Richard Nevins, Printer.
A History of Knox County, Ohio
From 1779 to 1862 Inclusive
by A. Banning Norton
THE ECCENTRIC CHAPTER IN OUR EARLY HISTORY—BEING ALL THAT IS KNOWN OF THE HISTORY OF JOHNNY APPLESEED.
An original character flourished in this part of the country at an early day, who was always conspicuous in times of excitement and danger, and his vigilant care of the early settlers entitles him to a tribute at our hands. The sobriquet of Johnny Appleseed attached to him, though his real name was Chapman, in consequence of his being ever engaged in gathering and planting appleseed and cultivating nurseries of apple trees. Many of the earliest settlers recognized in him an old acquaintance, who had wandered about for years along the streams of western Pennsylvania, engaged in the same pursuit and preparing the way for those who might follow upon his trail to have their own orchards.
He would find suitable spots of ground along the banks of creeks and rivers, in which to make small clearings, and there he would plant the seed he had gathered, fence in the ground, and then leave it to germinate and grow in coming years into fine nurseries, which he would have in readiness for the coming settlements. He would make just as many nurseries as he could get seed to plant, and he never lost any time in gathering and preparing for the future. He did not restrict his operations to the settled portions of the country, but went into the wilderness regions and among the Indians and wild beasts, having his trust in God and fearing no harm.
In personal appearance he was prepossessing, when one could get sight of his eyes and well formed head; about medium height, quick and restless and uneasy in his motions, and exceedingly uncouth in dress. In truth he cared not what he wore, nor who before him might have worn the garment upon his back—whether it was too large or too small for his person. The greater part of his traffic with the world was in exchanging his trees, at a nominal price, for old worn out clothes. He incased his person, at all times, in what might be called thrown away garments. For covering to the head he was not particular whether he wore an animal's skin, a cloth, or tin case. He has been seen with head gear of each kind, and without foot apparel of any description. For a time, after the war, he 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, and scared him most to death as he stood in his bare feet with "one tam muscle shell cocked on his head." The sides were ripped, and as it flopped in the wind-on a head covered with long black hair, a face with a long beard and dark black eyes peering out from the vast undergrowth, and a body enveloped in a coffee sack with a hole through which he had run his head, it was enough to frighten any honest dutchman almost out of his wits.
He lived the roughest kind of a life—slept the greater part of the time in the woods—by the side of logs—and on the bare ground. He was harmless and inoffensive—always striving to save the feelings of mankind and of the brute creation. Very many anecdotes are remembered characteristic of Johnny Appleseed. The following show the native goodness of his heart: One night he built his camp fire at the end of a hollow log, in which he intended to pass the night, but as a bear and her cubs had a pre-emption claim to the hole in the tree, he moved his fire to another spot and slept all night on the snow, exposed to the storm, rather than disturb the varmints. Another time, when he had a camp-fire near the creek where the mosquitoes were very bad and flew into the blaze and were consumed, he took off his tin head gear, filled it with water, and put out the fire, saying, "God forbid, that I should build a fire for my own comfort that should be the cause of destroying any of his other created works." And still another is that one morning he was bitten by a rattlesnake, and some time after he related the circumstances with tears in his eyes as he said "poor fellow! he only just touched me, when in an ungodly passion I put the heel of my scythe on him and killed him."
He had the following told at the expense of his bare feet, which had become hardened beyond belief by long usage "out of doors" and exposure to the cold. At one time he crossed Lake Erie on the ice barefooted, and when night overtook him—the man traveling in company with him was frozen to death—but old Johnny, by rolling about on the ice, kept warm, and in aftertimes was none the worse for it.
An old citizen of Mansfield vouches for the following: A traveling preacher was at one time holding forth on the scriptures in the public square, to a miscellaneous audience, when he exclaimed, "where is the barefooted Christian traveling to heaven?" Johnny Appleseed was among the auditors, laying flat on his back on a piece of timber, and he stuck his bare feet high in the air and cried out "here he is!"
This artless child of nature was a man of much intelligence, and in his day and generation, much as he was hooted at and derided by the scoffers and jibers of the country, yet did he in his life time perform far more of good than they all did. if it is true, as claimed, that he who causeth a single blade of grass to grow, or plants a single shade tree, is a public benefactor, how much greater is the need of praise due to poor old Johnny Appleseed, who caused thousands of fruit bearing trees to grow, and hundreds of orchards to blossom and bear fruit for the people. What lasting obligations are we not under to him here in Knox county—in all central Ohio—in western Pennsylvania— in northern Indiana—and of a verity in all the "Great West," for our present most excellent fruits. God preserve his memory! To help perpetuate it we have devoted this Chapter in our History—to be read by many whose parents and relatives would have fallen victims to the relentless hate of the savage had Johnny Appleseed not have traveled from settlement to settlement along the Mohican, Owl Creek, the White Woman, the Muskingum, the Tuscarawas, and other water courses, notifying the families of the pioneers of the approach of danger. Much, very much, may also be due this man of peace, this child of nature, for his kind offices among the children of nature in turning their hearts from wrath and averting their purposes of destruction. Reader—think of these things. Native Owl Creeker ponder over them and cherish the memory of good old Johnny Appleseed.
The promises he made he faithfully redeemed. Among other evidences of his keeping his word, we have the following :
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 with Johnny Appleseed, who promised to call at his fathers in Knox county, and tell him where he parted with him, etc. Shortly after, Johnny made his appearance one night about dark, and was cheerfully received. He then had an old tattered coat and slouched hat, with hair and beard uncut and uncombed, and barefooted. After eating some supper, he espied a copy of "Ballou on 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 he read further, and found the kind of doctrine it inculcated, he threw it down indignantly, expressing his disappointment, and in a few moments after stretched himself out, and went to sleep.
Johnny Appleseed sometimes clipped his beard with scissors, but never used a razor. His nurseries, near Mount Vernon, were located at the following places: One in the then called Indian Fields, on the north bank of Owl Creek, directly west of Center Run, and another on the ground where James W. Forrest established his pottery, and known more recently as Rich's pottery.
The last time he was in this country, he took Joseph Mahaffey and pointed out to him two lots of land, at the lower end of Main street, west side, about where Morey's soap factory was carried on, which he said belonged to him, and sometime 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. He has not been seen about here since 1829; but many a stray apple-tree that has been found upon the borders of our streams, marked the spots where the barefooted pilgrim had marked his way.
In 1837, the Rev. John Mitchell, when traveling on the Plymouth Circuit, met him traveling along the road on foot and in his shirt sleeves, as contentedly as a prince. He told him then that he lived "out west."
Johnny Appleseed in religious belief was called a Swedenborgian; in truth, he was of the primitive Christian style, taking little thought for the morrow, satisfied that God would provide for his people, living in meekness and humility, and walking uprightly. He had his peculiarities—who have them not — He had his frailties—who is clear of them — No wonder the Indians liked him. They could read his character at a glance. All was revealed by his eye, clear as the sunlight of God. He was without selfishness; he sought not to intrigue with or cheat them—he would do them no wrong. He put confidence in their honor, and they never would do him wrong. Many and many a time has that faithful old hermit traveled through the settlements on foot and alone, putting his countrymen on their guard. Often have we been told of these trips by those who have passed and now are passing away. Of him it was strictly and literally true, as sung by the poet:
"Man wants but little here below,
Nor wants that little long."
A few apple-seeds—a few sprouts—a few old books to read, and life to him was full of happiness. He had been favored with education, men knew from his knowledge of books, and his desire to read and have others read induced him at times to distribute Swedenborg's books, and when he had not enough to go around the company he would tear them in pieces, and give a part to each. Nothing more was known of his early days. It was said that he was from Connecticut—a stray Yankee—who wandered off from the fold into these wilds, but no one knew for certain as to who he was, where he came from, or what became of him. We will give, however, to such as feel an interest in his history all that we have been able to gather of his later years.
Having disposed of many of his nurseries, and having others destroyed in part, which had began to grow from fourteen bushels of apple-seed last planted by him on Owl Creek, the Black Fork of Mohican, and the Whetstone, he concluded to migrate farther west, and managing to get an old mare or two loaded with seeds, he left this part of the country for Sandusky prairie; and from thence made his way west,* planting nurseries, and living after the manner he did here, till finally the old fruit ripened, and was gathered near Fort Wayne, Indiana, leaving nothing save the fragrance of good deeds and charitable acts to teach the future that such a being as Johnny Appleseed had ever been and passed like an exhalation&mdashlthe moisture of the morning's dew dried up by the heat of the sun at meridian.
* Note. Silas Mitchell informs us since the above was written that in the fall of 1843, when living in Whitesides county, Illinois, Johnny Appleseed passed through that county on foot, and stopped all night with Aaron Jackson, son of Ziba, and left in the morning, stating that he was then from the Iowa prairies on his way to a Swedenborg convention in Philadelphia. [Back]