Michael Kammen reviews 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.


I was delighted to read Pulitzer prize winning historian Michael Kammen’s just published review of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard in the New England Quarterly.  Kammen, Professor of History at Cornell University, is the author of nine books, including the Pulitzer winning People of Paradox  and his book on the American Constitution, A Machine That Would Go of Itself, which won both the Francis Parkman and Henry Adams prizes.  The full review can be found online here, but it is behind a paywall.  I have excerpted a small part of it below:

[In Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard] Kerrigan, the Cole Distinguished Professor of American History at Ohio’s Muskingum University, delivers a succinct, meticulous, and fascinating triple biography of the man, the myth, and the American apple—a fine contribution to cultural and horticultural history. It supplants Johnny Appleseed: Man and Myth (1967) by Robert Price, a volume that got many things right but spread quite a few misperceptions as well.  Kerrigan has scavenged through local lore, account ledgers, and receipts to come up with a gently iconoclastic chronicle that changes our image of Johnny from an strict vegetarian who proselytized on behalf of Swedenborgianism, distributing tracts the way he did seedlings, to a more realistic entrepreneur. He lived the life of a primitive Christian, often ragged, but not quite (or not quite consistently) penniless. He bought and sold tracts of land. As a new level of material well-being reached the Ohio Valley during the 1830s and ‘40s, he adapted but did not fundamentally change. Austerity suited him.

Kerrigan deftly illuminates the complexities of land speculation and the claims of land barons and their agents that Chapman faced when he began planting his nurseries in western Pennsylvania in 1796-97. . . [and] also draws attention to the many ways in which trees and apples took on larger symbolic meaning in Chapman’s time.

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