John Chapman

Posted on in Todd Talks by Todd Johnson

On September 26, 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts, a child was born that would live an extraordinary life and change the lives of many people for generations to come.

John Chapman would grow to be a nomad who left home at 18 to go west. The stories then pick up in Wilkes-Barre or Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Chapman was working as a nurseryman in an apple orchard. Until Johnny, as he would become known, apples were only grown in the Northeast. In fact, apples were not grown at all in North America until European settlers brought them to the Boston area in the 1500s.

Eventually, Johnny set off on his own. Stories tell of the odd ways in which he dressed, potato sacks with holes for his arms and legs, no shoes, and a tin pot as a hat that doubled as a vessel to cook food in. He was incredibly kind and often would be invited to stay with complete strangers and tell stories to children or spread the gospel to anyone who would listen. But in his spare time, which apparently he had an abundance of, he would plant apple orchards. He would build a fence around the nursery to protect it from animals and then leave it to the locals to take care of. He would return every year or so to tend the trees.

He would eventually make his way to Ohio and, finally, Indiana, planting along the way. His role in spreading the apple westward earned him the nickname "Johnny Appleseed."

I think every child learns a little about him in elementary school at some point. But along with the apple, Johnny planted something else: kindness. He was rumored to be a vegetarian and was so kind to animals that it is said he healed a wolf's leg and that the wolf then followed him around and became his pet. Johnny once heard about a horse that was to be put down, so he bought the horse and a tract of land, allowed the horse to heal, and then gave the horse away with the stipulation that it be treated humanely. There is also a story about how he once put out his cooking fire because he saw a mosquito fly near the flames and get burned by the heat.

Picking apples is one of my most treasured fall family traditions. I am sure that if it were not for Johnny, someone else surely would have spread the apple to other parts of the country. But whoever it would have been probably would not have done it the same way and with an uncommon kindness.