John Chapman and Emanuel Swedenborg

In the Disney version, Johnny Appleseed carries a bible, not Swedenborgian tracts.

In the Disney version, Johnny Appleseed carries a bible, not Swedenborgian tracts.

In the Disney version of the Johnny Appleseed story, Chapman is portrayed as a generic Christian missionary, who devoted his life to spreading the gospel to frontier families.  In fact, John Chapman was a man of deep religious convictions, but he was an evangelist for a particular Christian sect called the Swedenborgians.  If one were to offer up BCS-style rankings measuring the success of evangelizing Christian groups in the early 19th century, the Methodists and Baptists would be at the top, and the Swedenborgians would reside somewhere near the very bottom.  Swedenborgianism was both intellectual and mystical, and it lacked the emotional, fire-and-brimstone fury which seemed to have great appeal in the early 19th century American west.  Despite John Chapman’s best

Multiday religious camp meetings, where preachers appealed to listener's emotions and fears, were a common form of evangelism in the early 19th century

Multiday religious camp meetings, where preachers appealed to listener’s emotions and fears, were a common form of evangelism in the early 19th century

efforts to get midwesterners to read the heady Swedenborgian tracts he freely distributed, interest in Swedenborgianism was largely limited to reading circles of urban intellectuals.  What drew John Chapman, the frontier primitive, to this particular theology remains something of a mystery.  I have my own ideas, which I explore in Chapter Four of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard.  Below is an excerpt from the first part of that chapter, which offers a brief summary of the life and ideas of Emanuel Swedenborg.

In January 1817, John Chapman was holed up somewhere for the winter, perhaps boarding with Eben Rice and his family along the banks of the Black Fork, anticipating spring and another season of apple tree planting. At the same time the Reverend John

the Reverend John Clowes was among the first English promoters of Swedenborg's ideas.

the Reverend John Clowes was among the first English promoters of Swedenborg’s ideas.

Clowes of St. John’s Church, Manchester, gathered with a small group of educated middle- and upper-class Mancunians for a regular meeting of group they had formed to promote the religious writings of a deceased Swedish physicist. They called themselves the Manchester Society for the Printing, Publishing, and Circulating of the Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a name that may have contained more words than the society contained members. Their task this day was to compile a report of developments that had occurred over the last year. Among the items they included in this annual report was a copy of a letter they had received from a member of a satellite community of Swedenborg enthusiasts in Philadelphia. The letter told a fantastical story:

There is in the western country [of the United States] a very extraordinary missionary of the New Jerusalem. A man has appeared who seems to be almost independent of corporal wants and sufferings. He goes barefooted, can sleep anywhere, in house or out of house, and live upon the coarsest and most scanty fare. He has actually thawed the ice with his bare feet. He procures what books he can of the New Church; travels into remote settlements, and lends them wherever he can find readers, and sometimes divides a book into two or three parts for more extensive distribution and usefulness. This man for years past has been in the employment of bringing into cultivation, in numberless places in the wilderness, small patches (two or three acres) of ground, and then sowing apple seeds and rearing nurseries. These become valuable as the settlements approximate, and the profits of the whole are intended for the purpose of enabling him to print all the writings of Emanuel Swedenborg, and distribute them through the western settlements of the United States.

Chapman delivering "Good news! Fresh from heaven!" to a frontier family.  Illustration from Harper' magazine, Nov. 1871.

Chapman delivering “Good news! Fresh from heaven!” to a frontier family. Illustration from Harper’ magazine, Nov. 1871.

The report from Philadelphia did not mention the “extraordinary missionary” by name, this strange primitive man who was busily extending the work of the Manchester society on the edge of Christian settlement in the New World. But the members of the society, who had up to this point found their efforts ignored— or worse, mocked— by most of England’s religious establishment, some of whom declared Swedenborg a madman, were certainly heartened to learn of this solitary American’s devotion to their common cause. It seemed to them that most men simply did not have the patience to read Swedenborg’s writings and penetrate the profound truths they contained. But at least one strange frontier primitive did. And if such a simple man, living on the remote edge of Christian settlement in the New World, could grasp the truths of the Swedish seer, then perhaps the day when all Christians would come to recognize them was not so far off, and a New Jerusalem on earth would be born.

way to heaven tract

A Swedenborgian tract of the sort distributed by Chapman. Often bound in volumes, Chapman unthreaded the so that he might share one volume with many families.

That John Chapman, son of a poor tenant farmer, would become devoted to the spiritual writings of a Swedish nobleman who died two years before his birth is something of a puzzle. The two men had little in common. Emanuel Swedenborg was a man of great intellect and learning; John Chapman had just a common school education during his Longmeadow boyhood. Swedenborg, the son of a bishop in the Swedish state church, was born into a privilege that permitted him to devote his life to study. The writings Swedenborg left behind at the end of his life fill small libraries; John Chapman’s copper-plate script only survives on a handful of IOUs and land deeds. Both men remained bachelors for their entire lives, a state perhaps brought on by their individual peculiarities and obsessions. As a man of great talent from a well-to-do family, Swedenborg certainly suffered no material obstacles to matrimony. But his most intimate relationships were with his journals. He devoted his early life to reading and writing on a range of topics including science, mathematics, engineering, and political philosophy. But in his fifties he began having dreams and visions that prompted a profound spiritual crisis. Visited by angels who told him that he had been chosen by God to advance a new understanding of the scriptures, Swedenborg abandoned his scientific studies and devoted his days to spiritual writings and scriptural exegesis. The angels also allowed him to travel to heaven and hell and revealed all the secrets of the afterlife to him. Swedenborg’s descriptions of heaven and hell were vivid and detailed, but he insisted that he alone had been granted this ability to converse with angels and visit the spirit world. He sternly warned others not to attempt such contact.

Swedenborg’s stories of his conversations with angels and his visits to heaven were not the first John Chapman had encountered. He surely heard the stories of the prophet

The early 19th century west experienced a revival of both white and Indian spiritualism. Tecumseh's brother Tenskwatawa was an important native prophet.

The early 19th century west experienced a revival of both white and Indian spiritualism. Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa was an important native prophet.

Handsome Lake’s travels to the spirit world when he was living just a few miles away from his village of Burnt House in northwestern Pennsylvania. Those stories, in fact, had many similarities to Swedenborg’s. And the spiritual visions of Tenskwatawa and the story of how he predicted a solar eclipse were well known in the settlements along Owl Creek and the forks of the Mohican. Furthermore, the trans-Appalachian frontier in the first decades of the nineteenth century was crawling with would-be prophets. Some, like the Leatherwood God of Guernsey County, Ohio, claimed to be God in person. That John Chapman became drawn into Swedenborg’s heavenly visions made him neither particularly gullible nor insane, as some have suggested. He was in good company.

Swedenborg’s visions and conversations with angels led him toward a theology that upended many of the assumptions of the major Christian churches of his day. Among these were that the Second Coming had occurred in 1757, not in the physical world but in the spiritual one; that one’s spiritual fate was not sealed upon one’s death, but moral progress or decline could continue in the afterworld; that the dead could choose to dwell in heaven or hell, and some troubled persons might prefer the latter; and that others might be content to dwell in the lower levels of heaven forever, but some would seek to advance to higher places. Swedenborg also rejected an idea fundamental to the Lutheran Church— the state church of Sweden— that salvation was achieved by faith alone. Real faith was manifested in acts of charity and commitment to a life of usefulness.

A tract explaining Swedenborg's "Doctrine of Conjugial Love."

A tract explaining Swedenborg’s “Doctrine of Conjugial Love.”

While both the Catholic Church and the dominant Protestant ones promoted a God-centered heaven where physical needs and desires did not exist, and therefore marriage did not exist, Swedenborg presented a human-centered vision of heaven where the marriage bond continued. What Swedenborg called “conjugial love”— a perfect love between two persons who were true soul mates— existed in heaven, but people’s heavenly partners might not be the same as their earthly ones, especially if their earthly marriages had been less than ideal. Those who were celibate on earth, and for some reason chose to maintain that state in heaven, were segregated to a part of heaven where they might retain that “unnatural” state. But lifelong bachelors like himself, who desired an ideal “conjugial” relationship in the afterlife, would be partnered with a true soul mate in heaven.

Finally, Swedenborg’s “Doctrine of Correspondences” asserted that everything in the physical world had a spiritual analog, an insight that led him to declare that even the simplest, most direct passages of the Bible contained hidden meanings that had become

clouded and lost by Old Church leaders. He promised that his methodical biblical exegesis recovered these meanings, and once members of the Old Church had read and embraced them, a New Church— a Church of the New Jerusalem— would emerge on earth, bringing the Second Coming that had already occurred in the spirit world out into the physical one.

Swedenborg devoted the last twenty-eight years of his life to producing sixteen books outlining his visions of the afterlife, as well as several volumes of scriptural interpretation. He published his writings at his own expense. They were mostly ignored and sometimes ridiculed, but eventually the Swedish state church pursued heresy charges against some of his champions. Swedenborg never despaired. He knew that it might take some time for their truths to be absorbed and accepted. He seemed content to simply continue producing them, until his last days. Labeled a heretic in his home country, he spent his last years in Amsterdam and London, where he died in 1772.

“An apple a day may not keep the doctor away, but it can make fine history.”

Available in hardcover and paper, as well as Kindle and Nook ebooks.

Available in hardcover and paper, as well as Kindle and Nook ebooks.

I was pleased to receive the first review of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard in an academic journal today. I have attached a PDF of the review from Northwest Ohio History, but here are a few excerpts:

“Like all good agricultural history, this book reminds us what every American farmer used to know . . . [ but Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard] does good agricultural history one better. As a cultural history, this book puts the “culture” back in agriculture and offers a grand intellectual sweep rarely seen today.”

“This breadth of argument and free interplay between topic and period are a refreshing change from the microscopic studies that have become the bread-and-butter of specialized historical journals.”

“This book also has a great deal to offer the regional scholar. Here the broad sweep of historical change has both a face and a place: John Chapman turned Johnny Appleseed and his ubiquitous apple nurseries. Chapman is the ideal subject for such treatment and this book carefully reconstructs that life in detail, carefully teasing fact from fiction through his years in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. . . . Chapman’s money troubles with the Owl Creek Bank in central Ohio, for example, become effective illustrations of the causes of both the Panics of 1819 and 1837. An apple a day man not keep the doctor away, but it can make fine history.”

Read the full review here:

Pick up the book from your local independent bookseller, Powell’s, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or through the History Book Club.

Big Sale on Johnny Appleseed & the American Orchard at Barnes and Noble

Barnes and Noble just slashed the price of the paperback edition of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard by 35%. That brings it from its $25 list price down to $16.13!  Amazon and B&N

Available in hardcover and paper, as well as Kindle and Nook ebooks.

Available in hardcover and paper, as well as Kindle and Nook ebooks.

have been engaged in a minor price war over the book for the last few weeks, but Barnes & Noble just got really serious.  When you include free shipping, that makes the book the deal of the century.  As the author I pay $15 a copy, and I don’t get free shipping.  Order copies for your kids, dogs, neighbors and strangers today.

Essential Resources for Apple Eaters and Apple Drinkers

If you are a regular consumer of apples, in solid or liquid form, there are a few web resources that will enhance your apple eating and drinking enjoyment.  These are my favorite blogs, websites, and facebook and twitter feeds. They help me know what I need to know about the apples I consume.


Opal apple from Adam's Apples blog

Opal apple from Adam’s Apples blog

Adam’s Apples.  Adam likes apples, both old ones and new ones. He lives in Arlington, Massachusetts, and he seeks out fresh apples wherever he can find them, takes pretty pictures of them and then tells you what he thinks in an opinionated catalog of apple reviews.  When I find myself at a fruit stand, farmer’s market, or grocery store, and I encounter an apple variety I have never tasted, Adam’s Apples is one of the sites I search on my smart phone for information about that particular apple.  And I generally find his opinions spot on.

The Fruit Gardener.  This blog is a relative newcomer, but in its year of existence, its author has been very productive, offering up a wide range of reviews of apples, all with pictures of the interior and the

Ashmead's Kernel from the Fruit Gardener Blog

Ashmead’s Kernel from the Fruit Gardener Blog

exterior of the fruit.  The blogger’s name is Eric, and he hails from New York state.  And he has his own wonderful little apple rating system, running from 10: “Perfection. No discernible flaws including cultivation” down to 1: “Useless. Cardboard. Couldn’t hit the ocean standing on the beach.”  Eric comments on shape, skin, flesh, and taste, and also commonly offers comments on how well the particular apple holds up after picking, which is important information since many varieties often taste better a month or two after picking than they do right off the tree.

Logo of the Orange Pippin website.

Logo of the Orange Pippin website.

Orange Pippin.  This website offers a motherlode of information for both apple eaters and apple growers, and is nearly global in its reach, offering information about apples and orchards in most of the world’s important apple growing regions.  Orange Pippin includes over 600 reviews of apple varieties, including many of the newest.  Also of value is its orchard registry, which maps out orchards on google maps.  A valuable resource for anyone seeking an orchard to visit, but be warned that it is not up to date.  Many of the listed orchards in my home state of Ohio are sadly no longer in existence.  The registry typically includes phone numbers, so call ahead.

bittersharplogoBittersharp.  Bittersharp is a regular contributor to the serious eats website, and has vast and up-to-date knowledge about the plethora of American craft ciders that have sprung up across the nation in the last decade.  You can follow him on Facebook, and his twitter feed @bittersharp.  If you want to know what’s new and great in cider, look to Bittersharp.

United States of Cider/Hello Cider.  The blog for United States of Cider is relatively

US Department of Agriculture's water color collections.

US Department of Agriculture’s water color collections.

new, and offers many lovely illustrations of old apple varieties from the US Department of Agriculture’s collection along with some reviews.  The @Hellocider twitterfeed is invaluable for keeping up with the latest news on cider.  @Hellocider seems to catch and share every cider-related news story out there, so if you want to keep up with the fast moving developments in the cider world, you need to follow this twitterfeed.

A Life of Apples. This blog has not been updated in a few years.  But it is a wonderful photo diary of an apple picker named Chris. A very nice read.

Pumpkin: The Curious History of An American Icon

Pumpkin coverI am not a big fan of pumpkin pie. The bland flavor and gummy texture is quite unappealing to me, and I just don’t get this whole pumpkin-flavored latte, ice cream, and yogurt craze.  But I am a huge fan of Cindy Ott’s new book, Pumpkin: The Curious History of An American Icon.  Before opening its pages, I had no burning desire to learn about the history of this native, oversized squash.  But once I began reading I could not put it down.  Over the last decade or so, I have been thinking, reading, and writing about the American history of a non-native fruit–the apple–carried to the Americas by European invaders.  While I’ve been pondering the impact of the apple on North America, its role in the expansion of the Euro-American societies who brought it here, and its adoption by indigenous peoples, Cindy Ott has been writing about the story of the native pumpkin, its use by these invaders, and how it ultimately emerged as a symbol prized more for its cultural than its economic value.

While Americans today distinguish the bright round orange pumpkin from other varieties of squash, the two are in fact genetically identical and can cross-pollinate.  For 3sistersNative peoples of eastern North America, squash was one of the “three sisters,” along with corn and beans, which were the core of Native American agriculture.  The three food crops were complementary both ecologically and nutritionally.  Squash were easy to grow in abundance, and “could be preserved over the winter, when other food items were scarce.”  Europeans came to the Americas with a certain finickiness born of a sense of cultural superiority, and did not immediately embrace the pumpkin.  But they brought the seeds back across the Atlantic and within a few decades of Columbus’ first voyage, New World pumpkins had spread across Europe, where they were regarded with a mix of fascination and disdain.  “As a sign of human nature,” Ott informs her readers, “the pumpkin embodied unbounded lust or lack of civility; as a symbol of a place, it represented the untamed natural bounties of North America; and as an emblem of  a way of life, it stood for a rustic peasant existence.”  But mostly they saw the pumpkin as food for the poor, and for those barely civilized Europeans who had migrated to the New World.  New England’s religious dissenters soon came to appreciate its value, especially in lean times.  The pumpkin became for poor farmers short on labor something like the untended seedling apple tree–a useful food plant which would bring forth a bounty even when neglected.  But for the wealthy and the refined, the pumpkin was a symbol of the lowly and uncivilized.

ehningerFor several hundred years, farmers grew pumpkins to supplement their families’ diet, but they had virtually no commercial value. As advances in transportation technology in the early 19th century drew most American farmers into a market economy, the pumpkin became a symbol of the pre-market, rustic, self-provisioning past. At first this reputation was a liability, but eventually as nostalgia for simpler times grew, the pumpkin’s value as a symbol of those simpler times also increased. Ott concludes that it is not a coincidence that the same Yankee poets and writers who began to celebrate the pumpkin–John Greenleaf Whittier, Sarah Josepha Hale, Lydia Maria Child, and others–also were active in the antislavery movement which championed the moral superiority of the New England family farm tradition over the exploitative plantation system of the South. The pumpkin had become a symbol of those Yankee values.

After the Civil War, American agriculture became thoroughly commercial, and farmers Harper's_Weekly-_The_Last_Days_of_Harvestspecialized, producing for national markets. There was no room for the pumpkin in this new agriculture, which had limited market appeal and in an age of mechanization could still only be harvested by hand. The late 19th century pumpkin was “one of the least profitable and palatable of vegetables,” but ironically, its value as a symbol of the agrarian lifestyle continued to grow. Images of pumpkins featured prominently in agricultural periodicals and became central attractions at agricultural affairs, eventually leading to contests to grow mammoth-sized pumpkins. By the dawn of the twentieth century, “American prized the pumpkin for its looks and its meanings, not its meat.”

The Circleville, Ohio Pumpkin Show is one of the largest annual pumpkin festivals.

The Circleville, Ohio Pumpkin Show is one of the largest annual pumpkin festivals.

Across the twentieth century and into the twenty-first, the pumpkin’s appeal–in the form of jack-o-lanterns and the pumpkin pie–continued to grow.  And today urban and suburban Americans venture into the countryside to select pumpkins as decorations, in an effort to connect themselves with a vanishing agrarian past.

There is so much more in this book than this brief and overly simplified description can provide. Ott will make you consider Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage in a new light, and get you thinking about the strange origins of nursery rhyme character Peter Pumpkin Eater, who solved the problem of a wayward wife by putting her in a pumpkin simple imagepumpkin shell.  Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon is a rich and multilayered cultural, environmental, agricultural, and economic history, offering astounding insights on nearly every page. Highly recommended for pumpkin-eaters and non-pumpkin-eaters alike.

For more information, check out the book’s website,

Choice “highly recommends” Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard

Available in hardcover and paper, as well as Kindle and Nook ebooks.

Available in hardcover and paper, as well as Kindle and Nook ebooks.

“This book takes away the dross of mythology, but replaces it with the realistic humanity of a most fascinating, unique American.”

Kerrigan, William.  Johnny Appleseed and the American orchard: a cultural history.  Johns Hopkins, 2012.  231p index afp; ISBN 9781421407289, $50.00; ISBN 9781421407296 pbk, $25.00.
50-4430  SB63  2012-12916 CIP

The legend of Johnny Appleseed (John Chapman, 1774-1845) is a fundamental component of American folklore. Disney created a cartoon that captured the legend in caricature in 1948. By contrast, Kerrigan (Muskingum Univ.) provides a book that brings reality to the myth(s) and, in doing so, paints a compelling picture of the social dynamics of the period both prior to and during John Chapman’s life. Readers will feel transported back to those days, as Kerrigan describes the religious, geographic, and economic environment. Like quality biography, this is good history, with a well-told story and excellent scholarship. Chapman was dedicated to providing seedling apples for fermented cider for settlers at the front edge of the expanding US territories of the 18th and 19th centuries, the present regions of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. Kerrigan debunks many Chapman myths, including his vegetarianism, unwillingness to hunt or kill animals, or commitment to pacifism. This book takes away the dross of mythology, but replaces it with the realistic humanity of a most fascinating, unique American. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Academic and general audiences, all levels. —G. S. Howell, emeritus, Michigan State University

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Powell’s Books are currently engaged in a price war, discounting the price of the paperback version .

The “Feminine Sensibilities” of the Johnny Appleseed Myth

photo-5The story of Johnny Appleseed is part of the American national origin story, in which white male American heroes conquer and domesticate a wild and uncivilized content. Johnny Appleseed shares the stage in this drama with a host of other frontier characters. Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone dispatched dangerous animals and hostile Indians, Mike Fink made the interior waterways safe for commerce, the thoroughly fictional Paul Bunyan felled the forests with his axe, and Johnny Appleseed provided a source of sustenance to the frontier families who followed in the form of apple trees. Yet the meek and charitable Johnny Appleseed has always fit uneasily in this company.  This is in large part because the legends built around Boone, Crockett and Fink were born in the Jacksonian age, which celebrated masculine aggression; the Johnny Appleseed legend emerged in a Victorian era, where feminine virtues were ascendant.

Perhaps no person had a greater influence in turning John Chapman’s life

Rosella Rice, who knew John Chapman when she was a child, became perhaps the most important shaper of the Johnny Appleseed legend.

Rosella Rice, who knew John Chapman when she was a child, became perhaps the most important shaper of the Johnny Appleseed legend.

into legend that Rosella Rice.  Born in Perrysville, Ohio in 1827, Rice had personal memories of Chapman’s visits to her family home when she was a child. In adulthood, Rosella Rice built a career writing fiction for women’s magazines,  like Godey’s Lady’s Book and Arthur’s, sometimes under her own name and also under the pseudonyms Chatty Brooks and Pipsissaway Potts.  Along the way, she also wrote down her recollections of the wandering apple tree planter, and collected other stories about him from friends and neighbors.  She provided material on Chapman for several of the early county histories published in central Ohio and a sketch of Chapman for another local writer, James M’Gaw, and was almost certainly one of the primary sources for W.D Haley, who wrote a piece on Johnny Appleseed for Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in 1871.  In 1876, she published her own account of Johnny Appleseed’s story in Arthur’s Magazine.

Rice’s depiction of the wandering apple tree planter was thoroughly Victorian and even hagiographic. “His bruised and bleeding feet now walk the gold-paved streets of the New Jerusalem,” Rice proclaimed, “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; his memory glowing in our hearts, while his deeds live anew every springtime in the fragrance of the apple-blossoms he loved so well.”

Illustration from the 1871 Harper's Magazine story shows Chapman tending one of his seedling nurseries in a "natural temple."

Illustration from the 1871 Harper’s Magazine story shows Chapman tending one of his seedling nurseries in a “natural temple.”

Rice claimed that virtually every “orchard in the white settlements came from nurseries of Johnny’s planting,” and described his makeshift and shabby seedling nurseries as shrines of natural beauty.  Rice claimed that she knew where many of these nurseries were and insisted that Chapman planted his trees in natural temples, framed by the sweeping arches of giant sycamores— hardly a practical location for raising sun-hungry seedling trees.

She also depicted Chapman as a man attuned to feminine sensibilities.  According to Rice he “liked women better than men. He seemed feminine in many of his attributes, and in his likes and dislikes he was decidedly womanish.” When Chapman arrived at a pioneer home, Rosella recalled, he seemed instantly attracted to the company of women and eager to learn about the development of each child since his last appearance.

For W. D. Haley, the writer who first brought Chapman’s story to a

Chapman reading a religious tract to a frontier family. Illustration from the 1871 Harper's essay.

Chapman reading a religious tract to a frontier family. Illustration from the 1871 Harper’s essay.

national stage,  Johnny Appleseed’s story was clearly a tonic for the usual violent and vulgar frontier fare. He had no interest in the “rapine and atrocity” of the frontier experience celebrated in so many “dime store novels.” With Johnny Appleseed’s story he sought to celebrate “sublimer heroisms than those of human torture, and nobler victories than those of the tomahawk and scalping-knife.

A few years later, Lydia Maria Child, another American writer of a reformist bent would publish a poem of Chapman’s life, titled “Apple-seed John.” By that point, the trajectory of the Appleseed legend had been fixed, and while later writers would add elements to the story, Johnny Appleseed would always serve as a counter-weight to the legends which situated the nation’s birth in violence and aggression.

The life and writings of Rosella Rice have largely been forgotten, but one resident of her hometown has been working to bring them to a broader audience.  To learn more about Rice, and to read some of her writings, visit Peggy Mershon’s website, Rosella Rice–Her Stories. 


Liberty Hyde Bailey

lhb3It was Liberty Hyde Bailey’s birthday last week, and I forgot to send a card, or even wish him Happy Birthday on Facebook.  He would have been 155 years old on March 15.  In case you have not heard of Liberty Hyde Bailey, here’s a brief biography, completed after extensive research on wikipedia:

Born on a fruit farm in South Haven, Michigan, Bailey went on to become one of the nation’s most important horticulturists.  He authored sixty-five books on horticulture, countless essays and articles, and was a leader of the Country Life movement, which sought to preserve rural American values and the family farm in an age of urbanization and industrialization.  In Bailey’s efforts to modernize the family farm reside all the age old tensions which have existed between traditional farmers and the agriculture reformers who believed it was their mission to save them. He was central to the development of the Agricultural Extension system which to this day provides support and resources for farmers in many states.  Bailey’s influence on American agrarianism, on horticultural science, and on American agricultural policy was vast.

Today, Bailey’s boyhood home in South Haven, Michigan has been preserved as a museum.  I have not been there, but hope to make a visit this summer.  The museum also hosts a Liberty Hyde Bailey Blog, which highlights Bailey’s writings on agriculture and nature.  They also have a presence on Facebook.  Cornell University also has an excellent online exhibition, Liberty Hyde Bailey: A Man for All Seasons.

The Death of John Chapman

By the time John Chapman died in March 1845,  he had already earned a reputation as an eccentric in the central Ohio and Northeastern Indiana communities where he spent most of his adult life. But even those who knew him best knew little about his origins, and some of the basic facts of his life—and even the precise day and location of his death and burial—remained in dispute for a full century.  It was only in the years after his death that locally preserved oral traditions began to coalesce into the Johnny Appleseed legend.  His debut before a national audience came only in November, 1871, when an essay in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine spread his story to the nation. In subsequent years more stories emerged, some from people who knew him, others invented from whole cloth.  The piece below is an excerpt from Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, recounting the first newspaper report of his death:

Oldest depiction of John Chapman, drawn from a description probably provided by Rosella Rice.

Oldest depiction of John Chapman, drawn from a description probably provided by Rosella Rice.

In March 1845, John Chapman passed away. The Fort Wayne Sentinel noted that “his death was quite sudden. He was seen on our streets a day or two previous.” But other accounts tell of him falling ill and finding shelter at the home of William Worth, who cared for him in his last days. According to a witness, he was wearing at the time of his death “a coarse coffee-sack, with a hole cut through the centre through which he passed his head. He had on the waists of four pairs of pants. These were cut off at the forks, ripped up at the sides and fronts thrown away, saving the waistband attached to the hinder part. These hinder parts were buttoned around him, lapping like shingles so as to cover the whole lower part of his body, and over all these were drawn a pair of what was once pantaloons.” This erratic collection of scraps was not enough to protect him from the cold winds that whip across the plains of northeast Indiana. His death was attributed to “the winter plague.”

Chapman’s death warranted more ink in the local Fort Wayne newspaper than that of an immigrant laborer who died the same day. “Dies— In this city on Tuesday last, Mr. Thomas McJanet, a stone-cutter, age 34 years, a native of Ayrshire, Scotland” was the full obituary for Mr. McJanet. Chapman’s notoriety made him worthy of several paragraphs. The Fort Wayne Sentinel reported that John Chapman “was well known through this region by his eccentricity and the strange garb he usually wore. He followed the occupation of a nurseryman and has been a regular visitor here upwards of twenty years.” The obituary also indicated that he was a follower of Swedenborg and “he is supposed to have considerable property, yet denied himself the most common necessities of life.” The paper credited his religious beliefs for this contradiction.

As to other details of his life, the Sentinel could only repeat local speculation and rumor.

Probable grave of John Chapman, in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Probable grave of John Chapman, in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

He might have been born in Pennsylvania; he might have had family near Cleveland; and most interestingly, “he was not less than eighty years old at the time of his death— though no person would have judged from his appearance that he was sixty.” Chapman was in fact seventy-one. One is left to wonder what aspects of John Chapman’s person made him seem older than he actually was and which made him seem younger. Perhaps his gaunt frame, unkempt hair and beard, ragged clothes, and sun-dried skin were responsible for the editor’s adding a decade to his age, while his physical fitness made him seem younger. Or perhaps it was his disinterest in money and material things and his quaint ideas, about God making rail fences for families in need, that led the editor to conclude he was at least an octogenarian. No one of later generations could possibly be so out of step with the times.

Yet while Chapman’s local notoriety was worthy of several paragraphs in the Fort Wayne newspaper, news of his death did not spread quickly. . . . It was many years before the collection of locally told stories about John Chapman began to coalesce into a coherent story of his life; basic facts about such things as his birthplace and date, and even the date and exact place of his death, remained elusive or contested for a century after his passing.

It took more than a decade to settle John’s estate. The estate records provide a clearer understanding of John Chapman’s financial situation at the time of his death. In northeastern Indiana he held title to four parcels of land, totaling about 175 acres. Three

Many of Chapman's seedling trees went unsold, grew too large for transplanting to an orchard, a simply grew wild and unpruned.

Many of Chapman’s seedling trees went unsold, grew too large for transplanting to an orchard, a simply grew wild and unpruned.

of these were fully paid for, but he still owed $ 120 in payments and taxes on one forty-two-acre parcel, and the land was valued at about that much. He still held legal title to one of his school lands leases near Mansfield and perhaps one or two other small Ohio properties. And he had property in apple trees. One nursery of two thousand apple trees was assessed at a value of forty dollars, or two cents per tree, and another of fifteen thousand trees, assessed at three cents a tree, deemed to be worth $ 450. In Mercer County, Ohio, an estate administrator was able to sell about 440 of Chapman’s seedling trees for six cents apiece. Yet the true value of seedling trees was fleeting. . . . As it took years to settle Chapman’s estate, the value of any remaining seedlings evaporated. John Chapman also owned at the time of his death “one gray mare,” valued at $ 17.50. Furthermore, Chapman was owed money by several people, presumably unpaid bills for trees from his nursery.

Against these assets were quite a few claims. Chapman’s brother-in-law William Broom claimed $ 127.68 for improvements he had made on one of John’s canal land parcels. This included clearing and fencing four acres of land, “building a Log House 18 by 21 feet,” and “scoring and hewing timber” for a barn. Joseph Hill claimed $ 104 against the estate for periodically providing John with board between 1837 and 1844: fifty-three weeks total, at a rate that was sometimes $ 2, sometimes $ 1.50 per week. Richard Worth claimed $ 7.50 for boarding John for five weeks, spread across five years, and also for the funeral expenses he incurred for laying him out. . . .

When the final settlement was sealed in January 1856, almost eleven years after John’s death, claims against the estate exceeded its total value, and most, but not all claims were paid. John Chapman did not die a wealthy man, but he was not impoverished either. From a dollars and cents perspective, John Chapman “got by,” and that seemed to be exactly what he intended to do.

Downing's Fruits and Fruit Trees of America, published the year of Chapman's death, catalogued and described commercial varieties of fruit.

Downing’s Fruits and Fruit Trees of America, published the year of Chapman’s death, catalogued and described commercial varieties of fruit.

He picked a very fitting time to pass into the next world. The depression that had followed in the wakes of the panics of 1837 and 1839 had begun to lift by 1843, and two years later Midwestern farmers seemed more enthusiastic than ever about advancing from self-provisioning lifestyles to commercial agriculture. In January 1845, a statewide journal devoted to the advancement of agriculture in Ohio, the Ohio Cultivator, published its first issue, indicating that a critical mass of improvement-minded farmers had established themselves in the state. Also in that year Andrew Jackson Downing published the first edition of his catalog of American orchard fruit, Fruits and Fruit Trees of America. And there were other signs of the changing times.

Just one week after John Chapman’s passing, the Ohio state legislature finally passed a law establishing severe penalties for damaging fruit trees. . . . The political leadership of Ohio had endorsed the idea that apples were not simply God’s providential bounty but a commodity with a measurable market value. By the end of 1846, nineteen Ohio counties had formed agricultural societies to protect the interests of Ohio’s commercial farmers, and in the following years new ones sprung up annually. . . .

Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard On Sale

johnny appleseed coverAmazon  and Barnes and Noble have both dropped the price of the paperback edition of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard to $22.50.  The Kindle and Nook ebook versions are both priced at $13.75.  Powell’s also has it in stock for $23.25.  You can also shop online from a local independent bookstore through the IndieBound website.  Here’s a brief description from the History Book Club, which sells a book club edition for $17.99:

Most people forget about the legend of Johnny Appleseed after childhood—but the man behind the myth was a significant figure in the agricultural development of early America. In Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, William Kerrigan illuminates John Chapman’s life and reveals the environmental and cultural significance of the plant he propagated. Drawing on oral histories and material from archives and historical societies, he dissects the Appleseed myth, creating an eye-opening new portrait of the eccentric apple tree planter.

Known for his gentleness and self sacrifice, Johnny Appleseed stands apart from quintessentially masculine frontier heroes like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone. His apple trees, nonetheless, were a central part of the transformation of the West. Chapman, who planted trees from seed rather than grafting, came under assault from those who promoted commercial fruit stock and were determined to extend national markets into the West. He had taken a side in a culture war that ultimately transformed him into a curious relic of a pre-market era.

Tracing Chapman’s life from seedling planter to national legend, Kerrigan casts new light on the landscape of early America.