1880 History of Morrow County and Ohio
O. L. Baskin & Co, Historical Publishers
Pp. 219-223



One of the old orchards on this place, tradition has it, was planted by that eccentric frontier philanthropist, "Johnny Appleseed." This tradition is very generally believed and others in Chester and Washington Townships are pointed out to the stranger as originating in that way.

It is certain that he was a frequent visitor in this county at an early time, and is well remembered by a number of persons still living in the county.

But little is known of the history 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 crazy 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 the older settlements of Pennsylvania at the time of making cider, and carefully gathering a peck or more of apple-seeds 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, sometime in the villages of the natives, sometimes in the villages of 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 revisited 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, Indiana, a space of some two hundred miles long and fifty or sixty miles wide forming the principal scene of his labors. 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 tenets, 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 tomorrow, and lead 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 Morrow County, but it may be accounted for from the fact that age had probably "dimmed the fire of his eye" before the living 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 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. At 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.

There are a large number of stories related in regard to his habits, which we reprint from "Howe's Historical Collections of Ohio," and "Norton's History of Knox County." 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 hid 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 eyes, 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 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 in 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 camp-fire 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 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 he 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. At one 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 this 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. It was he that brought the news of the Seymour and Copus massacres to the startled settlements in Perry and Franklin Townships, and later the alarm of the murder of Jones at Mansfield. 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." 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 be 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." The latest account we find of this character, so intimately associated with the early history of this region, dates in the fall of 1843. He was then on his way from the Iowa prairies ping to Philadelphia to attend a Swedenborg convention. He stopped all night with old acquaintances in Whiteside County, Ill. Since then, be has been lost to sight, but his 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 memorials of one whose mind, though unbalanced, swayed to the brighter side of human nature.

In the current number of St. Nicholas (June) we find the following tribute to his character and work, written by Lydia Maria Child, which we copy in full:

Poor Johnny was bended well-nigh double
With years of toil, and care, and trouble;
But his large old heart still felt the need
Of doing for others some kindly deed.

"But what can I do? " old Johnny said;
"I who work so hard for daily bread?
It takes heaps of money to do much good;
I am far too poor to do as I would."

The old man sat thinking deeply awhile,
Then over his features gleamed a smile,
And he clapped his hands with a boyish glee,
And he said to himself, , There's a way for me

He worked and worked with might and main,
But no one knew the plan in his brain.
He took ripe apples in pay for chores,
And carefully cut from them all the cores.

He filled a bag full, then wandered away,
And no man saw him for many a day.
With knapsack over his shoulder slung,
He marched along, and whistled or sung.

He seemed to roam with no object in view,
Like one who had nothing on earth to do;
But, journeying thus o'er the prairies wide,
He paused now and then, and his bag untied.

With pointed cane deep holes he would bore,
And in every hole he placed a core;
Then covered them well, and left them there
In keeping of sunshine, rain and air.

Sometimes for days he waded through grass,
And saw not a living creature pass,
But often, when sinking to sleep in the dark,
He heard the owls hoot and the prairie-dogs bark.

Sometimes an Indian of sturdy limb
Came striding along and walked with him;
And he who had food shared with the other,
As if he had met a hungry brother.

When the Indian saw how the bag was filled,
And looked at the holes the white man drilled,
He thought to himself 'twas a silly plan
To be planting seeds for some future man.

Sometimes a log cabin came in view,
Where Johnny was sure to find jobs to do,
By which he gained stores of bread and meat,
And welcome rest for his weary feet.

He had full many a story to tell,
And goodly hymns that he sung right well;
He tossed up the babies, and joined the boys
In many a game full of fun and noise.

And he seemed so hearty, in work or play,
Men, women and boys all urged him to stay;
But he always said, "I have something to do,
And I must go on to carry it through."

The boys who were sure to follow him round,
Soon found what it was he put in the ground
And so, as time passed and he traveled on ,
Ev'ry one called him, "Old Apple-seed John."

Whenever he'd used the whole of his store,
He went into cities and worked for more;
Then he marched back to the wilds again,
And planted seed on the hillside and plain.

In cities, some said the old man was crazy;
While others said he was only lazy;
But he took no notice of gibes and jeers,
He knew he was working for future years.

He knew that trees would soon abound
Where once a tree could not have been found
That flick'ring play of light and shade
Would dance and glimmer along the glade;

That blossoming sprays would form fair bowers,
And sprinkle the grass with rosy showers;
And the little seeds his hands had spread
Would become ripe apples when he was dead.

So he kept on traveling far and wide,
Till his old limbs failed him, and he died.
He said at the last, "'Tis a comfort to feel ideal."
I've done good in the world, though not a great

Weary travelers, journeying West,
In the shade of his trees find pleasant rest
And they often start with glad surprise,
At the rosy fruit that round them lies.

And if they inquire whence came such trees,
Where not a bough once swayed in the breeze,
The answer still comes, as they travel on,
"These trees were planted by Apple-seed John."


* We learned, somewhat indefinitely, that there is in existence a printed work supposed to be an autobiography of this Man, but we were unable to find it. [Back]