The Origins of the American Vegetarian Movement

johnny appleseed and am orchardOne of the many issues I explored in Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard was the question of John Chapman’s alleged vegetarianism. While I discovered some evidence that Chapman was not a vegetarian in his earlier years, he probably adopted a vegetarian diet later in life. In my efforts to contextualize Chapman’s alleged abstention from animal flesh, and speculate on its origins, I found an intriguing connection between Chapman’s religious disposition towards Swedenborgianism and the origins of American vegetarianism. For more on Chapman’s Swedenborgian religious beliefs read chapter four of Johnny Appleseed, or this blog post.  

While Emanuel Swedenborg did not call for believers to adopt a vegetarian diet, he did portray the move toward a meat-centered diet as a symbol of man’s fall from paradise. Genesis 1:29-30 appears to endorse the idea that plants, not animals were God’s chosen food for man.  Swedenborg argued that with man’s expulsion from the Garden, “man became cruel, like wild beasts, yea more cruel, first they began to kill animals and eat their flesh. But Swedenborg did not conclude that God intended for man to abandon meat-eating.  As post-Edenic man had developed a cruel nature, meat-eating was part of their fallen state, and therefore permitted.

William Metcalfe, leader of the Philadelphia Bible Christians and advocate of abstinence from animal flesh.

William Metcalfe, leader of the Philadelphia Bible Christians and advocate of abstinence from animal flesh.

Swedenborg’s writings on meat-eating nonetheless inspired some of the early English Swedenborgians to embrace a vegetarian diet. This splinter group of Swedenborgians came to be known as the Bible Christians, and they migrated to Philadelphia, a city that already had an active group of meat-eating Swedenborgians, in 1817. Over time, the Bible Christians dispensed with their Swedenborgian identity, and abstinence from both animal flesh and alcohol became their defining creed.

I of course was eager to determine whether Chapman’s probable shift to vegetarianism late in life was inspired by his reading of Bible Christian literature. It was impossible for me to establish any direct connection, but we know that Chapman was a voracious reader, and especially attracted to books and pamphlets on religious subjects. Furthermore, the Swedenborgian literature he freely distributed on the Ohio frontier he acquired from Philadelphia Swedenborgians. Chapman may have independently settled on a vegetarian diet after reading Swedenborg’s explanation of man’s fall.

51RQNg5BkML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard was late in the production stages when I learned that historian Adam Schprintzen was completing The Vegetarian Crusade: The Rise of an American Reform Movement, 1817-1921. In that book, Schprintzen identifies the Philadelphia Bible Christians as the progenitors of a proto-vegetarian movement in the United States. I reached out to Dr. Schprintzen and he eagerly answered my questions about the Bible Christians and their connection to the Swedenborgian movement. When the Vegetarian Crusade was published, I immediately ordered a copy and read it.

The Vegetarian Crusade is an important book, and does an excellent job explaining the origins of American vegetarianism and its evolution across its first century. It should be on the bookshelf of every scholar of antebellum American history. Schprintzen sets the early movement in the context of antebellum reform. Early advocates of abstinence from meat, like all reformers of the era, understood their actions as part of a greater movement to improve society, to cleanse it from its sins, and for some, to help usher in Christ’s millennium. They drew connections between their movement and other reforms–non-violence, anti-slavery, women’s equality, and health to name just a few.  Schprintzen does an excellent job explaining these connections in the years before the Civil War and in helping us understand the beliefs of these proto-vegetarians.

But that is just the first part of the Vegetarian Crusade.  Schprintzen offers his readers much more that that, mapping out a clear and persuasive narrative explaining how we get from this antebellum proto-vegetarians to modern vegetarianism. That narrative introduces us to nationally-famous health reformer Sylvester Graham, a campaigner against white bread and advocate of a high fiber but bland and meatless diet, the emergence of the American Vegetarian Society in 1850, and explains how the Civil War and the post-war commercialization of a vegetarian diet by John Harvey Kellogg and others in the late 19th and early 20th century.  It has been my intention to write a thorough review of Vegetarian Crusade and post it on this blog. Perhaps I will eventually find the time to give this excellent book the thorough review it deserves, but in the meantime, I’d like to point you to a place where you can learn more.

ben_franklins_worldThis week podcaster Liz Covart released an episode of her Ben Franklin’s World podcast that is a conversation with Adam Schprintzen, author of The Vegetarian Crusade.  If you are not familiar with the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, now is the time subscribe and start listening.  Every week Covart interviews an author of a recent book on Early American History.  These are extended and lively conversations about important books.  I can’t think of a better way to quickly get yourself caught up with the most important new scholarship on Early American History than listening to Ben Franklin’s World.  Covart’s conversation with Adam Schprintzen is the 44th interview to appear on Ben Franklin’s World in just the first year of the podcast.  Ben Franklin’s World just surpassed a quarter million downloads, and has been picked up by Spotify as well.  Start listening to it now so you can say, “I was listening to BFW back when only the coolest people knew about it.”

So pick up a copy of Adam Schprintzen’s Vegetarian Crusade and subscribe to Ben Franklin’s World podcast today.  You won’t regret it.

The Trees of Camp Chase Cemetery

My student at the Camp Chase Cemetery

My student at the Camp Chase Cemetery

The focus of American Orchard, according to its subtitle, is to offer “historical perspectives on food, farming, and landscape.” Those who know me understand that trees, and especially apple trees, are the focus of much of my research. But as a professor at a small liberal arts college I teach broadly, and the American Civil War and its memory are both a personal interest and a focus of much of my teaching. I occasionally find opportunities where my interests in trees and the Civil War intersect, and perhaps some of you have read my entries on efforts to restore battlefield orchards, at places like Gettysburg, Fredericksburg, and Antietam, and perhaps also my ramblings on Johnny Appleseed and Stonewall Jackson in American memory. I have found an opportunity to explore that intersection of interests once again.

This summer I have been working with an exceptional undergraduate student who is completing a research project on historical memory of the Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio. As the nation struggles to reconsider how the Civil War should be remembered in the wake of horrible events in Charleston, South Carolina, my student could not have fallen upon a more timely topic, and I look forward to what promises to be a unique and significant contribution to scholarship on Civil War Memory.

William KnaussThe Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery in the Hilltop neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio holds the remains of 2260 Confederate soldiers, most of whom died in the Camp Chase prisoner of war camp during the Civil War. For many years after the war, this Confederate Cemetery in the heart of a Union state was largely neglected and overgrown. In the 1890s a local Union veteran made it his mission to restore the Camp Chase cemetery, so that it might be a suitable place to remember the Confederate soldiers buried there. William Knauss had been wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862. Years later he made a visit to the city to revisit the site of this terrible battle, and a former Confederate soldier, also wounded at Fredericksburg, gave him a tour of the battlefield. The two men found “common ground” in a quite literal sense while walking the landscape of their past suffering, and they made a pact that whenever either of them came across the untended or forgotten graves of soldiers on the other side of this conflict in their home states they would do what they could to restore and protect them. Restoring Camp Chase cemetery was William Knauss’ effort to honor that pact. He had a new stone wall erected around the cemetery, improved the gravesites, and commissioned a granite arch to be installed in the center of the cemetery. The arch was engraved with the word “Americans,” and topped with a common Confederate soldier.

Southern Catalpa Tree in Camp Chase Cemetery

Southern Catalpa Tree in Camp Chase Cemetery

And then William Knauss did one more thing. He wrote letters to Confederate veterans organizations in every southern state, and asked if they would send small native saplings to him, so that they might be planted amidst the graves of the Confederate dead, who may not have made it home, but might now rest beneath the shade of southern trees. Many veterans organizations responded, and more than a century later, about a dozen mature trees provide shade for the Confederate dead. Some of them are not these original trees, but many of them almost certainly are.  Today a Walnut tree, several Oaks, a Tulip Poplar, a wide-spreading Sweet Gum, and a majestic old Catalpa cool the ground where these men lay.

Almost every year since William Knauss restored the cemetery one organization or another has held a ceremony to remember the men buried there. For much of the twentieth century, a local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy organized the ceremony; since 1995 it has fallen to the volunteers of the Hilltop Historical Society. A few weeks ago my student and I attended the annual ceremony conducted by the Hilltop Historical Society to remember the men buried there. The ceremony was beautifully done, and the main speaker struck just the right tone. He told the stories of three of the men buried there, of their horrible suffering, and their tragic end.  We remember these soldiers, he suggested, because they were among those who even after death, were unable to return home. There was no Lost Cause mythology in the ceremony, no effort to explain away slavery as the cause of secession, nor, thankfully, to portray slavery as a benign institution.


A Union Regimental Band plays under the shade of a mature Sweet Gum tree. Confederate battle flags decorate the graves of the southern dead.

Still there was one aspect of the ceremony that gave me pause, and that was the planting of Confederate battle flags in front of the graves of the Confederate dead. The flags seemed even more problematic in the shadow of an arch that declared these men “Americans,” and also knowing that when my student and I had visited the cemetery just a few weeks earlier, just after Memorial Day, we found that a local Girl Scout troop had decorated each grave with an American flag. Could these men be both agents of a political movement that sought the dissolution of the nation, AND Americans? Lincoln and the North went to war because they believed these men to be Americans, deluded by demagogic leaders of the Slave Power, but Americans nonetheless. Yet so many of the champions of the Confederacy, during the war and after, argued that their right to separation was built in large part on the grounds that they were “Southrons,” a culturally distinct people from northerners. Would these men have identified themselves as “Americans” in 1864 and 1865, the year so many of them perished from hunger, cold, and disease? It is not an easy question to answer.

bonniewhiteMany had marched off to war years earlier singing “The Bonnie Blue Flag,” a song that declared they were fighting for their “property” and “For Southern Rights, Hurrah!” Yet late in the war, a southern prisoner at Camp Chase rewrote the popular song, changing the title to “The Bonnie White Flag,” the chorus to “Hurrah, Hurrah, for peace and home hurrah!” and including the language “Our battle banners furled away no more shall greet the eye, nor beat of angry drums be heard, nor bugle’s hostile cry.” Many of the men buried in the Camp Chase cemetery were likely among the first to sing this new anthem to peace and home. There is reason to question whether these dead would have welcomed the planting of the Confederate battle flag upon their graves. So how should we remember these men, who suffered and died so tragically, and so far from the homes to which they hoped to return? I can think of no better monuments to their memory than the majestic southern trees that now shade their graves, trees which in some small way brought “peace and home” to them.

Southern Sweet Gum at Camp Chase Cemetery in Winter.

Southern Sweet Gum at Camp Chase Cemetery in Winter.

The Radical Idea of Public Fruit

tree quakerRichard Townsend arrived in North America with the first group of Quaker colonizers to Pennsylvania.  According to one Bucks County legend, when the local Lenni Lenape Indians found him setting out fruit trees in his private orchard, they told him about a giant apple tree that grew not far from his new homestead. Curious, Townsend asked his Indian neighbors to lead him to the site, and was surprised to find ““an apple tree in an Indian clearing, vastly larger than any seen in England, heavily loaded with larger and better apples than he had ever seen before.” Perhaps the tree, which appeared to be an Old World variety, had been planted intentionally or otherwise by Native Americans who had acquired apples from Dutch settlers in New Amsterdam. Townsend asked the Indians to sell him the land on which the mysterious tree stood. The Indians agreed to sell him the land on the condition that the tree remain available “for the free use of all who wanted apples,” a condition Townsend accepted. According to this legend, the tree survived until 1792, 107 years after Townshend first encountered it.

The story highlights a fundamental difference in the way Native Americans and Europeans viewed perennial fruit trees.  For the Lenni Lenape, fruit hanging from a branch could not be “owned” by an individual, nor could an individual claim private ownership of the tree from which it grew.  Ownership came with the act of harvesting.  As Europeans remade the North American landscape, they also rewrote the rules of property which applied to that landscape, and the radical idea of “public fruit” essentially disappeared.

In recent years, the radical idea of public fruit has gained new currency, and in cities

Losa Angeles-based fruit and art collective Fallen Fruit

Losa Angeles-based fruit and art collective Fallen Fruit

across America, volunteer organizations like The Philadelphia Orchard Project, the Boston Tree Party, the Portland Fruit Tree Project and Seattle’s City Fruit have been planting urban orchards or taking on the responsibility of caring for and harvesting fruit from already existing urban trees.  The public fruit movement achieved another milestone recently when the Los Angeles based collective, Fallen Fruit, which has been producing maps of publicly accessible fruit for years, opened the city’s first public fruit garden.

Janet Owen Driggs makes the case that Los Angeles’ new public fruit park is radical, in part because it reverses laws in place in cities across the nation through much of 20th century which actively banned fruit-bearing trees on pubic land.  Driggs explains that “the legal basis for the prohibition lies instead with the doctrine of attractive nuisance: a tort in common law by which a landowner may be liable for injuries inflicted on an ‘infant trespasser’ by an object or condition appealing to a child, when the landowner could reasonably foresee the potential danger. Examples include: an unfenced swimming pool, a cute-looking dog with a propensity to bite, and, apparently, a fruit-laden tree.”

The fruit tree prohibition that descended upon American cities in the 20th century may have found justification in the legal idea of “attractive nuisance,” but it also reflected other concerns.  Many urban planners privileged sterile or male trees for urban spaces because they did not produce “fruit litter,” and public fruit trees also sparked the general American anxiety about shared resources. Who would care for the trees? Who had “rights” to harvest them? How much fruit could one harvester legitimately take?  Fallen Fruit’s new Del Aire Fruit Park may be a sign that things re changing. After a century in which Americans became more divorced from the production of food they consumed, the desire to bring food production back into the spaces where people live work and play is growing.  The Drigg’s essay is worth reading in full:  Fallen Fruit and the ‘Thin Edge of the Wedge.’

Understanding the Past: Reading, Re-enacting, Performing

hank and i

William Kerrigan, author of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, and Hank Fincken, living history performer. cambridge, Ohio, April 2013.

Last year I had a unique opportunity as a scholar to share a double-bill with a professional actor. With the generous support of the Ohio Humanities Council, the public library in Cambridge, Ohio invited me to deliver a lecture on John “Appleseed” Chapman and to sign and sell copies of my recent book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard. After a brief intermission Hank Fincken took the stage in the character of Johnny Appleseed. For act three, Hank and I jointly answered questions from the audience. When the library first broached the idea of a Johnny Appleseed double-bill, I was both enchanted with the idea and a little bit intimidated. How would a lecture by an academic historian stand up when placed in conjunction with a compelling, dramatic, comic and lively first person performance delivered by an experienced actor who has mastered the skill of engaging diverse audiences across decades of experience? But I was also excited about the possibility of opening up a conversation about the ways we understand the past.

french and indian war reenact

French and Indian War Re-enactor. Photo by Eric Gaston.

A lifetime ago in grad school, I spent warm summer days in a windowless, climate controlled concrete bunker called the library annex, poring over 19th century periodicals, researching my dissertation. About mid-July I needed to escape, and hopped in my car and drove north to Fort Michilimackinac in northern Michigan. There I stumbled across an encampment of French and Indian War re-enactors, and found myself in conversation with one. When I asked him how he came to be involved in re-enacting, he told me that he used to participate in history roundtables, where people got together to discuss books. But he finally concluded that “you don’t learn history in books, you learn it in your bones,” dropped out of the roundtable and took up re-enacting. When I asked him to explain this heresy he replied, “Well, when you sleep on the ground, you learn the ground is hard.”

Re-enactors and spectators at the Battle of New Market re-enactment.

The Battle of New Market re-enactment.

In subsequent years I began taking undergraduate students on biennial Civil War study tours, and we always tried to include a Civil War encampment and battle re-enactment in those trips. The Civil War re-enactor subculture is quite distinctive, and compellingly examined in Tony Horwitz’ Confederates in the Attic. In my many interactions with re-enactors I have learned to appreciate that through these rituals they learn something meaningful about the sensory experience of the Civil War soldier, but I have encountered many whose understandings of the bigger picture—like the causes of the war—were highly dubious. Bones alone will not impart wisdom.

While re-enactors seek a connection with the past for their own use, living history performers like Hank Fincken and academic historians like myself interpret the past, seeking to convey knowledge to an audience. In conveying the story of John Chapman, Hank and I are each engaged in an act of interpretation, struggling to find the truth. Our interpretations of the man and the meaning of his life are not perfectly aligned, but I have found Hank’s Johnny Appleseed compelling and persuasive. Over the many years I spent researching the life of John Chapman, I saw many amateur actors, and a few professional ones, perform in the role of Johnny Appleseed. Most were pretty forgettable. The problem, it seemed to me, was the desire to portray John Chapman as a saint—a physical representation of pure goodness and a role model for children—one so perfect that they could not hope to emulate him. Not only did these Johnny Appleseeds not resemble any real person I had ever met, their performances put me to sleep. Hank’s Johnny Appleseed was quite different from the saintly ones. His Johnny was irascible, rascally, comic, mostly endearing but a bit off-putting—in other words thoroughly human.

The difference in our approaches is never more stark in the way we each answer this commonly asked question:

Did Johnny Appleseed really wear a tin pot on his head?

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

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

As an academic, my answer begins with written sources, and tends toward the verbose. I explain that while there are some accounts that mention a tin pot hat, others describe a vast array of interesting head-gear; that he may have worn a pot on his head once, or even occasionally, but it wasn’t his everyday head gear. For Hank (whose Johnny Appleseed does not don a pot), the answer is more direct, and something like this:

“if you believe Chapman wore a pot on his head, I encourage you to go home today and put a pot on your own. Wear it for a few days, and let me know if you still believe a pot can perform as practical headwear.”

Despite our different ways of answering that question, our approaches are not completely different. What makes Hank Fincken a credible living history performer is that he understands that essential knowledge comes not just from your bones, but also from texts. He has read all of the biographies of John Chapman, as well as the most important primary sources on his life. He has spent endless hours mulling over these materials and crafting them into scripts. Likewise, I also occasionally took a “bones” approach to the

John Daniels Dry Good Store Ledger, Warren County Historical Society

John Daniels Dry Good Store Ledger, Warren County Historical Society

life of John Chapman. On Northwestern Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Plateau, I stood barefoot on the smooth gray stones in the Brokenstraw Creek, knee-deep in its chilly spring waters, near the location of Chapman’s first creekside apple-tree nursery. I cannot articulate in any scholarly way how doing this helped me understand John Chapman, but I certainly felt as if it did. Hours later, in the reading room of the Warren County Historical Society, holding in cotton-gloved hands a crumbling dry goods store ledger where John Chapman bought an assortment of items, I felt that once again. Even an archive can yield some “bone-knowledge,” and scholars would be wise to consider its value.

William Kerrigan is Cole Professor of American History at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio, and author of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard (Johns Hopkins, 2012).

The Brokenstraw Creek, near the location of John Chapman's first apple tree nursery.

The Brokenstraw Creek, near the location of John Chapman’s first apple tree nursery.

The Carolina Parakeet and the American Orchard

William Byrd II

William Byrd II

Virginia planter William Byrd was not impressed with his North Carolina neighbors.  Traveling through North Carolina in the early 1720s on a mission to survey the boundary between the two colonies, Byrd griped about the irregular supply of alcoholic beverages in the colony. Byrd believed the shortage of alcohol in North Carolina was not the result of any moral qualms about drinking but rather a consequence of the improvidence of its early settlers. When it was available, North Carolinians drank imported rum in great quantities, and generously shared it, but these periods of plenty were frequently interrupted by periods of scarcity, when it was hard to find a drop. Apple and peach orchards might have obviated these irregularities in the alcohol supply, providing the ingredients needed to make cider and cider brandy, but it appeared to Byrd that few North Carolinians had bothered to plant them.  He attributed this oversight to lack of industry and foresight, particularly among the common planters, whom he called “Improvident People, who take no thought for the Morrow.” But Byrd did acknowledge that their might have been one other hindrance to the development of orchards in North Carolina.  It appears that massive flocks of the once abundant but now extinct Carolina Parakeet descended upon the colony’s orchards in the summer.  The birds “bite all the Fruit to Pieces in a moment, for the sake of the Kernels.  The Havock they make is so great, that whole Orchards are laid waste in spite of all the Noises that can be made, or Mawkins that can be dresst up to fright ‘em away.”

Carolina parakeet, eastern subspecies, AudubonThe Carolina Parakeet was not a parakeet at all, but North America’s only indigenous parrot.  Despite Byrd’s belief that they were only a threat to North Carolina’s orchards, the Carolina Parakeet was climate hardy, had a quite diverse diet, and a wide geographical  range. It could be found in forest lands as far north as New York, and as far west as the Mississippi valley.  A gregarious creature, Carolina Parakeets traveled in flocks often containing five hundred or more birds, fed itself on the seeds and nuts of the forest, and nested in the cavities of hollow trees.

In the first two centuries of English colonization in North America, Carolina Parakeets and were abundant, but populations began to plummet in the second third of the nineteenth century.  Sometime in the early twentieth century, the Carolina Parakeet became extinct. Byrd was not the only observer to comment on the Carolina Parakeet’s habit of destroying an orchard full of fruit in short order. In 1831, John James Audubon noted that it:

carolina parakeet iieats or destroys almost every kind of fruit indiscriminately, and on this account is always an unwelcome visitor to the planter, the farmer, or the gardener. . . They assail the Pear and the Apple-trees when the fruit is yet very small and far from being ripe, and this merely for the sake of the seeds . . . they alight on the Apple-trees of our orchards, or the Pear-trees in the gardens, in great numbers; and as if through their mischief, pluck off the fruits, open them up to the core, and, disappointed at the sight of the seeds, which are yet soft and of a milky consistence, drop the apple or pear, and pluck another, passing from branch to branch, until the trees, which were before so promising, are left completely stripped, like the ship water-logged and abandoned by its crew, floating on the yet agitated waves, after the tempest has ceased.

Do not imagine, dear readers, that all these outrages are borne without severe retaliation on the part of the planters.  So far from this, the Parakeets are destroyed in great numbers, for whilst busily engaged in plucking off the fruits or tearing the grain from stacks, the husbandmen approaches them with perfect ease and commits great slaughter among them. All the survivors rise, shriek, fly around for a few minutes, and again alight on the very place of most imminent danger. The guns kept at work; eight or ten, or even twenty  are killed at every discharge. The living birds, as if conscious of the death of their companions, sweep over their bodies screaming as loud as ever, but still return to the stack to be shot at, until so few remain alive, that the farmer does not consider it worth his while to spend more of his ammunition. I have seen hundreds destroyed in this manner in the course of a few hours . . .

Other observers also noted that the close bonds Carolina Parakeets formed with others in their flock made them easy prey for an angry farmer. The ease with which farmers slaughtered the grieving birds was no doubt one factor in their extinction, but does not completely explain their disappearance.  While stories of their dramatic and rapid destruction of orchard fruit were frequently repeated, they were not so common that they constituted the orchard’s greatest natural threat. And many farmers recognized the Parakeets value in helping rid his land of another pest. The poisonous cockle-bur, which invaded farm fields and sometimes killed livestock was among the Parakeet’s favorite foods, and no farmer minded when the Parakeets rid his field of them.

Habitat destruction may have played as great a role as the farmer’s gun, as fields and CP-hat-300x300orchard replaced the forests in which the birds nested. The Carolina Parakeet may have also suffered from new competition for nesting sites with the arrival of an insect colonizer, the European honeybee, which filled the hollows of many potential trees with honey and honeycomb. Other factors which also contributed to its demise include the demand for hats decorated with dead birds which became all the rage near the end of the 19th century, and the last of the birds may have been felled by disease they picked up from domesticated poultry. In the end, Euro-American husbandry practices appeared to be a greater threat to the Carolina Parakeet than it was to the farmer’s orchards.

Hard Cider and the Election of 1840

1840 Campaign Almanac

1840 Campaign Almanac

Over the last decade, the United States has experienced a cider renaissance, with new craft cider makers coming on the scene in virtually every region of the nation. Today’s craft cider makers are making extraordinary efforts to produce fine single variety and blended ciders, and their efforts are paying off. As an American historian, and someone who delights in both eating and drinking apples, the rebirth of American cider is an exciting time. From the early colonial period, throughout the first half of the the 19th century, Americans consumed great quantities of cider. But if the truth be told, American cider in these early years was not always top quality. European visitors often wrote disparagingly of America’s early cider makers, claiming that they often pressed half rotten and worm-eaten apples, and were haphazard in the way they monitored the fermentation process. Quantity, not quality, appeared to be the over-riding value for many American cider makers, and most of the cider was consumed at home or bartered locally.  But cider was cheap and widely available, and had earned a reputation as the common man’s drink. It is perhaps no surprise then, that in an age of rising populism in politics, hard cider would emerge as the symbol of a candidate courting the common man’s vote.

The election campaign of 1840 was a watershed moment in American politics.  Voter turnout among eligible voters reached an all-time high, with nearly 80% of those eligible casting their vote.  It also represented an opportunity for the relatively new William_Henry_Harrison_Presidential_$1_Coin_obverseWhig party to finally gain control of the White House.  Since his election to the Presidency in 1828, Andrew Jackson and his Democratic Party had  dominated American politics by successfully presenting itself as the party of the common man.   But in 1840, the nation was still plunged in the depression brought on by the financial Panic of 1837 and voters were discontent. The dangers of a unpredictable national market rekindled a bit of nostalgia for the “simpler times” of the frontier, self-provisioning farms, and local trade among many voters, and in 1840 the Whig Party was ready to exploit this nostalgia. After settling on old war hero William Henry Harrison for their presidential candidate, the Whigs were handed an opportunity when a Democratic newspaper, suggesting that Harrison was too old to run for president sneered, “Give him a barrel of hard cider, and settle a pension of two thousand a year on him, and my word for it, he will sit the remainder of his days in his log cabin by the side of his ‘sea coal’ fire, and study moral philosophy.”

Harrison supporters seized on the log cabin and hard cider elements of the insult to suggest that Democratic President Van Buren and his supporters were elitists who disdained the lifestyle of the simple self-provisioning, cider-making and cider-drinking farmer.

Pull the tab and Van Buren is unhappy to find his fancy champagne replaced with common cider.

Pull the tab and Van Buren is unhappy to find his fancy champagne replaced with common cider.

One Harrison campaign souvenir was a paper card with an image which changed when a tab was pulled on the bottom. The first image the viewer encountered was of an aristocratic-looking Van Buren, smiling as he sipped fancy “White House Champagne” from a goblet.  Once the tab was pulled, the goblet was replaced with “an ugly mug of log cabin hard cider,” Van Buren’s eyes rolled up into his head, as he made the familiar “bitter beer face” expression.  The message was clear: this guy thinks he’s too good to drink what you and I drink. Don’t vote for him!

Harrison's log cabin. Sea coal burning in the fireplace, barrels of hard cider stacked outside.

Harrison’s log cabin in 1840 campaign literature. Sea coal burning in the fireplace, barrels of hard cider stacked outside.

Harrison’s supporters declared their man to be the “log cabin and hard cider” candidate, a perverse political twist on many levels. Far from being born in a log cabin, Harrison was born on a James River plantation, a descendant of one of Virginia’s elite, slaveholding families. Even most of his days as a military officer in the West were spent at Grouseland, a magnificent estate, surrounded by grafted fruit trees and gardens, which he had built in Vincennes during his time as governor of the Indiana territory.  In a more transparently ironical way, Harrison supporters built old fashioned log cabins on the decks of modern steamboats and powered from town to town to win votes for their hard cider drinking hero.

Berkeley Plantation, Harrison's actual birthplace.

Berkeley Plantation, Harrison’s actual birthplace. No cider barrels evident.

While the “hard cider” meme went over quite well with ordinary voters, it threatened to alienate one of the Whig Party’s most loyal interests: the temperance movement. Temperance reformers had been working to eradicate cider orchards since the late 1820s, and they threatened to abandon the party for promoting alcohol consumption.

The Temperance movement's take on the Hard Cider Campaign

The Temperance movement’s take on the Hard Cider Campaign

Intemperance has become the badge of a political party!” harrumphed the New York Evangelist. “Yes, intelligent men–men who have enjoyed the benefits of Christian teachings–and who live in a land of gospel light–are called upon to exhibit their enthusiasm for political strife, by drinking hard cider, made harder by hard brandy, for the Glory of General Harrison!” The Evangelist predicted that “more than ten thousand men will be made drunkards in one year by this hard cider enthusiasm.” A writer in another New York paper, declaring it “a burning shame that the flag of my country waves over such mockery and abomination, as though her stars and stripes were not insulted by being associated with such iniquity,” issued a warning to the Harrison campaign. Should these grog-dispensing log cabins be opened on “Sunday, either day or night,” the Whigs would lose the votes of so many temperance men that it would negate the effect of this pandering.

Harrison-log-cabin-campaignBut however much the log cabin and hard cider campaign exasperated temperance Whigs, the strategy worked. Americans, troubled by the economic malaise that had fallen upon the country in 1837, embraced a nostalgia for a simpler time when their fates were not tied to mysterious market forces beyond their control. Log cabins and hard cider were a perfect symbol of that lost past. Hard apple cider represented not just a celebration of the disappearing self-provisioning lifestyle, but it was also a protest against do-gooder moral reformers bent on telling ordinary people how to live and what to drink. It did not seem to matter that the Whig Party’s soft money, pro-development economic policy promised to accelerate the market revolution, or that those moral do-gooders were most commonly associated with the Whig party. This was political triangulation at its finest. Voters were won over by the celebration of the seedling apple orchard and its homegrown product. And it worked. Harrison defeated Van Buren handily.

Van Buren being chased by a flying barrel of hard cider.

Van Buren being chased by a flying barrel of hard cider.

The campaign may well have proved to be a curse for hard cider, however.  As the economy improved after 1843, nostalgia for “the olden days” quickly faded, and the 1840 campaign had pretty thoroughly linked cider with those old, primitive ways.  As German immigrants flooded into North America, many established breweries, and beer, not associated with those unrefined frontier days, began to replace cider as the beverage of choice. Today’s craft cideries may finally be undoing the damage done by the Whig Party and their “hard cider campaign.”

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.

John Chapman: St. Francis . . . or Steve Jobs?

John “Appleseed” Chapman:


Saint Francis . . . . . . . or Steve Jobs?

The legend of Johnny Appleseed has been retold to generations of children.  The wandering apple tree planter is held up to young people as a force for good in the world.  In most of the children’s literature John Chapman most resembles St. Francis of Assisi—a generous soul who committed himself to a life of poverty in order that he could do good for others.  In the story of Johnny Appleseed, bringing the gift of the apple tree to poor frontier families is the focus of his benevolence.  When I give talks at local historical societies and libraries, many in the audience are often unsettled when I mention that he sold his seedling apple trees.  That John Chapman may have earned cash from his activities upsets their image of him as a man whose mission was one of pure benevolence.

During the middle decades of the twentieth century, as local historians began a serious effort to find evidence that John Chapman had spent time in their communities they began unearthing evidence in an unexpected place: land records offices.  John Chapman, it appears not only sold his trees for money, but he bought and sold land, amassing, at times, as many as 800 acres or more.  For some champions of the Johnny Appleseed legend, evidence that their hero sold apple trees and speculated in land was quite troubling, as it appeared to undermine their view that he was a man absent of personal material desire.  But other Johnny Appleseed aficionados embraced this new information, and in a post-WWII era when the reputation of the American businessman was ascendant, they began to promote a

Was John Chapman kinda like this man . . .

Was John Chapman kinda like this man . . .

vision of John Chapman as a successful businessman.  One writer during the Reagan era even declared that “Johnny Appleseed was an entrepreneur—the kind of small businessman so much a part of the building of America—who conceived and executed a unique and daring enterprise of growing and selling apple tree seedlings . . . One of the key ingredients of business success is a sound understanding of the nature of the market served. Johnny Appleseed seemed to have comprehended his market exactly.” In his efforts to portray John Chapman as a true capitalist, the writer denied  that Chapman ever gave away his products for free, despite much evidence to the contrary. “He deliberately, and in a business-like way sold the seedlings to pioneer farmers,” this champion of the Johnny Appleseed-as-businessman idea insisted.  Others who have subscribed to the Johnny Appleseed-as-businessman idea have exaggerated the extent of his accumulated wealth at the end of his life.

There are many problems with the Johnny Appleseed-as-successful-businessman

 . . . or more like this woman?

. . . or more like this woman?

idea, and the first of these is that a close look at his economic transactions suggests that he was a poor land speculator.  He often bought high and sold low, or defaulted on land entirely when he could not make payments.  When his estate was finally settled after his death, it appeared that he was neither rich nor poor, but someone who simply “got by.” His credits and debits pretty much cancelled each other out in the final reckoning.  But the larger problem is that it is clear that for at least the last two decades of his life amassing wealth was not John Chapman’s objective.  He continued to live the life of a pauper, despite the demand for his trees, and spent nearly all of the money he earned helping others.  While it is true that he put a price on his trees, he commonly followed a “pay what you can” model, charging full price to those who could afford it, and discounting or even giving away trees to those in tighter financial straits.

Perhaps a better label to apply to John Chapman is that of “social entrepreneur.”  The idea of the social entrepreneur has gained recognition in recent decades, yet still remains imperfectly defined.  Most commonly it is used to describe persons or

Rocker Jon Bon Jovi opened Soul Kitchen, a "Pay What You Can" restaurant.

Rocker Jon Bon Jovi opened Soul Kitchen, a “Pay What You Can” restaurant.

organizations that employ their entrepreneurial skills to affect positive social change rather than to maximize profits.  Company’s like Newman’s Own, founded by the late actor Paul Newman, that devote 100% of their profits to charitable causes is one example; the website, which allows individuals to extend no-interest loans to entrepreneurs in impoverished regions is another. Chapman fits this broad definition of social entrepreneur pretty well.  He recognized the demand for seedling apple trees on the expanding frontier, and found a way to fill it.  By making them available to settlers using a pay-what-you-can model, he improved the lives of frontier families.  And most of the money he made off this venture he re-invested in people, purchasing religious tracts which he distributed freely on the frontier, and giving money and goods to those he encountered who had pressing needs.

To learn more, pick up a copy of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchardnow available at finer bookstores, from the History Book Club, and in Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader editions.

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 . . .