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Jonathan Chapman was an eccentric American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apples to large parts of Ohio. During his lifetime (1774 - 1845) he became an American legend because of his journeys across Ohio and other areas as a missionary for the Swedenborgian Church.
Sometimes on his journeys he distributed pamphlets about the church and used the apple seed as a metaphor for the church. Other times he just read passages from his Bible.
Jonathan was frugal -- he never let anything go to waste. If left to his own means, he would never hunt or kill for food, but trust in God to provide him with what he needed, be it food or clothing.
At some point in Chapman's life, he adopted a personal philosophy that he was able to hold on to for the rest of his life. From whom or from what he distilled these ideals is not known, except for the fact that he used apples, apple trees, and orchards as a means to an end. This drive to spread his message pushed him west into the wilderness areas north of the Ohio River.
From early on Chapman learned that apples trees were not only easy to grow, they could easily be a lasting source of nourishment for the settlers facing hard winters and dwindling food sources. In fact, the only requirement the federal government placed on land given to Revolutionary War veterans, was that they had to plant at least 50 fruit trees within 3 years of establishing their homestead on the given land.
Apple trees became the natural choice simply because an apple could be used in so many different ways and preserved for much of the winter when food supplies were naturally in short supply; apples could be eaten raw; they could be safely stored whole in root cellars for later use; or, cut and dried for even longer use. Apples could be made into sauces, butters, vinegar, and a hard cider. Once processed, apples could be shipped long distances. It was during this early development that Jonathan Chapman found himself.
During the early formative years, Jonathan Chapman learned about the culture of growing apple trees as an apprentice in New England. Here he learned the importance of pollination, fertilization, amending the soil, all of the requirements a vibrant orchard required. When he turned 18, Chapman and his younger brother left home to seek their own fortunes in the west. They wandered through Pennsylvania. Along the way they met many families that were heading even further west, into the rugged Ohio Territory to establish homesteads. He knew that these migrating families would be ideal prospects for buying apple trees.
As the Indian problems began to subside and it became clearer that it was only a matter of time before the Ohio Territory would become a state, Chapman decided to take the leap and cross the Ohio River along with leather bags full of dried apple seeds he had gathered from cider presses in Western Pennsylvania. He crossed into the Ohio Country about 4 miles south of Steubenville and here planted what would become his first apple orchard near the mouth George's Run.
Chapman left no diaries of his daily life. Most of what we know about him today are firsthand accounts of his visits with people living on the frontier. We know that he established his first nursery orchard along the banks of Licking Creek in what is now Licking County. This became his base nursery and in the upcoming years, Chapman would return here to gather additional seeds. He also returned to the mills back in Pennsylvania. Over the years he became a regular site coming down the Ohio River with lashed together canoes filled with bags of apple seeds. From the Ohio River he would move up and down the Muskingum and Walhonding Rivers and their tributaries planting nurseries whenever he could find rich bottom land where the soil was rich and the area secluded.
He then began setting up orchards throughout north central Ohio. When he found a suitable spot, he would plant the seeds for a new orchard. If the land was owned, he got permission from the owner to plant the orchard. Once these trees reached the sapling stage, he would sell or trade the trees for supplies. Sometimes, he just gave them away to people who couldn't afford the trees. Besides the nurseries in Licking County, Chapman also established Nurseries in Knox, Richland and Wayne Counties and later established nurseries in Crawford County.
As he moved from area to area when the opportunity presented itself, he would preach to those that would gather. During his sermons Chapman used the apple seed as his message of planting something so small that would in time, produce so much fruit.
Years after John Chapman came to Ohio, he sent word to his father about how great the Ohio land was for farming. His father and stepmother setup housekeeping just north of Marietta. He also had 12 brothers and sisters. In time the Chapman family spread out throughout the state, providing the wandering Johnny Appleseed a safe haven during the bitter cold winters.
For those people that came in contact with Jonathan Chapman, they were always aware of his quirky traits, but he was also a welcome visitor. John liked to talk and was able to communicate news from other parts of the state as well as news he had heard from back east.
Some people made notes in their diaries about the odd fellow that visited their farm on occasion. Across the land he had become known as Johnny Appleseed. He never seemed to wear shoes except in the winter months. He wore a hat he fashioned out of pasteboard with one side having a large brim to keep the sun from his face. He often was invited to spend the night with families and one of his common traits after being invited to stay, was to enter the cabin, stretch out across the floor with his head pointed to the doorway with his knapsack tucked under his head like a pillow. After getting himself arranged just right, he would then announce in strong loud voice "Will you have some fresh news right from Heaven?" and then begin to recite passages from his old New Testament Bible.
Jonathan Chapman died in Fort Wayne at the age of 70. There is a museum in Urbana, Ohio devoted to Johnny Appleseed.