A Brief Illustrated History of the Fruit Crate Label


The History of the Fruit Crate Label

California fruit growers appealed to eastern consumer's ideas about the west coast as a paradise, and often featured pictures of attractive women enjoying the outdoors, or beautiful landscapes of fertile valleys bounded by mountains and sea.

California fruit growers appealed to eastern consumer’s ideas about the west coast as a paradise, and often featured pictures of attractive women enjoying the outdoors, or beautiful landscapes of fertile valleys bounded by mountains and sea.

For much of the 19th century, the American apple industry was concentrated in the eastern part of the country, and markets for apples were primarily local or regional, and much of the nation’s apple production occurred on farms where fruit growing was but one of many agricultural activities. In the late 19th century, with the development of a national railroad network and refrigerated rail cars, and the introduction of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, a new, more specialized fruit growing industry emerged along the Pacific Coast.  Apples produced in the fertile valleys of California, Washington and Oregon could now be shipped to consumers across the nation, and arrive in pristine condition.

apple_barrel1But as western fruit growers developed their industry, they had to develop distinctive methods for packing their apples.  In the east, apple growers typically rolled oak barrels out into the orchards and quickly packed the apples direct from tree to barrel.  Once a barrel was filled and the lid secured, the farmer could roll the barrel out of the orchard before loading on a wagon. The fruit inside made its full journey from orchard to store in the barrel, and the merchant typically sold the fruit straight from the barrel.

The softwood fruit crate was a necessary innovation from the west coast fruit industry.  But it also had the advantage of reducing shipping costs with its greater packing efficiency.

The softwood fruit crate was a necessary innovation from the west coast fruit industry. But it also had the advantage of reducing shipping costs with its greater packing efficiency.

On the west coast, a shortage of hardwoods made the barrel an impractical container for getting fruit from orchard to store.  Instead, west coast growers built small softwood crates, and carefully packed fruit in these smaller containers.  The rectangular shape of the crate also increased packing efficiency as fruit traveled across the nation by railcar.

Apples from the Pacific Northwest (and apples and citrus fruit from California) proved to have great appeal to eastern consumers.  Every specimen arrived at the grocer’s in good shape, whereas apples at the bottom of large oak barrels were often bruised and unappetizing.  Finally, by decorating the crate with colorful brand labels, western fruit growers appealed to consumer’s aesthetic sensibilities, and sometimes cultivated brand loyalty.

Chief seattle apples

Eastern consumers often associated the west with Indians, so many fruit crate labels used images of Native Americans in their branding.

This unusual label reveals the twentieth century American consumers' interest in food products that were consistent and predictable in flavor and appearance.

This unusual label reveals the twentieth century American consumers’ interest in food products that were consistent and predictable in flavor and appearance.

By the 1940s, American apple consumers were increasingly obsessed with the physical appearance of the food they consumed.

By the 1940s, American apple consumers were increasingly obsessed with the physical appearance of the food they consumed.

Fruit Growers responded to a perceived consumer preference for “good looking” fruit by cultivating “sports” which were striking in their color and appearance.  A “sport” is a naturally occurring genetic mutation in a grafted tree, which can than be propagated by grafting.  “Red Sports” were all the rage, and growers became more and more concerned with production of apples with the best color.  Many argue that they did this at the expense of flavor. By the 1950s, red sport varieties of the Delicious and the McIntosh were dominating an apple market which increasingly lacked choice and diversity.

This "Oregon Girl" label anticipates the transition to a global apple market.

This “Oregon Girl” label anticipates the transition to a global apple market.

 Today fruit crate labels are highly collectable, and most of those which survive come from west coast orchards.  Eventually, east coast growers began to recognize the effectiveness of the fruit crate label as a marketing device, and they began to emulate buckeye apples 2their western competition. so labels from eastern producers can be found, but are less plentiful.   The golden age of the fruit crate label were between the 1890s and the 1940s. By the 1950s, corrugated cardboard boxes began to replace the fruit crate, and while commonly stamped with colorful brand images, they lacked the vivid color and appeal of the softwood fruit crate label.

Was Johnny Appleseed a Barefoot Vegetarian?


Was Johnny Appleseed a Barefoot Vegetarian?

While researching my book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, I sifted through mountains of oral traditions and tall tales about the legendary apple tree planter.  What proved to be more difficult to find were concrete traces of the real John Chapman preserved in the historical record.  Some of the more useful sources of information about Chapman were Dry Goods Store ledgers in some of the communities where he resided.  But I was certainly caught by surprise with a discovery I made at the Crawford County Historical Society in Meadville, Pennsylvania.  There, in a Holland Land Company store ledger from the 1790s, I found this list of items purchased by John Chapman: brandy, whiskey, sugar, chocolate, tobacco, three pairs of “mockasins,” gunpowder, and pork.

In the popular legend Johnny Appleseed carried no gun, went barefoot everywhere, was loathe to harm any living creature, was a vegetarian, and is sometimes described as a teetotaler.  These brief entries in the Holland Land Company records appeared to upend those legends.  In fact the Holland Land company store ledger isn’t the only story that suggests John sometimes carried a gun. A story from Warren, Pennsylvania describing his first crossing of the Alleghenies also has him fitted out with a rifle.  And one of the central Ohio stories recounting Chapman’s time there during the War of 1812 has John responding to suspicious gunfire by grabbing his own rifle to investigate, and returning later with a venison ham given to him by the deer-hunting neighbor responsible for the first shot.

Nevertheless, many people who knew John Chapman in his later years recounted his extreme aversion to harming any living creature, and asserted that his diet was vegetarian.  In all likelihood, Chapman adopted a vegetarian diet later in life.  If he did, he may have been among the nation’s first advocates of the vegetarian diet.  In the early 1820s, when John Chapman was in his

The Reverend William Metcalfe, leader of the Philadelphia Bible Christians, one of the earliest advocates of vegetarianism in the new nation.

mid forties, what was perhaps the first vegetarian community was established in Philadelphia.  The Reverend William Metcalfe and his followers, calling themselves the Bible Christians, shared with John Chapman an interest in the writings of the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg. .  Metcalfe’s conversion to vegetarianism was at least in part a response to Swedenborg’s description of meat-eating as a dramatic sign of man’s fall. By the end of the 1820s, vegetarianism had found other American advocates as well, including Sylvester W. Graham, promoter of the Graham diet, and Bronson Alcott, father of Louisa May Alcott.  All three of these early American advocates of vegetarianism argued for it on both spiritual and scientific grounds.

As for those moccasins, Chapman’s aversion to footwear is recounted in many sources that span his adult life.  But there are also surviving stories which recount that in times of very severe weather, he might be seen wearing the ragged, discarded boots of others. But even these he would give to others who in his mind needed them more than he did.  The three pairs of moccasins he acquired at the Holland Land Company Store in 1797, he may have purchased because they would be easy to carry, and might be traded for other things he needed, or be given to others in need.  And what should we make of the brandy and whiskey John Chapman purchased?  John Dawson, who knew Chapman in his later years recalled that he “was generally regarded as a temperate man . . . but occasionally he would take a dram of spirits to keep himself a little warm, as he said.”   That John Chapman was not a fiery prohibitionist should come as no surprise.  Many of the apples from the seedling trees John Chapman planted found their way to the cider mill, where they were converted to cider, both hard and sweet, and some then into cider brandy.  But that is a subject worthy of a future post.

The Fall and Rise of Hard Cider


Photo courtesy Thinkstock.

Photo courtesy Thinkstock.

The latest issue of Inside Jersey Magazine has a nice article by T.J. Foderaro about the new American hard cider craze.  Mr. Foderaro called me up early this summer and we had a nice conversation about the history of hard cider in America.  I was pleased with the article, and that Mr. Foderaro was willing to help me explode the popular myth that it was 1920s-era prohibition that was the cause of hard cider’s demise.

This myth is in part the result of a common confusion about the history of anti-alcohol movements in the United States.  A popular temperance movement emerged in the 1820s, and quickly gained ground, but most early supporters of that movement embraced a strategy of moral suasion, not prohibition, believing alcohol abuse to be a sin, and seeking to give the sinner the opportunity to repent and save themselves, rather than denying the sinner the possibility of redemption by using the force of law restrict access to alcohol.  Many early advocates of temperance even drew a distinction between distilled spirits, and the milder levels of alcohol in cider, beer, and wine, and simply urged people to stay away from demon rum, whiskey, and other potent forms.

Carrie Nation may have used her axe on a number of saloons, but she can't take credit for the demise of the cider apple.

Carrie Nation may have used her axe on a number of saloons, but she can’t take credit for the demise of the cider apple.

To be sure, from the outset one wing of this early temperance movement, often described as “ultras” opposed the consumption of alcohol in any form, and some embraced a strategy of using the force of law to prohibit production and sale of alcohol.  By the late 1820s, stories circulated about temperance advocates chopping down their own seedling orchards, as the apples which grew on this tree were the prime source of hard cider and cider brandy. (I discuss that early war on the cider apple in this post.) But evidence that widespread, temperance-motivated destruction of “wild apple” orchards is slim.

After the Civil War the anti-alcohol movement gained strength, promoted by groups like the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement which adopted a campaign for legal prohibition. That movement claimed victory with the ratification of the 18th amendment in 1919. Long before that time, beer had eclipsed hard cider as the popular choice of Americans who chose to imbibe.

So what led to the mid 19th century demise of hard cider?  It is my contention that it faded with the frontier.  Unlike today’s popular craft ciders, most early American cider was a homemade hodgepodge of any available apples, dumped into the press in any condition.  It was the poor man’s drink.  In 1840, when William Henry Harrison ran a successful populist campaign for the presidency, he employed the log cabin and hard cider as symbols of his fictionalized common roots. (I examine that story of that campaign in this post.) By the middle of the 19th century, as Americans increasingly embraced the modern, a new wave of German immigrants offered them the alternative of beer brewed in state of the art breweries, and hard cider faded from the scene.

Oregon-based Reverend Nat's Hard Cider is one of more than 350 American Cider producers to appear in recent years.

Oregon-based Reverend Nat’s Hard Cider is one of more than 350 American Cider producers to appear in recent years.

Apples continued to be an important part of American agriculture, however and regional, national, and transatlantic markets for American dessert apples began to grow by the end of the century. By that point cider orchards had mostly disappeared, swallowed up by returning forests in regions like New England, or in some cases grafted to produce sweet apples.  (One minor error in Mr. Foderaro’s otherwise excellent article is the implication that dessert apple market didn’t begin taking off until after prohibition.)

Mr. Foderaro also interviewed Chris Lehault (aka @bittersharp) and Anthony Belliveau-Flores for the article. Mr. Lehault is a writer for the Serious Eats website, and is among the most knowledgeable experts on the modern hard cider movement.  Anthony is a cofounder of Rowan Imports, which has worked tirelessly to bring the finest imported ciders to the American market.

The entire article is well worth reading. I’ve excerpted the first few paragraphs and added a link to the full article:

 

njcom-unveils-new-logo-81cbb6f1917dde88In case you haven’t noticed, Americans have rediscovered a taste for fermented apple juice, aka hard cider. Cider sales have grown about 100 percent annually for the past few years, and new brands — both domestic and imported — are proliferating on store shelves.

And yes, I did say “rediscovered.” Much has been made of our Founding Fathers’ taste for rum imported from the Caribbean and fortified wine shipped from the island of Madeira. But the fact is that locally made hard cider was the alcoholic beverage of choice for most Americans during the first couple hundred years of our country’s existence.

“Everybody had an orchard,” says William Kerrigan, professor of American history at Muskingum University in Ohio and author of “Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard: A Cultural History” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). “For a lot of Americans, cider was a homemade drink — it was a frontier drink.”

There were as many different styles of cider as there were varieties of apples — which is to say hundreds. Many growers boosted the alcohol level of their ciders by setting barrels out to freeze in the late fall, Kerrigan says. The ice that formed on top was mostly frozen water, leaving a higher level of alcohol in the remaining liquid. The more alcohol, the less prone the cider was to spoilage.

Truth be told, though, most of the cider made back then was of poor quality. According to Kerrigan, visiting Englishman often would comment on the sorry state of Colonial cider-making.

But that only partly explains why hard cider all but disappeared from the American scene by the late 19th century. Historians continue to debate the reasons for cider’s demise, but Kerrigan believes it’s rooted in Americans’ newfound sense of progress, modernity and industry. Then, following the Revolutions of 1848 in Europe, waves of German immigrants introduced America to beer.

“Beer was made in breweries, which are like factories — they’re modern,” Kerrigan says. “Beer seemed cleaner and a more efficient, modern drink.”

So much so that, even before Prohibition, Americans had all but stopped making and drinking hard cider.  Continued . . .

Harrison-log-cabin-campaign

 

 

New Look, New Subtitle


I created American Orchard in the wake of the publication of my book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard (Johns Hopkins, 2013), and envisioned it as a place to share stories and excerpts from the book, as well as many of the interesting tangents and stories which were excised from that book as I sought to preserve a more focused narrative. In the year and a half since the publication of Johnny Appleseed I have continued to explore themes related to apples and other orchard crops, but have felt constrained by the original subtitle of this blog: “A blog about eating, drinking, sharing, and stealing apples.”  I am excited about my next project, a more comprehensive history of the apple in America, which will be unconstrained by the narrative of one man’s life (and trajectory of his myth in this afterlife) and allow me to explore more broadly the role orchard agriculture has played, and continues to play in this history of the United States, from northern New England to the Southern Hill Country, as well as from the highlands of New Mexico to the high plains of eastern Washington. Furthermore, as a professor at a small liberal arts college, it is neither my purview nor desire to constrain my historical interests too narrowly, so I intend to explore subjects pertaining to my broad teaching fields in American History, especially American Environmental History in American Orchard version 2.0. The new subtitle, “Historical perspectives on food, farming, and landscape,” will serve as the new broader boundaries of this blog,and I look forward to sharing with you perspectives and insights that come from my research as well as the material I am teaching in my classes. I am currently working on a chapter on the transformation of the apple industry in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in the early decades of the twentieth century, so questions surrounding orchards and labor are foremost in my mind, which explains the picture I am currently using for a header. But expect to find more than just apples on this blog. I intend to write about Americans’ relationship with trees, both wild and cultivated, about changing American diet and foodways, about the ways in which capitalism continues to transform food production, and controversies over pesticides, genetic modification, and globalization, often, but not always, using the orchard fruit industry as a lens for viewing these issues.

Disney’s Johnny Appleseed


Johnny Appleseed's Bible features prominently in the Disney version of the story, from the 1948 animated feature Melody Time.

Johnny Appleseed’s Bible features prominently in the Disney version of the story, from the 1948 animated feature Melody Time.

John Chapman earned the nickname “Johnny Appleseed” during his lifetime, and people started sharing stories about the eccentric apple tree planter in the Ohio and Indiana communities where he spent much of his life long before he died in 1845.  But Johnny Appleseed did not emerge as a figure in the American national origin story until the 1870s.  In the late 19th century and throughout the first half of the twentieth century, most of the promoters of the Johnny Appleseed legend were social reformers, some of a socialist bent, who celebrated Johnny Appleseed’s efforts to promote a common social good by providing apple trees available to all.   After World War II, the range of acceptable national myth narratives narrowed considerably. As the United States increasingly defined itself against Soviet communism, interpretations of Johnny Appleseed

Disney made Appleseed part of its team of early American superheroes, alongside Paul Bunyan, John Henry and others.

Disney made Appleseed part of its team of early American superheroes, alongside Paul Bunyan, John Henry and others.

reflected this change. When Disney released an animated version of the Johnny Appleseed story in 1948, John’s faith in God was front and center. The narrator stated that three other great nation builders had their distinctive tools in their mission— Paul Bunyan had his axe, John Henry his hammer, and Davy Crockett his rifle— but Johnny Appleseed’s tools were his bag of apple seeds and his Holy Bible. The cartoon opens with a young Johnny singing a Disney-created song that has come to be known as “The Johnny Appleseed Grace,” and many believe it was actually written by Chapman.

disneyjohnnypotbibleThe Lord’s been good to me

And so I thank the Lord

For giving me the things I need

The sun and rain and the apple seed

Yes He’s been good to me

disneyjohnnyguardianThe Johnny Appleseed story told by Disney is a near perfect sermon on postwar American values. Faith in God and the ability of the individual to make a difference in history are the central themes. Johnny celebrates American freedom, singing, “Here I am ’neath the blue blue sky, doing as I please,” thanking God for that freedom. Soon his attention is drawn to a long train of Conestoga wagons pushing west, each containing a pioneer family. The wagon train has its own song celebrating American individualism:

disneyjohnnyconestogaGet on a wagon, rolling west

Out to the great unknown

Get on a wagon rolling west

Where you’ll be left alone.

The rivers may be wide

The mountains may be tall

But nothing stops the pioneer

we’re trailblazers all.

While John longs to join them, he believes he cannot— that he is too weak and too small,

The diminutive Johnny goes west without a gun, but in the Disney version, this is a result of his poverty and small size. No pacifist, he dreams of emulated the gun-toting frontiersman.

The diminutive Johnny goes west without a gun, but in the Disney version, this is a result of his poverty and small size. No pacifist, he dreams of emulated the gun-toting frontiersman.

and does not own the gear he needs. Johnny’s “private guardian angel,” sent down from heaven, convinces him that all he needs is his faith, his Bible, and his apple seeds. Johnny sets out through a rugged wilderness, “a little man all alone, without no knife, without no gun,” but to avoid the impression that Johnny is a pacifist, Disney included a scene where he imagines he is shouldering a rifle like the ones he saw the men on the Conestoga wagons hold, and another where he picks up a stick from the woods, and pretends to aim and shoot with it.

The creatures of the wild forest Johnny Appleseed will transform into an ordered orchard embrace him as a friend.

The creatures of the wild forest Johnny Appleseed will transform into an ordered orchard embrace him as a friend.

Notably, the Indian makes only a minor appearance in Disney’s Johnny Appleseed. Instead, Johnny Appleseed works to win over the trust of the forests animals, convincing them, by his kindness, of the benign nature of his mission to transform the wilderness. The Disney story ends with an image of an aged Johnny Appleseed atop a ridge, his shadow stretching across a transformed landscape of fields and orchards:

disneyjohnnyoldhilltopnurseryThis little man, he throwed his shadow clear across the land, across a hundred thousand miles square and in that shadow everywhere you’ll find he left his blessings three love and faith and the apple tree.

Despite the story’s celebration of individualism, Disney’s Johnny Appleseed stopped short of praising difference in favor of conformity. Johnny Appleseed was a generic Christian in the story, not an apostle of unconventional Swedenborgianism. Johnny Appleseed could be an eccentric in postwar America, but the boundaries of that difference were increasingly constrained in a culture that valued conformity even as it professed to celebrate the power of the free individual.

You can view the entire Johnny Appleseed animated short here:

Ode to the American Ash Tree


ash tree caldwellI recently noticed a tree on my campus which appeared to be near death. At its top bare branches stretched skyward, with just a few putting forth immature and sickly-looking leaves. Around its trunk a thicker cluster of leaves had formed, which I first assumed were from an opportunistic vine, but were in fact new branches coming up at its base. When I asked the director of the University physical plant about the tree, he told me that it was one of ten Ash trees on campus that have fallen victim to the Emerald Ash Borer, an Asian beetle which arrived in North America a little more than a decade ago, and has been wreaking havoc on indigenous Ash Trees across the Midwest. The thick knot of foliage around its trunk was this Ash tree’s desperate attempt at survival, pushing out new life from any part of its body not yet fully comprised by the shiny green beetle.

ash tree d hole

This tiny D-shaped hole is made by the Emerald Ash Borer as it enters and leaves the tree.

Upon closer inspection of this tree and two others I found, I could see the signs of the beetle’s presence: tiny D-shaped holes the beetle made as it entered and exited the tree, and in places where the bark had been removed, the squiggly lines left behind as the larvae ate through the tree.

The Emerald Ash Borer arrived in a cargo container from Asia at the port of Detroit in 2002, and has begun rapidly transforming the American canopy, first attacking Red and Green Ash, then, once those are no longer available, moving on to the White Ash. The arrival in North America of this attractively iridescent green beetle is just the latest chapter in the long story of the Columbian Exchange, a term scholars use to describe the consequences of the arrival of animals, plants, and pathogens carried intentionally or accidentally from one place to another as a result of human migration and global capitalism. Columbus gets the credit, or the blame,

The Emerald Ash Borer is a strikingly beautiful murderer.

The Emerald Ash Borer is a strikingly beautiful murderer.

because it was in the wake of his 1492 crossing from Europe to the Americas that human contact between once isolated regions became steady, and the environmental consequences of that reality began to play out in rather dramatic ways. The expansion of global capitalism in the late 20th and early 21st century has only accelerated ecological exchanges which have been going on for over 500 years. Any plant, animal or pathogen which has the potential to thrive in an eco-region different from its native one is already thriving there, or eventually will.  We cannot reverse the consequences of this new ecological reality, only seek to manage them.

The demise of native tree species perhaps receives more notice and provokes more regret and nostalgia than other Columbian-exchange induced extinctions. Just southeast of the village of New Concord is a sharp rise that some of the oldest residents of the village call Chestnut Hill, once a popular romantic and isolated picnic site where students seeking to escape the social strictures of a Presbyterian campus retreated with their dates. Today it contains no majestic Chestnut trees, which all succumbed to an imported fungus in the first half of the twentieth century.  Late nineteenth century photos of the town of New Concord reveal a Main Street cooled by the shade of American Elms arcing gracefully over the road. These, too, have vanished, the victim of another invader: Dutch Elm disease.

White Ash is hard put slightly pliant, and lighter than other Ash woods.

White Ash is hard put slightly pliant, and lighter than other Ash woods.

If indigenous Ash trees disappears from our lawns, our forests, and our landscapes, will their absence be noticed? The Ash tree does not have the majesty of the mighty oak, and I suspect if you were to ask someone to name the types of trees in their local forest, it might get left off their list. For much of the year the Ash goes unnoticed, late to leaf out, and not a prodigious producer of mast. But in the fall the bronze and mauve leaves of the White Ash are among the most striking of the season. Mostly, however, American Ash trees have been simply useful trees.  George Washington called the Black Ash the Hoop Tree, as its strong but pliant wood made very good barrel hoops. Many 18th and 19th century rail fences were made from the Red Ash, and Green Ash was often converted to canoe paddles.  The White Ash remains prized most of all, for a wood that is both strong and relatively light. It continues to play a central role in the American pastime, as the Louisville Slugger and virtually all high quality baseball bats are made from the White Ash tree. All of these trees are now threatened by the invasion of the Emerald Ash Borer.

My go-to book for information about local trees.

My go-to book for information about local trees.

Whenever I want to learn about a local tree, I pull Donald Culross Peattie’s A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America off my shelf first.  First published in 1948, I am sure it has been scientifically superseded by many other volumes. I am nonetheless drawn to its lyrical prose. The author was no mere scientist, but clearly a tree lover. Peattie declared the American White Ash to be “Nature’s last word,” and fittingly placed his description of it at the very end of the volume. Written more than half a century before anyone in North America was thinking about the Emerald Ash Borer, his last words on the tree are a fitting tribute, but hopefully not an epitaph:

How many thousand-thousand of untold Ash trees are the respected companions of our doorways, kindliest trees in the clearing beyond the cabin? No one can say. But this is a tree whose grave and lofty character makes it a lifetime friend. White Ash has no easy, pretty charms like Dogwod and Redbud; it makes no over-dramatic gestures like Weeping Willow and Lombardy Poplar. It has never been seen through sentimental eyes, like the Elm and the White Birch. Strong, tall, cleanly benignant, the Ash tree with self-respecting surety waits, until you have sufficiently admired all the more obvious beauties of the forest, for you to discover at last its unadorned greatness.

William Kerrigan is the Cole Professor of American History at Muskingum University, and the author of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, which tells the story of the old world apple in America, from its arrival half a millenium ago to the present.

Another campus Ash Tree succumbing to the Emerald Ash Borer.

Another campus Ash Tree succumbing to the Emerald Ash Borer.

Aside

Johnny Appleseed and our National Origin Story


Like most Americans of a certain age, I first encountered Johnny “Appleseed”  Chapman in elementary school.  In the story as I remember it, Chapman was a pious Yankee committed to a life of simplicity and benevolence. He determined at an early age to devote his life to one purpose–bringing the blessings of apple trees to the new lands in the developing West. His trees brought sweetness to the hard lives of pioneer families and helped sustain them in their labors. Wandering across the West in bare feet and ragged cast-off clothing, sleeping outdoors, and planting apple seeds wherever he went, Johnny Appleseed took pleasure in denying himself the most basic human comforts in order to carry out his mission. He asked for little in exchange for his trees—some old clothing, a simple meal, or from the truly destitute, nothing at all.  He radiated a spirit of peacefulness and both Indian and white man trusted him completely. He loved all of God’s creatures and was loath to harm any of them. One story recounts that he doused a fire and slept in the cold when he discovered that mosquitoes were flying into the flames to their destruction.  In the elementary school myth, Johnny Appleseed’s energy for planting trees was super-human. Nearly all of the orchards in the new west were the result of his labors.  He was St. Frances of Assisi and Santa Claus wrapped into one bundle.

Mansfield, Ohio boys wear tin pots on their head to honor Johnny Appleseed in 1953.


The myth of Johnny Appleseed is a part of our national origin story, in which the United States expands into the trans-Appalachian West in the years after the American Revolution. Johnny Appleseed isn’t the only hero in this drama, and in fact he is a curious outlier.  Men like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Mike Fink present a jarring contrast to the gentle tree-planter. Violence–directed at Native Americans and nature–lay at the heart of their stories, while Appleseed is remembered for sowing, not destroying. The short explanation for this difference is that the Boone, Crockett and Fink myths first flourished in the age of Andrew Jackson, and reflect that era’s obsessions with masculine aggression. The myth of Johnny Appleseed, in contrast, was a product of the Victorian era, when sentimental feeling and feminine traits were more commonly celebrated.

Mansfield, Ohio boys dressed as Indians in front of the local Johnny Appleseed monument in 1953.

Appleseed, along with Boone, Crockett, and Fink, received updates during the Cold War as each was deployed to serve new concerns. Among the most powerful disseminators of these legends was the Walt Disney Company, which seized on the westward expansion story to target a new audience of baby boomer children. Disney sanitized the most gruesome aspects of the Crockett and Fink traditions, yet even after this cleansing, the contrast with Johnny Appleseed remained startling. Mike Fink, Davy Crockett, and Daniel Boone were archetypes of American manhood, and even in the Disney versions, violence was nearly always central to their stories. Disney also added the thoroughly mythical Paul Bunyan to this cast, and celebrated him for his prowess felling whole forests of trees. Johnny Appleseed, in sharp contrast, devoted his life to planting them.

Johnny sowing appleseeds in Disney’s 1948 film Melody Time.

Nevertheless, most American children of the Cold War era understood Johnny Appleseed to be a member of the same team of frontier superheroes.  Boone, Crockett, Fink, Bunyan, and Chapman were all actors in a drama about transforming a continent. Crockett and Boone cleared the land of menacing Indians and wildlife; Fink helped make the interior rivers safe for commerce; Bunyan cleared the forest; and Appleseed planted fruit trees to prepare the land for white American farm families. In Cold War versions of these stories, Boone and Crockett reluctantly used violence as a last resort. These heroes protected American families from a red menace on television shows like Walt Disney Presents and Daniel Boone at a time when American soldiers were doing the same in other parts of the world. In that context, Johnny Appleseed symbolized the other American response to the threat, winning hearts and minds with charity and benevolence. If Crockett’s war against the Red Stick Creeks explained American military involvement in Korea, Appleseed’s unbounded benevolence was a metaphor for another approach to the same danger, manifested in American aid programs and organizations like the Peace Corps.

Johnny Appleseed and Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley


Between May 13 and May 23, 2013, I co-taught a study tour of Civil War battlefields with a colleague. While this was the sixth time I have offered this study tour for undergraduate students, I decided at the outset that I would use this opportunity to gather information about orchards on Civil War battlefields.  I was aware of the “famous” peach orchard where many men died on the field at Gettysburg, and was aware of a few other references to battlefield orchards, but was surprised at the abundance of information I uncovered on the eleven day trip.  This is the fifth in a series of blog posts on orchards and the Civil War.

stonewall apple 5The first time I encountered the Stonewall Jackson Apple it made sense to me.  It was about six or eight years ago, on the last day of my biennial Civil War study tour, and we had already visited almost every Jackson shrine and monument Virginia had to offer. It was during the tour of Stonewall Jackson’s home in Lexington, Virginia, that a strange thought popped into my head: “This guy is a little bit like Johnny Appleseed.”  The comparison, on the face of it, seems absurd. Stonewall Jackson was a fierce and unrelenting warrior, celebrated for his battlefield victories; Johnny Appleseed was remembered for his gentleness and his pacifism, and a respect for life that ran so deep he was loathe to kill even a mosquito. The two men were not even of the same generation.  John Chapman was fifty years old and planting apple trees on the northern edge of the Ohio Valley when Thomas Jackson was born on its southern boundary in Clarksburg, (now West) Virginia. Both have been elevated to sainthood by people in their respective regions. But the similarity stops there.  Maybe.

This apple barrel stencil at the Belle Grove plantation is evidence of the commercial importance of apple growing on that Shenandoah Valley farm.

This apple barrel stencil at the Belle Grove plantation is evidence of the commercial importance of apple growing on that Shenandoah Valley farm.

The Stonewall Jackson Apple can be found in Winchester, Virginia, at the lower (northern) end of the Shenandoah Valley. And the artist who painted Stonewall Jackson’s visage on a giant apple probably didn’t intend to make a Johnny Appleseed association. He was simply combining two things for which Winchester is known: Stonewall Jackson and apples. Jackson’s time in Winchester was brief, but it was at the height of his fame. He used a home in Winchester as his headquarters in 1862, while he engineered a brilliant military campaign driving Union forces out of the Valley and threatening to bring the war into the North. That headquarters and brief residence is now one of Winchester’s more popular tourist destinations, and has been a regular stop on our Civil War study tour.

Statue in front of the Johnny Appleseed Restaurant, New Market, VA.

Statue in front of the Johnny Appleseed Restaurant, New Market, VA.

Winchester’s association with the apple predates the Civil War.  The Shenandoah Valley was Virginia’s richest apple-growing region in the mid-19th century, and while the Valley’s fertile fields earned it the nickname “The Breadbasket of the Confederacy” during the war, it might have also been called “The Orchard of the Confederacy,” because tree fruit was another very successful crop.  The Belle Grove Plantation, which sat in the middle of the Cedar Creek battlefield in 1864, has re-established a small heritage apple orchard and also has on display the apple barrel stencil used by Bell Grove’s planters in the 19th century. The Valley’s orchards were no doubt plundered by Sheridan’s marauding armies during the Fall of 1864, but they survived the war more or less in tact, and apples continued to be an important valley crop all through the next century. New Market, Virginia, further up the Valley still has a Johnny Appleseed Restaurant, and Winchester has been hosting an annual Apple Blossom Festival for about ninety years. While there is no real evidence that John Chapman ever visited the Valley, like most of the nation’s apple-growing regions it nevertheless still has a few of its own Johnny Appleseed legends.

Inventing Stonewall JacksonThe similarities I found between Stonewall and Appleseed had less to do with the actual men than with their myths.  In my essay, “The Invention of Johnny Appleseed,” and also in my book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, I argue that the Johnny Appleseed legend largely took form during the Victorian era, and as a result reflects that era’s values and obsessions. So I was pleasantly surprised this year when we stopped at the Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington, Virginia and I stumbled across a fascinating and relatively new book by Wallace Hettle titled Inventing Stonewall Jackson. Hettle explores the myth of Stonewall from many angles, and I cannot do justice to his sophisticated and nuanced argument in this blog post. But Inventing Stonewall Jackson affirmed for me that some of the most prominent features of the Stonewall myth emerged in the Victorian era.

Stonewall Jackson foam stress-relieving lemons are available in the gift shop at his Lexington, VA home.

Stonewall Jackson foam stress-relieving lemons are available in the gift shop at his Lexington, VA home.

Despite the profound differences in the way these two men lived, there are at least three prominent elements of their myths–each celebrated by Victorians–that Stonewall and Appleseed share: eccentricity, piety, and domesticity. Jackson’s penchant for sucking on lemons and holding one arm straight up in the air as he rode on his horse are two stories which are still told today, and Appleseed of course is remembered for his peculiar eating habits, dress, and penchant for going barefoot in even the worst weather.

Popular Civil War Artist Mort Kunstler depicts a farewell scene with his beloved wife, in front of the Winchester home that served as his headquarters.

Popular Civil War Artist Mort Kunstler depicts a farewell scene with his beloved wife, in front of the Winchester home that served as his headquarters.

Jackson’s deep and very public faith is a central feature of his legend, and his death in battle has made him a Christian martyr to many. Rosella Rice, one of Appleseed’s most important hagiographers in the late 19th century, also sought to present him as a martyr of sorts, declaring that “His bruised and bleeding feet now walk the gold-paved streets of the New Jerusalem, while we so brokenly and crudely narrate the sketch of his life— a life full of labor and pain and unselfishness; humble unto self-abnegation . . .”

freshnewsFinally, despite the fact that Stonewall left his family to take up the sword, and Chapman was a life-long bachelor, the Victorian hagiographers of each man threaded domestic virtues into each man’s story. Stonewall, we are constantly reminded, was a devoted husband and had special affection for children. Appleseed shared that fondness for children and helped to sustain families by visiting their cabins and reading the Bible to attentive frontier families.

The steroid-infused version of Jackson and his horse "Little Sorrel" on the Manassas Battlefield.

The steroid-infused version of Jackson and his horse “Little Sorrel” on the Manassas Battlefield.

The Sherfy Peach Orchard


Between May 13 and May 23, 2013, I co-taught a study tour of Civil War battlefields with a colleague. While this was the sixth time I have offered this study tour for undergraduate students, I decided at the outset that I would use this opportunity to gather information about orchards on Civil War battlefields.  I was aware of the “famous” peach orchard where many men died on the field at Gettysburg, and was aware of a few other references to battlefield orchards, but was surprised at the abundance of information I uncovered on the eleven day trip.  This is the first in a series of blog posts on battlefield orchards.

Joseph Sherfy, peach grower and minister in the Marsh Creek Church of the Brethren

Joseph Sherfy, peach grower and minister in the Marsh Creek Church of the Brethren

Joseph Sherfy purchased land along the Emmitsburg Road, south of the town of Gettysburg, in 1842. Sherfy was a striver, and decades later his obituary declared that “he made out of sterile acres a most productive farm [and] deservedly stood in the front rank of intelligent and successful agriculturists.” Planting much of his land in peach trees, by the eve of the Civil War Joseph Sherfy’s peaches, which he sold fresh, dried, and canned, were locally famous, and his orchard appeared on an 1858 map of Adams county. The business supported Joseph, his wife Mary, and their six children.

When the Union army reached Gettysburg on the first of July 1863, Joseph Sherfy and his family were ready to help, providing water and bread to thirsty and hungry soldiers. The next day they were forced to evacuate their home, and did not return until the battle was over.

The vulnerable Union salient in Jospeh Sherfy's Peach Orchard. From Bradly Gotffried's Maps of Gettysburg

The vulnerable Union salient in Jospeh Sherfy’s Peach Orchard. From Bradley Gotffried’s Maps of Gettysburg

On days two and three of the battle, the Sherfy farm was in the midst of the conflict. A decision made by Union General Dan Sickles, against the orders of his commanding officer, ensured that Joseph Sherfy’s Peach Orchard would never be forgotten. Ordered to hold his men in a line that extended south of the town of Gettysburg to a hill called Little Round Top, Sickles’ decided instead to move his men forward to another spot of high ground in the middle of Sherfy’s orchard, a position he believed would be more defensible. By doing so, Sickles created a sharp bend in the line, a vulnerable “salient,” in the language of war, which could be attacked by the Confederate army from two sides. By the time Commanding General Meade realized what Sickles had done, easy retreat was not possible, and the soldiers in Sherfy’s Peach Orchard faced withering fire for several hours before those not killed were able to retreat. The fighting in and around the peach orchard salient is remembered as among the fiercest of the three day battle.

One of the few surviving images of the original Sherfy orchard, in William A. Frassanito, Gettysburg, Then and Now: Touring the Battlefield with Old Photos, 1865-1889.

One of the few surviving images of the original Sherfy orchard, in William A. Frassanito, Gettysburg, Then and Now: Touring the Battlefield with Old Photos, 1865-1889.

What the Sherfy’s found when they returned to their home after the battle surely disheartened them. Their barn had been burnt to the ground, the exterior of their home was riddled with bullets, and the interior had been ransacked by Confederate soldiers. The soils in the orchard and elsewhere on the farm had been hastily dug up, with the corpses of soldiers buried wherever they had fallen, while forty-eight dead horses remained strewn about the orchard, swelling and decomposing in the summer heat. The Sherfy’s estimated their losses as $2500, but like most residents of the village, were awarded little or no compensation from the government.

Yet the peach trees in the orchard where so many men and beasts fell, rattled by canister and rifle fire, mostly survived. In the ensuing years, Joseph Sherfy’s peach orchard became a popular stop with returning veterans and curious visitors. Veterans shared their stories with the Sherfy’s and Mary Sherfy collected pictures of these men, displaying them on a wall in her home. Veterans of the battle, as well as tourists, were eager to view and touch a large cherry tree which stood alongside the Sherfy home, which had a 12 pound ball lodged deep within its trunk. “Soldiers and veterans saw trees (and their fragments) . . . as objects that provided access to the past, a vital link to the landscape of war they had created,” Mary Kate Nelson reminds us in Ruin Nation, her fascinating study of the war’s aftermath. Before they departed, both veteran and tourist to the Sherfy farm took away with them a souvenir of another sort–canned or dried peaches from the Sherfy’s surviving orchard.

Joseph Sherfy died in 1881, but his famous peach orchard survived him, and drew more visitors with each passing year. Just when and why the Sherfy orchards was uprooted I do not yet know. But for decades, the land remembered for the bloody fighting at “the peach orchard,” contained no peach trees at all.

The new Sherfy orchard at dawn, May 2013

The new Sherfy orchard at dawn, May 2013

The battle of Gettysburg was waged on the many family farms which surrounded the village, and most of these farms had orchards in 1863.  The Sherfy’s peach orchard is the most remembered of these, but all across the battlefield, soldiers sought shelter from unrelenting fire beneath the trunks of fruit trees. In recent years the National Parks Service has begun an effort to restore many of its preserved battlefields to their condition on the eve of the battles fought there. In line with those efforts, the NPS has

T-shirts, peach taffy, and aprons, adorned with the Sherfy Peach Orchard logo, are now for sale at the Gettysburg Visitors Center.

T-shirts, peach taffy, and aprons, adorned with the Sherfy Peach Orchard logo, are now for sale at the Gettysburg Visitors Center.

partnered with local volunteer organizations to replant and maintain many of the fruit orchards which dotted the landscape of war.  Gettysburg National Battlefield Park has perhaps done more than any other battlefield, and today dozens of young orchards are rising out of Gettysburg’s soils. New orchards also appear on the Trostle and Rose farms, adjacent to the Sherfy’s Emmitsburg Road farm. Many of the Confederate soldiers who assaulted Sherfy’s Peach Orchard did so from the Rose Farm’s apple orchard, which witnessed destruction as bad or worse than that inflicted upon the Sherfy Orchard. One early postwar visitor to the Rose farm declared that “No one farm on all the widely extended battlefield probably drank as much blood as did the Rose farm.”

William Kerrigan is the Cole Distinguished Professor of American History at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio and the author of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard.  He is currently working on orchards in American History.  Other posts in this series on Civil War Battlefield Orchards include:

The Apples of Antietam

Orchards and Slavery on the Rappahannock

The Perils and Promise of Restoring Battlefield Orchards

Johnny Appleseed and Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley

Sherfy from Air

 

The Promise and Perils of Restoring Battlefield Orchards


Between May 13 and May 23, 2013, I co-taught a study tour of Civil War battlefields with a colleague. While this was the sixth time I have offered this study tour for undergraduate students, I decided at the outset that I would use this opportunity to gather information about orchards on Civil War battlefields.  I was aware of the “famous” peach orchard where many men died on the field at Gettysburg, and was aware of a few other references to battlefield orchards, but was surprised at the abundance of information I uncovered on the eleven day trip.  This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on battlefield orchards.

The new Sherfy orchard at dawn, May 2013

The new Sherfy orchard at dawn, May 2013

It was about six days into my eleven day Civil War study tour that I realized that replanting orchards at historical parks had become something of a movement. It wasn’t that I was completely unaware of this. I had read Susan Dolan’s  excellent Fruitful Legacy: A Historic Context of Orchards in the United States, which catalogues historic orchards at National Parks sites and also offers a nice historical overview of orchard agriculture in America. I was aware that the Gettysburg National Military Park had replanted the historic Sherfy Orchard. But as we visited one Civil War site after another, and my students rolled their eyes each time I asked a ranger or interpreter about orchards at that particular place, I was happily surprised at how many of them were planning or already in the process of restoring historic orchards.

Heritage Apple Orchard at Belle Grove Plantation

Heritage Apple Orchard at Belle Grove Plantation

Gettysburg has replanted dozens of orchards on their historic sites, and now that they have removed the old Cyclorama building, they intend to replant a historic orchard on that site as well. The oldest trees in Antietam’s restored Piper Orchard are now more than ten years old. The privately-run Belle Grove Plantation on the Cedar Creek battlefield now has a small orchard, of heritage apples and is also keeping honeybees.

Young peach tree in front of Grant's Cabin, City Point

Young peach tree in front of Grant’s Cabin, City Point

At Grant’s Headquarters at City Point on the James River, which had been the Richard Eppes plantation before the war, a few fruit trees have been replanted on the grounds. More significantly, the National Parks Service commissioned a study by the Olmsted Foundation which scoured sketches and paintings of the Eppes Plantation, Richard Eppes’ diaries and account books at the Virginia Historical Society, as well as the letters and diaries of other visitors to the plantation just before or during the time it served as Grant’s headquarters to determine what Eppes planted and where.  They are using that study as a blueprint for a gradual restoration of Eppes’ original landscaping, which included a wide range of fruit trees scattered about the property.

Irvin McDowel went 0-2 at Manassas.  But he loved the local apples.

Irvin McDowel went 0-2 at Manassas. But he loved the local apples.

Nonetheless, it is easier to decide to restore orchards on historic sites, than it is to actually succeed in these efforts. Our National Parks have been starved for funding for years, and the current sequester will only make an already tight situation tighter.  Privately funded sites like Belle Grove also struggle to meet their payrolls. While visiting the Manassas National Battlefield Park, I was delighted to learn that at least one orchard was mentioned in the story of the Battle of Second Manassas, and that Park Service staff had made some effort to replant trees on the Brawner Farm. It was under the branches of the Brawner apple orchard that the hapless but always hungry Ohio General Irvin McDowell spread out his maps and ate “apples by the basket” as he tried to figure out what his Confederate foes were up to.

Deer have made quick work of the netting at Manassas

Deer have made quick work of the netting at Manassas

When I arrived at the Brawner Farm, however, I was disappointed with what I found. In the middle of a pasture of waist-high grass resided a motley collection of young apple trees, each surrounded by not-so-sturdy deer fence, many of them collapsed in on the trees.  I strode into the wet grass to get a closer look, and found several trees completely entangled in the collapsed deer netting, some of them having been in that condition long enough that they were now growing sideways.  While I didn’t hold out much hope for these trees, I couldn’t leave without making some effort to rescue them, carefully untangling the netted trees while my bemused but patient students waited along a dry path some yards away.

At the Shirley plantation, staff recently planted one peach, one apple, one plum, and one cherry tree where an orchard once stood. Hope they are self-fertile varieties!

At the Shirley plantation, staff recently planted one peach, one apple, one plum, and one cherry tree where an orchard once stood. Hope they are self-fertile varieties!

In the interpretive center at the Brawner Farm, one ranger expressed skepticism about the whole project. The farmhouse that the interpretive center occupies was itself a post-war construction, albeit on the site of an earlier farmhouse that resided on roughly the same footprint.  If the very farmhouse itself was not the same as the one that was there in the midst of the battle, he asked me, what value was there in trying to replant a historic orchard on the site? Was this taking the desire to restore battlefields to their precise pre-battle condition a bit too far?

Given what I know about the effort and resources it takes to care for an orchard—and to protect them from the ravages of deer, insects, and harmful diseases and fungi—I had to conceded that this might not be the wisest use of scarce park resources. At Gettysburg and elsewhere, success in these efforts came only when the historic site found committed and knowledgeable volunteers willing to take responsibility for the trees. I can’t fault the over-stretched staff of Manassas National Battlefield Park for neglect, and instead I applaud their intention. It is my hope that they can find a group of committed volunteers to take over this project. And they will need to invest in some more substantial deer fence.

Volunteers for the Philly Orchard Project.

Volunteers for the Philly Orchard Project.

These local volunteer organizations might learn a great deal by looking at the efforts of Urban Orchard organizations around the country, which would no doubt be great resources for them. These include groups like the Philadelphia Orchard Project, Seattle’s City Fruit, the Portland Fruit Tree Project, the Boston Tree Party, and Los Angeles’ Fallen Fruit collective. These organizations have learned a great deal about the pitfalls and promise of planting and maintaining public orchards. I hope that efforts to replant orchards on federal, state, and private historic sites continues to grow, and am eager to learn about other efforts out there.  Please let me know about other efforts by contributing a comment below.