In a few weeks I will be taking students on an eleven day biennial Civil War tour of eastern theater battlefields and sites. We visit Gettysburg, Antietam, Harper’s Ferry, and a whole host of sites in Virginia. While orchards have been the focus of my research for the last decade or so, I have been teaching courses on the Civil War and leading tours to eastern battlefields for the last fifteen. I have decided to use this trip as an opportunity to gather information on a subject at the intersection of these interests–orchards on Civil War battlefields. Of course, most students of the Civil War are familiar with the infamous peach orchards of Gettysburg and Shiloh, but orchards were ubiquitous on the mid 19th century American landscape, soldiers waged war in the midst of them, and filled their bellies with their fruit in season. I have a few resources to get me started. Bradley Gottfried’s excellent Maps of Gettysburg, Maps of Antietam, and Maps of First Bull Run mark the locations of orchards on those battlefields. Susan Dolan’s Fruitful Legacy: A Historic Context of Orchards in the United States contains information on orchards on many national parks. But this seems like a perfect subject to crowd source. Have you stumbled across restored orchards on visits to Civil War battlefields? Do you have any information to share about battlefield orchards that are now gone? Even references to soldiers’ memoirs, letters, and diaries which discuss orchards on the battlefield, or those they may have raided during marches across the countryside are encouraged. I will share anything I find during my upcoming tour on this blog.
In 1653 Oxford horticulturist Ralph Austen published The Spiritual Use of An Orchard or Garden of Fruit Trees: Set Forth in Divers Similitudes Between Natural and Spiritual Fruit Trees, According to Scripture and Experience. “Fruit Trees . . . do truly . . . preach the attributes and perfections of God to us,” Austen insisted, “and we may read divine truthes in them, as in a book consisting of words and sentences.” Austen set out to demonstrate this by offering up “100 observations in nature [from the orchard] with similitudes.”
Unsurprisingly, in this age when the ideas of John Calvin loomed large in theological discussions, many of Austen’s “observations in nature” were devoted to the question of election of grace. For Austen the cultivated apple tree, safe within the walls of the husbandmen’s orchard, was a fitting symbol of those God had elected for grace. The cultivated trees of the orchard had been chosen by
God (the Husbandman) from amidst all the wild plants beyond the orchard walls. The wild apple trees left behind were, in Austen’s view, a symbol of the “many wicked men and women in the world which were passed by in his decree, and therefore are not brought into his Church, nor engrafted into Christ.” These wicked persons, like wild apple trees, “bring forth sower, bitter, and posynous fruits.” Some of these wild trees might give the appearance of beauty and character, but when tasted, commonly yielded only bitterness. These visually attractive wild apples were Austen declared, much like the Pharisees, “but painted fruits, faire to a carnall eye, without any good taste or relish.” The good Christian, he warned, must not be fooled by them. Austen further declared that even among those trees included within the orchard’s walls resided a wild and corrupt nature, which could only be subdued by grace (and careful pruning and grafting.)
Many pious Englishmen shared Austen’s moral disdain for the “wild” ungrafted apple tree, and in that peculiarly Calvinist way, they believed that they might find in the condition of a man’s orchard evidence of his spiritual fate. While English Puritans and other devout men of wealth and standing carried these moral assumptions across the sea to English colonies in the Americas, many of the poorer immigrants to England’s American colonies had a different set of priorities. Scratching out a living on frontier farms, these colonists could not afford the expense or the labor required to emulate God in their husbandry. Instead they quickly planted, then neglected, disorderly orchards of seed grown trees, so that they might turn their attention to other labors required for their sustenance. These orchards served their short term needs quite well. Their imperfect fruit fattened their hogs, quenched their thirst when converted to cider, flavored their food as vinegar, and the best fruit provided them with a variety of apple dishes for their table. The orchard’s appearance, and the inconsistent quality of its fruit were low priorities for a family focused primarily on sustaining itself with limited financial resources and limited labor.
Yet well-off travelers in the late 17th and throughout the 18th century frequently cast harsh moral judgments on the subsistence-minded farmer and his wild, disorderly orchards. And by the 1820s, many moralists found another reason to condemn the seedling orchard: most of its apples were destined to be converted to demon alcohol. Temperance societies called for the destruction of wild apple trees as an essential step toward sobering up the nation.
The wild apple had always served the poorest American farmers quite well. But it did not find an articulate defender before Henry David Thoreau. In an essay from his 1850 notebooks, the Concord contrarian celebrated the virtues of New England’s “Wild Apples.” Freed from Calvinistic concern of determining who was and was not among God’s elect, this prophet of individualism celebrated the distinctiveness, and unique potential of every wild apple tree. The wild apple, to Thoreau’s mind, “emulates man’s independence and enterprise,” and was more worthy of attention than its cultivated cousins.
Thoreau had little use for “civilized apple trees,” insisting that he preferred “to go
through the old orchards of ungrafted apple trees . . . so irregularly planted . . . that you would think that they not only had grown while the owner was sleeping, but had been set out by him in a somnambulic state.” Wherever he spied a ripe apple on some unkempt apple tree tucked in the corner of a cow pasture, Thoreau thrilled at the possibilities it represented. Many of the most highly praised commercial varieties, after all, had first sprung from some chance neglected seedling. As a result, Thoreau offered his own “observation in Nature” underpinned by a philosophy quite different from Ralph Austen’s. Wildness was not a sinful nature which needed to be suppressed, but the place from which true genius arose. “Every wild-apple shrub excites our expectation thus, somewhat as every wild child. It is, perhaps, a prince in disguise. What lesson to man! So are human beings, referred to the highest standard, the celestial fruit which they suggest and aspire to bear, browsed on by fate; and only the most persistent and strongest genius defends itself and prevails, sends a tender scion upward at last, and drops its perfect fruit on the ungrateful earth. Poets and philosophers and statesmen thus spring up in country pastures and outlast the hosts of unoriginal men.”
Thoreau’s dissent, never published in his lifetime, did not result in a widespread re-evaluation of cultivated and wild apples. The cultivated apple continued its favored status. But by the middle of the 19th century, that status was not rooted in old Puritan dogmas but in the values of the marketplace. In an age when markets had penetrated into the most isolated regions of the nation, an apple’s virtue became increasingly connected to its commercial value. This did not doom the wild ungrafted apple tree to extinction. It continued to spring defiantly from the earth at the margins of pastures and alongside stone walls and fences. But if not doomed to extinction, it was at least to doomed to invisibility, unseen by all but impractical poets and adventuresome children.
“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
It 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.
Amazon 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.
While traveling in eastern Pennsylvania in 1819, Englishman William Cobbett commented on the widespread American custom of taking apples from other people’s orchards without seeking permission. While many European travelers to the early American Republic wrote disapprovingly of the common practice of apple-pilfering, and saw it as a reflection of the American’s weak moral constitution, Cobbett concluded that the practice of taking apples from roadside orchards was so widespread that it would never be considered a crime in the United States. In an era when apples were abundant, the labor to pick and process them were in short supply, and primitive roads made getting perishables to distant markets a challenge, fruit frequently rotted on the orchard floor. William Cooper Howells recalled of his boyhood in eastern Ohio in the early 19th century that
there “were plenty of apples in the orchards . . . where they were always free to the passer-by.” Howells recalled that even a one mile trip to the flour mill could “spoil a day’s work” because along the path he would have to pass two orchards, a good fishing creek, and a good swimming hole. Howells was inclined to ask permission of the owner before taking fruit, which was always granted, but many other travelers, both children and adult, never bothered with such niceties. On his own family farm in 1820, “the peach crop was too great for us to manage, and much of it went to waste” despite the valiant efforts of the family to gather and dry as much of the crop as they could. As a result, Americans tended to see orchard fruit as a providential bounty free for the taking when God delivered it up.
To be sure, many saw taking fruit without asking to be a sin and bemoaned the prevailing attitude “that every body has a legal right to eat as much fruit as he wants, wherever he can find it.” Essays on the moral instruction of children often used the example of taking apples from orchards without permission as a kind of gateway sin that could lead little boys down the wrong path. Noah Webster’s American Spelling Book used variants of a fable about a boy who stole apples in many editions of the primer. But in most of the cautionary tales about the sin of stealing apples, when the boys learn to ask the owner they were granted permission to take “just as many as you want.” Even the moralists recognized that orchard fruit in season was in such great abundance that it would be stingy to deny anyone enough fruit to fill their pockets, so long as they asked.
As far as the law was concerned, taking apples from a roadside orchard was a trivial offense–at most an instance of trespass, for which the owner was only entitled to sue for the value of lost fruit, which in any given case would be so small as to not be worth the trouble. But as good roads and canals connected farmers to urban markets, and improvement-minded farmers invested more of their labor and resources into carefully cultivated, grafted fruit orchards with marketable winter apples, they began to perceive the passerby who pilfered a shirttail full of apples in the same light they did the pickpocket. Market-minded farmers grew increasingly frustrated that the law did not agree. As early as 1832, a court case in New York gave horticulturalists some hope that the legal system and the public might begin to take their grievance seriously. The case involved an apple-pilferer who took a farmer to court for assault. The pilferer had been caught in the act by the orchard owner who was holding a horsewhip when he demanded that the thief put down the fruit. When the brazen scoundrel refused, the
orchard owner took the whip to him. The plaintiff’s lawyer confessed to the jury that he himself had on many occasions taken fruit from other men’s orchards, that no doubt the majority of the jury members had done so as well, and therefore the assault with horsewhip was entirely unwarranted. The jury disagreed and found for the farmer defendant. The story circulated among editors of agricultural journals, who read into the jury’s decision “the pleasing hope that we were on the eve of a revolution in regard to the plundering of fruit, and that a great improvement in public sentiment is taking place on this subject.”
The revolution did not occur overnight, but as farmers began organizing state agricultural societies, they began to lobby state legislatures to pass laws that treated apple-pilfering as a crime beyond mere trespass and imposed penalties far beyond the value of the product stolen. Eastern states, where farmers were earlier connected to urban markets, led the way. But Midwestern state soon followed. Ohio, the state where John “Appleseed” Chapman planted most of his seedling stock, passed a law stiffening penalties on apple-pilferers just one week after his death. The movement to criminalize apple-pilfering was at base a movement to press Americans to begin to recognize fruit-raising as a legitimate industry and fruit as a valuable form of property, worthy of the same protections extended to livestock and manufactured goods. It was also an effort to exterminate the old self-provisioning culture that John Chapman’s seedling apple trees represented.
When Puritans landed at present-day Charlestown in Massachusetts Bay they discovered they already had an English neighbor across the Charles River, living on the spit of land which would become Boston. William Blaxton (aka Blackstone) had established himself on Beacon Hill several years before. Blackstone invited the newcomers over across to his side, where he had established a farm and an apple orchard. It was a decision he seems to have eventually regretted, as he soon grew tired of Puritan intolerance, and moved to Rhode Island. The apples Blaxton grew on Beacon Hill were called Yellow Sweeting, and later, after his relocation, became widely known as the Rhode Island Greening. I will step out on an apple-tree limb and declare them to be the oldest apple cultivar to be planted in New England. Please feel free to dissent, and share any information you may have about varieties with a stronger claim to that title. Learn more about the Rhode Island Greening and other varieties on the Orange Pippin blog. Adam’s Apples also has a nice review of the Greening. Learn more about how people used it in the past at Susan McLellan Plaisted‘s wonderful Bites of Food History blog.