Robert Douglass, Publisher
Indianapolis, Ind., 1878
History of Wayne County, Ohio
From the Days of the
Pioneers and First Settlers
to the Present Time
by Ben Douglass
Jonathan Chapman, better known as "Johnny Appleseed," according to such authorities as we have concerning him, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, about the year 1775. Relative to his boyhood, and, in fact, his earlier manhood and the period preceeding his advent into the wild wastes of the West, there is but void and silence.Hon. John H. James, of Urbana, Ohio, who address, many years since, a series of communications to the Cincinnati Horticultural Socient on early gardening in the West, to one of which communications he he refers in a letter of June 1, 1862, says of him:
"I first saw him in 1826, and have since learned something of his history. He came to my office in Urbana bearing a letter from the late Alexander Kimmont. The letter spoke of him as a man generally known by the name of Johnny Appleseed, and that he might desire some counsel about a nursery he had in Champaign county. His case was this: Some years before he had planted a nursery on the land of a person who gave him leave to do so, and he was told that the land had been sold, and was now in other hands, and that the present owner might not recognize his right to the trees. He did not seem to be very anxious about it, and continued walking to and fro as he talked, and at the same time continued eating nuts. Having advised him to go and see the person, and that, on stating his case, he might have no difficulty, and converation turned. I asked him about his nursury, and whether the trees were grafted. He answered 'No' rather decidedly, and said that the proper and natural mode was to raise fruit trees from the seed. "In 1801, he came into the Territory with a horse load of apple seeds, gathered from the cider pressed in Western Pennsylvania. The seeds were contained in leathern bags, which were better suited to his journey than linen sacks; and, besides, linen could not be spared for such a purpose. He came first to Licking county, Ohio, where he planted his seeds. I am able to say that it was on the far of Isaac Stadden. In this instance, as in others afterward, he would clear a spot for his purpose, and make some slight enclosure about his plantation; only a slight one was needed for there were no cattle roaming about to disturb it. He would then return for more seeds, and select other sites for new nureries. When the trees were ready for sale, he left them in charge of some one to sell for him, at a low price, which was seldom or never paid in money, for that was a thing the settlers rarely possessed. If people were too poor to purchase trees, they got them without pay. He was at little expense, for he was ever welcome at the settler's houses.
Nearly all the early orchards in Licking county were planted from his nursery. He had also nurseries in Know, in Richland and in Wayne counties."
The fact that he made his appearance in Licking county and other sections at so early a period as 1801, seems to be quite well authenticated. For the succeeding five years, though doubtless "plying his vocation," we are unable to reliably trace him.
In 1806, equipped with a craft in harmony with his eccentric imagination, this bold, strange, riddle of a man, with an antique, fantastic cargo, slowly descended the waters of the Ohio. He was conveying a load of apple seeds to the Western territory with the avowed purpose of planting the germs of orchards yet to be on the extremest borders of the white settlements. His craft, constructed of two canoes bound together, followed the current of 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, 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. These are the initial and best authenticated facts in the history of this "enthusiast of the woods."
His choice of situations, or localities for planting his seeds, exhibted taste, judgment and discretion. Many of his sites are known and remembered by the early settlers at the present time. They were generally open places on the loamy lands and on the margin of the streams.
In what was Wayne county originally and prior to the formation of Ashland county, February 24, 1846, and now know as Mohican township, our adventurous hero owned a small tract of land and planted his seeds. H. S. Knapp, in his history of Ashland county, records the following:
"Alexander Finley, in his lifetime, sold to Jonathan Chapman what is estimated to be three acres, in the south-east corner of the south-west quarter of sectio 26, being in the quarter originally entered by said Finley, and which is now owned by A. J. Young, and forms part of the little town of Lake Fork. This land was deede to Chapman by Finley, but the deed was lost, though recorded, and the tract never transferred on the Auditor's books. The taxes have regularly been paid by Finley's heirs, when in their possession, and by the present owner, Mr. Young, since the farm came into his ownership. Recently, other parties, after fruitless efforts to buy of the heirs of Finley, have taken possession of the disputed tract and assumed ownership by virtue or such possession. Chapman had made slight improvements, and started a nursery."
It is claimed that on the remove western border of Chester and Congress townships he scattered his seeds, and that some of the earliest orchards of that settlement were products of his nurseries. One thing is certain, however, that his nurseries in Wayne county, prior to the establishment of the county of Ashland, suppled the pioneers of that and adjacent localities with the settings of their future orchards.
In East Union township there appears to be no doubt but that this fanatical wanderer located one of his nurseries. On Little Sugar creek, near the residence of David Carr, he selected the site which, seventy years ago, in the primal silence of its wild environments, must have been poetically picturesque.
In personal appearance he is described as being a small, wiry man, with thin lips and dilated nostrils, possessed of restless activity, with long dark hair, an unshaven face and sharp, black eyes. His life was rough and hard, and yet we suppose fascinating enough to him, who seemed to prefer such a life. To him it was enjoyment,"To sit on rocks, to muse o'er flood and fell,To slowly trace the forest's shady scene,Where things that own not Man's dominion dwell,And mortal foot hat ne'er, or rarely been."
He frequently slept in the woods with the leaves and mosses for his pillow and bed, apparently choosing these interviews with nature and her "visible forms."
His clothing was singular, odd, fantastical, dilapidated. Only for convenience, and as evidence that he felt the stain and pain of the First Offense, did he wear dress at all. His apparel consisted chiefly of second-hand, refuse garments, which he had taken in exchange for apple trees. This, to his peculiar notion, in later years seemed to encroach upon extravagance, when his chief garment would be made from a coffee sack, in which were made holes for his arms and head to pass through. This he would pronounce "A very serviceable cloak, and as good clothing as any man need wear." On one occasion a pair of shoes was given him, which in a few days thereafter he presented to a barefooted family going west which, as he said, needed them worse than he. A tin pan or vessel of some kind was first used by him for a hat, and in this he cooked his mush. This he abandoned, and manufactured his head covers of pasteboard, the rim on one side wider than the other to shield his features from the glare of the sun.
Clad thus in the quasi-nudeness and rudeness of aboriginal costume, he penetrated forests, swamps and streams, and made sudden appearances in the settlements of the whites and Indian villages. It is plainly evident that there must have been some rare force of gentle goodness dwelling in his looks and breathing in his words, for it is the testimony of all who knew him, that, notwithstanding his grotesque dress, he was always treated with the greatest respect by the rudest frontiersmen, and, what is a better test, the boys of the settlement forbore to jeer at him. With grownup people and boys he was generally reticent, but manifested great affection for little girls, alays having pieces of ribbon and gay calico to give to his little favorites. And what is still more anomalous, the Indians not only treated him kindly, but with a sort of superstitious feeling. No people in the world are more susceptible of supernatural influence or power than the Red man. Invest an Indian with the belief that you can interpret omens or decipher dreams, and he will suffer almost death rather than molest you. These Indians regarded Johnny Appleseed as a "great medicine man" because of his fantastic dress, strange manner, eccentric conduct, and the wonderful calmness with which he endured pain.
During the war of 1812, when the settlers upon our frontiers were harrassed and butchered by the Indians, then the allies of Great Britain, he pursued the "even tenor of his way" undisturbed by the brutal and murderous savages. In his wanderings among them, he frequently obtained information in regard to their intentions, and was often able to sound the "note of warning" to the white settlers, thereby enabling them to fly to their block-houses and other places of protection. When the news of Hull's surrender came upon the frontier, large bodies of Indians and British were laying waste everything before them and slaughtering defenseless women and children. At this juncture, Jonathan Chapman traveled night and day, heralding the disaster and asmonishing the people to prepare for danger. He visited the cabins of the settlers, delivering this message:
"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."
As illustrating his self-imposed sacrifices and the self-abnegation to which he subjected himself in this single instance, he persistently refused all tenders of food, and, not taking a moment's rest, he traversed the border by day and by night until he had warned every settler of the impending danger.
If he was not a stoic like Zeno, he at times acted as though he professed faith in that sect. An Indian warrior to him was the concavity and convexity of mortal courage. He assumed to bear pain with stolid indifference. To him there was great glory in great suffering. He certainly had less acuteness of nervous sensibility than people generally have, or a vast endowment of fortitude. If he bruised or wounded his foot among stones or thorns, his first remeidal application was red-hot iron to the afflicted part, by which it was seared. The logic of all this was to convert the wound into a burn, and then heal the burn. He would thrust needles and pins into his flesh without flinch or quiver.
His diet was thin, and his motto possibly was,"Man wants but little here below."Some even incline to the belief that he subsisted on vegetables entirely. In his eyes, to take the like of animals for food was a sin, and that out of the soil sprung all that was necessary for human sustentation. No economy was too rigid for him to practice. With him all waste of food was criminal. Whilst visiting a cabin on one occasion, he discovered some fragments of bread floating on a bucket of slops that was intended for the pigs. To the great surprise of the housewife, she noticed him gathering the floating pieces, but measure her astonishment as, reprovingly, he remarked that "it was a violation of the gifts of a merciful God to permit the smallest quantity of anything that was designed to supply the wants of mankind to be diverted from its purpose."
Throughout his whole life, but more particularly in this instance, his peculiar religious ideas were set forth. He believed in the doctrines and heresies of Emanuel Swedenborg, the fundamental idea of whose system is communication with the spirit world. He assumed to have conversations with angels and spirits; two of the latter, of the feminine order, he asserted had disclosed to him the secret that if he abstained from conjugal combinations on earth they were to be his wives in the future state. He did not appear to entertain any serious fear of death, regarding it merely as a natural stage in the progress of human beings, which terminates their probationary state, and separates the soul from its material companion. Wherever he wandered he sought to make known his religious views. In his eagerness to circulate the opinions and doctrines of Swedenborg he tore his books into pieces, leaving a fragment at one cabin, one at another, and so on, as if he were distributing a serial. His feeling toward the great spiritualist (for such he was) was that of reverence, akin to superstition. Once he was interrogated as to the fact of his not being afraid of being bitten by poisonous reptiles in his journeying through the woods. Replying smilingly, he drew his book from his bosom with the words, "This book is an infallible protection against all danger here and hereafter." He was usually welcomed at the humble board of the hospitable pioneer. On such occasions, after a tiresome journey, it was his custom to lie town on the rude puncheon floor, and, after inquiring if his auditors would hear "some news right fresh from heaven," would produce his few ragged books, among which would be a New Testament, and read and expound until the scene would become one of intense excitement and confusion.
Miss Rosella Rice, who knew him, speaks in the following terms of one of these readings:
"We can hear him read now just as he did that summer day when we were busy quilting up stairs, and he lay near the door, his voice rising denunciatory and thrilling, strong and lound as the roar of waves and winds, then soft and soothing as the balmy airs that stirred and quivered the morning-glory leaves about his gray head.
"His was a strange, deep eloquence at times. His language was good and well chosen, and he was undoubtedly a man of genius."
What a scene is presented to our imagination! The interior of a primitive cabin, the wide, open fire place, where a few sticks are burning beneath the iron pot, in which the evening meal is cooking; around the fire-place the attentive groups, composed of the sturdy pioneer and his wife and children, listening with reverential awe to the "news right fresh from heaven;" and reclining on the floor, clad in rags, but with his gray hairs glorified by the beams of the setting sun that flood through the open door, and the unchinked logs of the humble building, this poor wanderer, with the gift of genius and eloquence, who believes with the faith of apostles and martyrs that God has appointed him a mission in the wilderness to preach the gospel of love, and plant apple seeds that shall produce orchards for the benefit of men and women, and little children whom he has never seen. If there be a sublimer faith, or a more genuine eloquence in richly decorated cathedrals, and under brocade vestments, it would be worth a long journey to find it.
Next to his religious mania was his apple tree enthusiasm. With him there was but one way to cultivate the apple, and that was from seed. In his advocacy of this system he would again climb to spurs of eloquence. Miss Rice says of him:
"Sometimes, in speaking of fruit, his eyes would sparkle, and his countenance grow animated and really beautiful, and if he was at table his knife and fork would be forgotten. In describing apples we could see them just as he, the word-painter, pictured them — large, lush, creamy-tinted ones, or rich, fragrant, and yellow, with a peachy tint on the sunshiny side, or crimson red, with the cool juice ready to burst through the tinder rind."
Bergh appears late in the day in his advocacy of a more humane treatment of animals, for Johnny Appleseed preceded him half a century, and with a more self-sacrificing zeal in the cause. If Johnny saw an animal maltreated, or heard of it, he wold buy it and give it to some more humane settler, with the condition that he should kindly treat it. In consequence of the long journey into the wilderness it oftened happened that the emigrants became encumbered with lame and used-up horses, that were turned out to die, or forage for themselves. Before the advent of winter he would collect together these rejected and cast-off animals, bargain for their car and protection until the coming spring, when he would seek pasture for them for a season.
If they recovered so as to be able to perform work, he would lend them or give them away, exacting conditions for their kind usage. He would not sell them. His convictions relative to the positive sin of visiting pain or death upon any creature was not confined to the higher manifestations of animal life, but everything that had being was to him, in the fact of its life, endowed with so much of the divine essence that to wound or destroy it was to inflict an injury upon some atom of Divinity. No Brahmin could be more concerned for the preservation of insect life, and the only occation on which he destroyed a venomous reptile was a source of long regret, to which he could never refer without a feeling of sorrow.
In describing the circumstances under which he had been bitten by a rattlesnake, he sighed heavily and said: "Poor fellow, he only just touched me, when I, in the heat of my ungodly passion, put the heel of my scythe in him and went away. Some time afterward I went back, and there lay the poor fellow dead."
On one occasion, as he usually preferred to "camp out," he had kindled a fire near where he intended to spend the night, when he perceived that the blaze attracted toward it large numbers of mosquitoes, many of which got too close to the fire and were burned. He procured water without delay and extinguished the fire, saying: "God forbid that I should build a fire for my comfort which should be the means of destroying any of his creatures."
He removed the fire, at another time, that he had started near a hollow log, and spent the night on the snow, as he discovered that within the log was a bear and cubs, whose "balmy sleep" he would not molest.
Mr. Knapp, in his History of Ashland County, furnishes this characteristic paragraph:
"Johnny, from more respect to his sense of right than law, would join parties who were employed in work upon the public roads. On one occassion, while thus engaged near the Jones prairie, in Green township, a yellow-jackets' nets became disturbed, and one of the insects found its way under his pants; and although it inflicted repeated stings, he gently and quietly forced it downwards by pressing his pants above it. His comrades, much amused at his gentleness under such circumstances, inquired why he did not kill it; to which he replied, that 'it would not be right to take the life of the poor thing, as it was only obeying the instict of its nature, and did not intend to hurt him.'"
His expenses for sustenance and dress were most trivial, and he sometimes had more cash in his pockets than he wanted, which was often given to some needy family that had succumbed to ague or that had been reduced to extremity by the accidents of border life. His purchase of the three acres of land from Alexander Finley, already noted, is the single and isolated instance in which he invested his surplus capital in real estate.
He did not seek to shun society or intercourse with the settlers, yet he seemed to covet solitude, and next to his religious books, enjoyed the companionship of the stately forests and the running streams. Perhaps he thought, with Byron, that"Society is but one polished hoarde,Formed of two mighty tribes, the Bores and Bored."
But this man's life, so replete with trial, self-sacrifice and suffering, was not, by any means, a sad or meloncholy one. Possessed of the conviction that his life was patterned after, and but a photograph of the primitive Christians, he was a serenely happy man. Combined with other native gifts of mind was found also a keen deposit of humor.
An itinerant preacher was whipping the air on the public square of Mansfield, and in a tedious and periphrastical discourse, dealt some "Apostolic knocks" at the sin of extravagance, which had already manifested itself among the pioneers by divers indulgences at sundry times, in the carnal excesses of calico and "store tea." With a supercilious pharisaical air, the preacher asked, "Where now is there a man who, like the primitive Christians, is traveling to heaven bare-footed and clad in coarse raiment?" The interrogation being frequently repeated, Johnny, who was resting on his back on some timber, taking the questions in its literal sense, raised his bare feet in the air, and pointing to his coffee-sack outfit of dress, vociferated, "Here's your primitive Christian!"
He seems to have inclined to peculiar notions regarding the supposed anti-malarial virtues of the offensive weed known as dog-fennel, and adjusting the act to the idea, obtained some seeds of the plant in Pennsylvania and sowed them in the vicinity of every cabin compassed in his peregrinations. Like other troublesome weeds, it had a rapid growth, and with the recurring years extended its invasions over the whole country until it became as pestilent as the maladies it was intended to counteract. The farmers of Ohio to-day can uncover their heads, and in silent gratitude pronounce benisons on rare old Johnny Appleseed for their heritage of dog-fennel.
In 1838 he took his departure for the wilds of Western Ohio and Indiana. An industrious, frugal, self-sustaining, money-getting population had possessed the region he had first visited over a third of a century before. "Flourishing peopled towns" and pretentious churches were being build; the old and "unfrequented woods" were tumbling to the fiat of the stalwart woodman's ax; even the echoes of the stage-driver's unmelodious horn pealed down the invaded forest's aisles, and he felt that though he had labored long and hard, in this region his work was done. After visiting many families with words of parting and counsel he left them. For nine more years he pursued his old ways with his characteristic singularity in Indiana and the western portion of Ohio. His labors bore fruit over a hundred thousand square miles of territory.
He died in Allen county, Indiana, in the summer of 1847, aged 72 years, 46 of which had been consecrated to this self-imposed, self-sacrificing mission. His death, calm and peaceful, occurred among strangers, yet he was kindly cared for — his last illness being quite free from great suffering.
Aye, gone with the rest, one of the memorable men of pioneer times! who never willingly inflicted a pain or knew an enemy — a man of strange words and incomprehensible habits, in whom existed a fathomless love that included the lowest manifestations of life as well as the loving Father of us all.
Unsheltered, homeless, ragged and almost raimentless, he walked the thorny lands with sore and bleeding feet; but the story of his life, however imperfectly introduced, will be indisputable, and "perpetual proof that true heroism, pure benevolence, noble virtues and deeds that deserve immortality, may be found under meanest apparel, and far from gilded halls and towering spires."