Sep 25, 2010

Johnny Appleseed Day~Sept. 26

Johnny Appleseed Day is celebrated September 26th every year. It is a day to remember the legendary frontiersman and to honor him for introducing apple trees to many portions of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois and to celebrate his charitable way of life.

When Johnny Was Just A Twig
The man known as "Johnny Appleseed" was actually born John Chapman on September 26, 1774, in Leominster, Massachusetts, two years before the American Colonies declared their independence from England.  He was the second child of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Chapman.   

Johnny grew up in a poor family. His father Nathaniel was a farmer. During the Revolutionary War Nathaniel fought against the British as one of the legendary "Minutemen" in the Continental Army. Just before Johnny turned two years old, while his father was away at war, his mother Elizabeth and baby brother died soon after she gave birth.  Johnny and his sister Elizabeth went to live with their grandparents until their father was honorably discharged in 1780.

When Johnny was a young man his father sent him to work as an apprentice to an apple farmer. There he was taught how to propagate and care for apple trees.

Go West Young Man
When Johnny was eighteen years old he decided to head west. Johnny came up with a simple, yet ingenious idea. He would travel across the mid-west, staying one step ahead of the settlers who were moving to Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to establish homesteads, and plant apple trees that the homesteaders could then buy from him and use to produce food and sell to cider houses to earn money. 

And that's just what he did. Johnny would go to a town and plant apple trees, creating a nursery which he would then turn over to a townsman to care for and sell the trees, which provided that townsman with a percentage of the profits.  Johnny would then move on to the next town and do the same thing there, returning to each town after a year or so to collect his profits, which he would give most of to others in need, retaining just enough to get by.

Most of the apple seeds were given to Johnny for free by the cider houses because it benefited them to have more apple trees planted. He would travel by horse with two packs of apple seeds slung across the horse or on foot with a pack thrown over his shoulder.  

A Peculiar Sort of Man
As Johnny traveled across the mid-west people became more and more aware of the odd character who dressed funny, planted apple trees, and spread kindness and generosity wherever he went. He became widely known. People began referring to him as "The Apple Seed Man", which soon changed to "Johnny Appleseed".   

Johnny was a humble man who did not put much stock in material things. He didn't have a home. He preferred spending most of his nights sleeping in the wilderness, but would occasionally sleep on the floor of a strangers home who might take him in for a night or two. (He would turn down a bed if offered). He wore simple clothing which he usually procured through bartering. Most of the time he went barefoot, even in the winter, although he did at times wear discarded shoes that he would find along the way, whether they were a matching pair or not. Legend tells that he wore a tin pot on his head which he used as a hat as well as to cook his food.

Described as a small, wiry man with deep blue eyes and long black hair, Johnny was gentle and kind. People enjoyed having him visit them as he would bring news of what was going on in other areas, and he would entertain the children with stories and games. He was a friend to the Indians, bringing them seeds for planting medicinal plants.

He was opposed to violence and loved all living creatures. He was a vegetarian, believing it was wrong to kill a living animal to procure food.  The story is told that one night after building a fire Johnny noticed that mosquitoes were flying through the flames and being burned, so he quickly put the fire out exclaiming "God forbid that I should build a fire for my comfort which should be the means of destroying any of His creatures!"

Johnny the Hero
While living in what is now Mansfield, Ohio during the war of 1812, word came to the settlers late one night that the Indians were advancing upon them intent on waging an attack. Two of the townsman had already been killed, and it was asked who would go about the towns warning the settlers of the impending attack. Johnny Appleseed did not hesitate to volunteer and swiftly jumped upon his horse and rode close to 30 miles along a rough, dark path to warn the settlers, bringing back a detachment of troops to guard the settlement.

This was not an isolated incident. Johnny was known for often sacrificing his own safety and comfort for the welfare of others.  

The Man and His Religion
Johnny was a devout Christian. He knew the Bible by heart. Besides planting apple trees, he spent most of his "spare" time preaching the Swedenborgian religion, named after Emanuel Swedenborg, whose theological writings it prescribed to. (Also known as the Church of The New Jerusalem). 

Much of the way Johnny lived his life was dictated by his religious beliefs. He believed that if you sacrifice and suffer in this life, you will be comfortable in the next life, and vice versa. Johnny lived his life in humility and faith. When confronted with his rising popularity, Johnny said, " My real name is John Chapman and I enjoy planting apple trees and bringing God's word." 

Johnny Appleseed died in March of 1845 at the age of 70. During his life he became famous for his eccentric, yet kind and gentle ways, becoming a legend after his death. 

The actual date of Johnny Appleseed Day has been in debate for many years. Some claim it as being on March 11, which is said to be the date of his death, but that is also in debate as some say he died on March 18. So the more common date of the observance is the date of his birth, September 26.  

For more information, please refer to the following articles which I used as my sources:
Image: Johnny Appleseed

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