane; he was generally so considered to a certain degree. He was certainly eccentric, as many people are who are not considered insane; it is hard to trace eccentricity to the point where insanity begins. He was certainly smart enough to keep his own counsel. Without doubt his was a very affectionate nature; every act of his life reveals this most prominent characteristic. From this fact alone writers have reasoned, and with good ground, that he was crossed in love in his native State, and thus they account for his eccentricity. This is only supposition, however, as he was very reticent on the subject of his early life.

Why he left his native State, and devoted his life to the planting of appleseeds in the west, is known only to himself. People have been inclined to consider him insane, and he may have been so to a certain degree. He was certainly eccentric, as many people are who are not considered insane; it is hard to trace eccentricity to the point where insanity begins. He was certainly smart enough to keep his own counsel. Without doubt his was a very affectionate nature; every act of his life reveals this prominent characteristic. From this fact alone writers have reasoned, and with good ground, that he was crossed in love in his native State, and thus they account for his eccentricity. This is only supposition, however, as he was very reticent on the subject of his early life.

He was conscientious in every act and thought, and a man of deep religious convictions. He was a rigid Swedenborgian, and maintained the doctrine that spiritual intercourse, could be held with departed spirits; indeed, was in frequent intercourse himself with two of these spirits of the female gender, who consoled him with the news that they were to be his wives in the future state, should he keep himself from all entangling alliances in this.

He was conscientious in every act and thought, and a man of deep religious convictions; being a rigid Swedenborgian, and maintaining the doctrine that spiritual intercourse could be held with departed spirits; indeed, was in frequent intercourse himself with two of these spirits of the female gender, who consoled him with the news that they were to be his wives in the future state, should he keep himself from all entangling alliances in this.

So kind and simple was his heart that he was equally welcome with the Indians or pioneers, and even the wild animals of the woods seemed to have an understanding with Johnny and never molested him. He has been variously described, but all agree that he was rather below the medium height, wiry, quick in action and conversation, nervous and restless in his motions; eyes dark and sparkling; hair and beard generally long, but occasionally cut short; dress scanty, and generally ragged and patched; generally barefooted and bareheaded, occasionally, however, wearing some old shoes, sandals or moccasins in very cold weather, and an old hat some one had cast off. It is said he was seen sometimes with a tin pan on his head, that served the double purpose of hat and mush-pot, at other times with a cap made by himself of paste-board, with a very broad visor to protect his eyes from the sun.

So kind and simple was his heart that he was equally welcome with the Indians or pioneers, and even the wild animals of the woods seemed to have an understanding with Johnny, and never molested him. He has been variously described, but all agree that he was rather below the medium height, wiry, quick in action and conversation, nervous and restless in his motions; eyes dark and sparkling; hair and beard generally long, but occasionally cut short; dress scanty, and generally ragged and patched; generally barefooted and bareheaded, occasionally, however, wearing some old shoes, sandals, or moccasins in very cold weather, and an old hat some one had cast off. It is said he was occasionally seen with a tin pan or pot on his head, that served the double purpose of hat and mush pot; at other times with a cap, made by himself, of pasteboard, with a very broad visor to protect his eyes from the sun.

His diet was very simple, consisting of milk, when he could get it, of which he was very fond; potatoes and other vegetables, fruits, and meats; but no veal, as he said this should be a land flowing with milk and honey, and the calves should be spared. He would not touch tea, coffee or tobacco, as he felt that these were luxuries in which it was wicked and injurious to indulge. He was averse to taking the life of any animal or insect, and never indulged in hunting with a gun.

His diet was very simple, consisting of milk when he could get it, of which he was very fond; potatoes and other vegetables, fruits and meats; but no veal, as he said this should be a land flowing with milk and honey, and the calves should be spared. He would not touch tea, coffee, or tobacco, as he felt that these were luxuries in which it was wicked and injurious to indulge. He was averse to taking the life of any animal or insect, and never indulged in hunting with a gun.

He thought himself "a messenger, sent into the wilderness to prepare the way for the people, as John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Saviour." He gathered his apple seeds, little by little, from the cider presses of western Pennsylvania and putting them carefully in leather bags, he transported them, sometimes on his back, and sometimes on the back of a broken down horse or mule, to the Ohio river, where he usually secured a boat and brought them to the mouth of the Muskingum, and up that river, planting them in wild, secluded spots all along its numerous tributaries. Later in life, he continued his operations further west. When his trees were ready for sale, he left them in charge of some one to sell for him. The price was low—"a fippenny-bit" apiece, rarely paid in money, and if people were too poor to purchase, the trees were given them.

He thought himself a messenger sent into the wilderness to prepare the way for the people, as John the Baptist was sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Saviour, hence he made it a part of his duty to keep in advance of civilization. He gathered his apple seeds little by little from the cider-presses of western Pennsylvania, and putting them carefully in leathern bags, he transported them, sometimes on his back, and sometimes on the back of a broken-down horse or mule, to the Ohio river, where he usually secured a boat, and brought them to the mouth of the Muskingum, and up that river, planting them in wild, secluded spots all along its numerous tributaries. Later in life he continued his operations further west. When his trees were ready for sale he usually left them in charge of some pioneer to sell for him. The price was low—a "fippeny-bit" apiece, rarely paid in money, and if people were too poor to purchase, the trees were given them.

One of his nurseries was located on the farm of the late Judge Wilson, in Mary Ann township. His residence in this vicinity covered the period of the war of 1812, and several years following it. He would occasionally make trips further west, and return again after an absence of two or three months. On these excursions he probably visited his sister, Persis Broom, who lived in Indiana.

One or two of his nurseries were located in the Owl creek valley, and many of his orchards were scattered over Knox, Richland, Ashland, and other counties further east. One of his nurseries was located in what was known as "Indian Field," on the north bank of Owl creek, directly west of Centre run, and another on the ground where James W. Forest established his pottery. Some of his trees are yet standing and bearing fruit. One or more of them may be found on the old Hill farm in Milford township, and several along the valley of the Kokosing. His residence in this vicinity covered the period of the War of 1812, and several years following it. He would occasionally make trips further west, and return after an absence of two or three months. On these occasions he probably visited his sister Persis, who married a man named Broom, or Brown, and lived in Indiana. Persis lived in Richland county before she moved to Indiana, and Johnny must have made his home with her, as he was considered a resident of that county by the pioneers of Mount Vernon, so far as they looked upon him as a resident of any particular spot.

Mr. C. S. Coffinberry, an early settler of Mansfield, Ohio, who was personally acquainted with him, writes thus:

During the war of 1812 Johnny was very active in warning the settlers of danger, and considered himself a kind of scout and general guardian of the frontier. He never shrank from danger or hardship when he thought the lives of the settlers were in danger. He happened to be in Mansfield when Jones was killed, and immediately volunteered to go to Fredericktown and Mount Vernon for help, as it was supposed a large body of Indians were lurking around the block-house, and about to make an attack upon it; and that they had probably committed other murders in the neighborhood. An early settler says, regarding this trip of John Chapman's, which was made in the night:

"Although I was but a mere child, I can remember as if it were but yesterday,, the warning cry of Johnny Appleseed, as he stood before my father's log cabin door on that night—the cabin stood where now stands the old North American in the city of Mansfield. I remember the precise language, the clear, loud voice, the deliberate exclamations, and the fearful thrill it awoke in my bosom. 'Fly! fly! for your lives! the Indians are murdering and scalping the Zimmers and Copuses.' These were his words. My father sprang to the door, but the messenger was gone, and midnight silence reigned without.

Although I was but a child, I can remember as if it were but yesterday, the warning cry of Johnny Appleseed, as he stood before my father's log-cabin door on that night. I remember the precise language, the clear, loud voice, the deliberate exclamations, and the fearful thrill it awoke in my bosom. "Fly! fly! for your lives! the Indians are murdering and scalping at Mansfield!" These were his words. My father sprang to the door, but the messenger was gone, and midnight silence reigned without.

 

Johnny Appleseed created some consternation among the settlers on this trip, by his peculiar manner of announcing his business. He was barefooted and bareheaded, and ran all the way, stopping at every cabin as he passed, giving a warning cry similar to the above. It must be remembered that after Hull's surrender the pioneers were fearful of an Indian raid, and went to bed every night with the thought that they might lose their scalps before morning; thus their imaginations were already highly excited, and Johnny's hurried rap at the cabin door and his fearful midnight cry merely confirmed their expectations and created a panic. Many ludicrous things happened in consequence. Families left their cabins and flew to the blockhouses for safety. It is said that one man in Berlin township, through which Johnny passed on this midnight journey, sprang from his bed and hastily putting on his overcoat, grasped his pantaloons and ran in that condition all the way to the block-house at Fredericktown.

* * * Jonathan Chapman was a regularly constituted minister of the church of the New Jerusalem, according to the revelations of Emanuel Swedenborg. He was also a constituted missionary of that faith under the authority of the regular association in the city of Boston. The writer has seen and examined his credentials as to the latter of these." He always carried in his pockets books and tracts relating to his religion, and took great delight in reading them to others and scattering them about. When he did not have enough with him to go around, he would take the books apart and distribute them in pieces.

Mr. Coffinberry says:

John Chapman was a regularly constituted minister of the church of the New Jerusalem, according to the revelations of Emanuel Swedenborg. He was also constituted a missionary of that faith under the authority of the regular association in the city of Boston. The writer has seen and examined his credentials as to the latter of these.

He always carried in his pocket, books and tracts relating to his religion, and took great delight in reading them to others and scattering them about. When he did not have enough with him to go around he would take the books apart and distribute them in pieces.

It does not appear that he operated as largely in this county as in those further north, and especially those immediately bordering on the Muskingum. In Knox, Ashland and Richland counties he was well known, and many old settlers yet remember him. He had nurseries near Mt. Vernon, and several in Richland county. He often visited Hon. William Stanberry, and always manifested his eccentricities by sleeping out on the porch. Being once interrogated as to his views about "hell," he replied that he thought it resembled Newark, except that it was on a larger scale. Mrs. Stadden, who knew him well, did not think much of him; however this might be, he did a great deal of good.

 

 

Johnny was very closely identified with the early history of Mount Vernon, as the following document, which appears on the records in the recorder's office will show:

John Chapman,
to
Jesse B. Thomas

Know all men by these presents, that I, John Chapman (by occupation a gatherer and planter of apple seeds), residing in Richland county, for the sum of thirty dollars, honest money, do hereby grant to said Jesse B. Thomas, late Senator from Illinois, his heirs and assigns forever, lot No. 145 in the corporation limits of the village of Mount Vernon, State of Ohio.

The deed was given in 1828. The lot is probably the one upon which now stands the Philo house, on Main street, and is a valuable one. It is pleasant to know that Johnny once had a spot of ground he could call his own.

This was not, however, the extent of his possessions in Mount Vernon. The last time he is remembered to have been in this neighborhood, he pointed out to Joseph Mahaffey two lots of land at the lower end of Main street, west side, about where Morey's soap factory once stood, saying that he owned them and would some day come back to them. Steven's warehouse, formerly the Mount Vernon woollen mills erected by N. N. Hill, now stands upon a portion of the ground.

Besides the cultivation of apple-trees, he was extensively engaged in scattering the seeds of many wild vegetables, which he supposed possessed medicinal qualities, such as dog-fennel, penny-royal, mayapple, hoarhound, catnip, wintergreen, etc. His object was to equalize the distribution, so that every locality would have a variety. His operations in Indiana began about 1836, and were continued for ten years. In the spring of 1847, being within fifteen miles of one of his nurseries on the St. Joseph river, word was brought to him that cattle had broken into this nursery and were destroying his trees, and he started immediately for the place. When he arrived he was very much fatigued; being quite advanced in years, the journey, performed without intermission, exhausted his strength. He lay down that night never to rise again. A fever settled upon him, and, in a day or two after taking sick, he passed away. "We buried him," says Mr. Worth, "in David Archer's graveyard, two and a half miles north of Fort Wayne."

Besides the cultivation of apple trees John Chapman was extensively engaged in scattering the seeds of many wild vegetables, which he supposed possessed medicinal qualities, such as dog-fennel, penny-royal, may-apple, hoarhound, catnip, wintergreen, etc. His object was to equalize the distribution so that every locality would have a variety. His operations in Indiana began in 1836, and was continued for ten years or more. In the spring of 1847, being within fifteen miles of one of his nurseries on the St. Joseph river, word was brought to him that cattle had broken into his nursery and were destroying his trees, and he started immediately for the place. When he arrived he was very much fatigued; being quite advanced in years, the journey performed without intermission, exhausted his strength. He lay down that night never to rise again. A fever settled upon him and in a day or two after taking sick he passed away. "We buried him," says Mr. Worth, "in David Archer's graveyard, two and a half miles north of Fort Wayne."