I created American Orchard in the wake of the publication of my book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard (Johns Hopkins, 2013), and envisioned it as a place to share stories and excerpts from the book, as well as many of the interesting tangents and stories which were excised from that book as I sought to preserve a more focused narrative. In the year and a half since the publication of Johnny Appleseed I have continued to explore themes related to apples and other orchard crops, but have felt constrained by the original subtitle of this blog: “A blog about eating, drinking, sharing, and stealing apples.” I am excited about my next project, a more comprehensive history of the apple in America, which will be unconstrained by the narrative of one man’s life (and trajectory of his myth in this afterlife) and allow me to explore more broadly the role orchard agriculture has played, and continues to play in this history of the United States, from northern New England to the Southern Hill Country, as well as from the highlands of New Mexico to the high plains of eastern Washington. Furthermore, as a professor at a small liberal arts college, it is neither my purview nor desire to constrain my historical interests too narrowly, so I intend to explore subjects pertaining to my broad teaching fields in American History, especially American Environmental History in American Orchard version 2.0. The new subtitle, “Historical perspectives on food, farming, and landscape,” will serve as the new broader boundaries of this blog,and I look forward to sharing with you perspectives and insights that come from my research as well as the material I am teaching in my classes. I am currently working on a chapter on the transformation of the apple industry in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in the early decades of the twentieth century, so questions surrounding orchards and labor are foremost in my mind, which explains the picture I am currently using for a header. But expect to find more than just apples on this blog. I intend to write about Americans’ relationship with trees, both wild and cultivated, about changing American diet and foodways, about the ways in which capitalism continues to transform food production, and controversies over pesticides, genetic modification, and globalization, often, but not always, using the orchard fruit industry as a lens for viewing these issues.
John Chapman earned the nickname “Johnny Appleseed” during his lifetime, and people started sharing stories about the eccentric apple tree planter in the Ohio and Indiana communities where he spent much of his life long before he died in 1845. But Johnny Appleseed did not emerge as a figure in the American national origin story until the 1870s. In the late 19th century and throughout the first half of the twentieth century, most of the promoters of the Johnny Appleseed legend were social reformers, some of a socialist bent, who celebrated Johnny Appleseed’s efforts to promote a common social good by providing apple trees available to all. After World War II, the range of acceptable national myth narratives narrowed considerably. As the United States increasingly defined itself against Soviet communism, interpretations of Johnny Appleseed
reflected this change. When Disney released an animated version of the Johnny Appleseed story in 1948, John’s faith in God was front and center. The narrator stated that three other great nation builders had their distinctive tools in their mission— Paul Bunyan had his axe, John Henry his hammer, and Davy Crockett his rifle— but Johnny Appleseed’s tools were his bag of apple seeds and his Holy Bible. The cartoon opens with a young Johnny singing a Disney-created song that has come to be known as “The Johnny Appleseed Grace,” and many believe it was actually written by Chapman.
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need
The sun and rain and the apple seed
Yes He’s been good to me
The Johnny Appleseed story told by Disney is a near perfect sermon on postwar American values. Faith in God and the ability of the individual to make a difference in history are the central themes. Johnny celebrates American freedom, singing, “Here I am ’neath the blue blue sky, doing as I please,” thanking God for that freedom. Soon his attention is drawn to a long train of Conestoga wagons pushing west, each containing a pioneer family. The wagon train has its own song celebrating American individualism:
Out to the great unknown
Get on a wagon rolling west
Where you’ll be left alone.
The rivers may be wide
The mountains may be tall
But nothing stops the pioneer
we’re trailblazers all.
While John longs to join them, he believes he cannot— that he is too weak and too small,
and does not own the gear he needs. Johnny’s “private guardian angel,” sent down from heaven, convinces him that all he needs is his faith, his Bible, and his apple seeds. Johnny sets out through a rugged wilderness, “a little man all alone, without no knife, without no gun,” but to avoid the impression that Johnny is a pacifist, Disney included a scene where he imagines he is shouldering a rifle like the ones he saw the men on the Conestoga wagons hold, and another where he picks up a stick from the woods, and pretends to aim and shoot with it.
Notably, the Indian makes only a minor appearance in Disney’s Johnny Appleseed. Instead, Johnny Appleseed works to win over the trust of the forests animals, convincing them, by his kindness, of the benign nature of his mission to transform the wilderness. The Disney story ends with an image of an aged Johnny Appleseed atop a ridge, his shadow stretching across a transformed landscape of fields and orchards:
This little man, he throwed his shadow clear across the land, across a hundred thousand miles square and in that shadow everywhere you’ll find he left his blessings three love and faith and the apple tree.
Despite the story’s celebration of individualism, Disney’s Johnny Appleseed stopped short of praising difference in favor of conformity. Johnny Appleseed was a generic Christian in the story, not an apostle of unconventional Swedenborgianism. Johnny Appleseed could be an eccentric in postwar America, but the boundaries of that difference were increasingly constrained in a culture that valued conformity even as it professed to celebrate the power of the free individual.
You can view the entire Johnny Appleseed animated short here:
I recently noticed a tree on my campus which appeared to be near death. At its top bare branches stretched skyward, with just a few putting forth immature and sickly-looking leaves. Around its trunk a thicker cluster of leaves had formed, which I first assumed were from an opportunistic vine, but were in fact new branches coming up at its base. When I asked the director of the University physical plant about the tree, he told me that it was one of ten Ash trees on campus that have fallen victim to the Emerald Ash Borer, an Asian beetle which arrived in North America a little more than a decade ago, and has been wreaking havoc on indigenous Ash Trees across the Midwest. The thick knot of foliage around its trunk was this Ash tree’s desperate attempt at survival, pushing out new life from any part of its body not yet fully comprised by the shiny green beetle.
Upon closer inspection of this tree and two others I found, I could see the signs of the beetle’s presence: tiny D-shaped holes the beetle made as it entered and exited the tree, and in places where the bark had been removed, the squiggly lines left behind as the larvae ate through the tree.
The Emerald Ash Borer arrived in a cargo container from Asia at the port of Detroit in 2002, and has begun rapidly transforming the American canopy, first attacking Red and Green Ash, then, once those are no longer available, moving on to the White Ash. The arrival in North America of this attractively iridescent green beetle is just the latest chapter in the long story of the Columbian Exchange, a term scholars use to describe the consequences of the arrival of animals, plants, and pathogens carried intentionally or accidentally from one place to another as a result of human migration and global capitalism. Columbus gets the credit, or the blame,
because it was in the wake of his 1492 crossing from Europe to the Americas that human contact between once isolated regions became steady, and the environmental consequences of that reality began to play out in rather dramatic ways. The expansion of global capitalism in the late 20th and early 21st century has only accelerated ecological exchanges which have been going on for over 500 years. Any plant, animal or pathogen which has the potential to thrive in an eco-region different from its native one is already thriving there, or eventually will. We cannot reverse the consequences of this new ecological reality, only seek to manage them.
The demise of native tree species perhaps receives more notice and provokes more regret and nostalgia than other Columbian-exchange induced extinctions. Just southeast of the village of New Concord is a sharp rise that some of the oldest residents of the village call Chestnut Hill, once a popular romantic and isolated picnic site where students seeking to escape the social strictures of a Presbyterian campus retreated with their dates. Today it contains no majestic Chestnut trees, which all succumbed to an imported fungus in the first half of the twentieth century. Late nineteenth century photos of the town of New Concord reveal a Main Street cooled by the shade of American Elms arcing gracefully over the road. These, too, have vanished, the victim of another invader: Dutch Elm disease.
If indigenous Ash trees disappears from our lawns, our forests, and our landscapes, will their absence be noticed? The Ash tree does not have the majesty of the mighty oak, and I suspect if you were to ask someone to name the types of trees in their local forest, it might get left off their list. For much of the year the Ash goes unnoticed, late to leaf out, and not a prodigious producer of mast. But in the fall the bronze and mauve leaves of the White Ash are among the most striking of the season. Mostly, however, American Ash trees have been simply useful trees. George Washington called the Black Ash the Hoop Tree, as its strong but pliant wood made very good barrel hoops. Many 18th and 19th century rail fences were made from the Red Ash, and Green Ash was often converted to canoe paddles. The White Ash remains prized most of all, for a wood that is both strong and relatively light. It continues to play a central role in the American pastime, as the Louisville Slugger and virtually all high quality baseball bats are made from the White Ash tree. All of these trees are now threatened by the invasion of the Emerald Ash Borer.
Whenever I want to learn about a local tree, I pull Donald Culross Peattie’s A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America off my shelf first. First published in 1948, I am sure it has been scientifically superseded by many other volumes. I am nonetheless drawn to its lyrical prose. The author was no mere scientist, but clearly a tree lover. Peattie declared the American White Ash to be “Nature’s last word,” and fittingly placed his description of it at the very end of the volume. Written more than half a century before anyone in North America was thinking about the Emerald Ash Borer, his last words on the tree are a fitting tribute, but hopefully not an epitaph:
How many thousand-thousand of untold Ash trees are the respected companions of our doorways, kindliest trees in the clearing beyond the cabin? No one can say. But this is a tree whose grave and lofty character makes it a lifetime friend. White Ash has no easy, pretty charms like Dogwod and Redbud; it makes no over-dramatic gestures like Weeping Willow and Lombardy Poplar. It has never been seen through sentimental eyes, like the Elm and the White Birch. Strong, tall, cleanly benignant, the Ash tree with self-respecting surety waits, until you have sufficiently admired all the more obvious beauties of the forest, for you to discover at last its unadorned greatness.
William Kerrigan is the Cole Professor of American History at Muskingum University, and the author of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, which tells the story of the old world apple in America, from its arrival half a millenium ago to the present.
Like most Americans of a certain age, I first encountered Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman in elementary school. In the story as I remember it, Chapman was a pious Yankee committed to a life of simplicity and benevolence. He determined at an early age to devote his life to one purpose–bringing the blessings of apple trees to the new lands in the developing West. His trees brought sweetness to the hard lives of pioneer families and helped sustain them in their labors. Wandering across the West in bare feet and ragged cast-off clothing, sleeping outdoors, and planting apple seeds wherever he went, Johnny Appleseed took pleasure in denying himself the most basic human comforts in order to carry out his mission. He asked for little in exchange for his trees—some old clothing, a simple meal, or from the truly destitute, nothing at all. He radiated a spirit of peacefulness and both Indian and white man trusted him completely. He loved all of God’s creatures and was loath to harm any of them. One story recounts that he doused a fire and slept in the cold when he discovered that mosquitoes were flying into the flames to their destruction. In the elementary school myth, Johnny Appleseed’s energy for planting trees was super-human. Nearly all of the orchards in the new west were the result of his labors. He was St. Frances of Assisi and Santa Claus wrapped into one bundle.
The myth of Johnny Appleseed is a part of our national origin story, in which the United States expands into the trans-Appalachian West in the years after the American Revolution. Johnny Appleseed isn’t the only hero in this drama, and in fact he is a curious outlier. Men like Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Mike Fink present a jarring contrast to the gentle tree-planter. Violence–directed at Native Americans and nature–lay at the heart of their stories, while Appleseed is remembered for sowing, not destroying. The short explanation for this difference is that the Boone, Crockett and Fink myths first flourished in the age of Andrew Jackson, and reflect that era’s obsessions with masculine aggression. The myth of Johnny Appleseed, in contrast, was a product of the Victorian era, when sentimental feeling and feminine traits were more commonly celebrated.
Appleseed, along with Boone, Crockett, and Fink, received updates during the Cold War as each was deployed to serve new concerns. Among the most powerful disseminators of these legends was the Walt Disney Company, which seized on the westward expansion story to target a new audience of baby boomer children. Disney sanitized the most gruesome aspects of the Crockett and Fink traditions, yet even after this cleansing, the contrast with Johnny Appleseed remained startling. Mike Fink, Davy Crockett, and Daniel Boone were archetypes of American manhood, and even in the Disney versions, violence was nearly always central to their stories. Disney also added the thoroughly mythical Paul Bunyan to this cast, and celebrated him for his prowess felling whole forests of trees. Johnny Appleseed, in sharp contrast, devoted his life to planting them.
- Nevertheless, most American children of the Cold War era understood Johnny Appleseed to be a member of the same team of frontier superheroes. Boone, Crockett, Fink, Bunyan, and Chapman were all actors in a drama about transforming a continent. Crockett and Boone cleared the land of menacing Indians and wildlife; Fink helped make the interior rivers safe for commerce; Bunyan cleared the forest; and Appleseed planted fruit trees to prepare the land for white American farm families. In Cold War versions of these stories, Boone and Crockett reluctantly used violence as a last resort. These heroes protected American families from a red menace on television shows like Walt Disney Presents and Daniel Boone at a time when American soldiers were doing the same in other parts of the world. In that context, Johnny Appleseed symbolized the other American response to the threat, winning hearts and minds with charity and benevolence. If Crockett’s war against the Red Stick Creeks explained American military involvement in Korea, Appleseed’s unbounded benevolence was a metaphor for another approach to the same danger, manifested in American aid programs and organizations like the Peace Corps.
Between May 13 and May 23, 2013, I co-taught a study tour of Civil War battlefields with a colleague. While this was the sixth time I have offered this study tour for undergraduate students, I decided at the outset that I would use this opportunity to gather information about orchards on Civil War battlefields. I was aware of the “famous” peach orchard where many men died on the field at Gettysburg, and was aware of a few other references to battlefield orchards, but was surprised at the abundance of information I uncovered on the eleven day trip. This is the fifth in a series of blog posts on orchards and the Civil War.
The first time I encountered the Stonewall Jackson Apple it made sense to me. It was about six or eight years ago, on the last day of my biennial Civil War study tour, and we had already visited almost every Jackson shrine and monument Virginia had to offer. It was during the tour of Stonewall Jackson’s home in Lexington, Virginia, that a strange thought popped into my head: “This guy is a little bit like Johnny Appleseed.” The comparison, on the face of it, seems absurd. Stonewall Jackson was a fierce and unrelenting warrior, celebrated for his battlefield victories; Johnny Appleseed was remembered for his gentleness and his pacifism, and a respect for life that ran so deep he was loathe to kill even a mosquito. The two men were not even of the same generation. John Chapman was fifty years old and planting apple trees on the northern edge of the Ohio Valley when Thomas Jackson was born on its southern boundary in Clarksburg, (now West) Virginia. Both have been elevated to sainthood by people in their respective regions. But the similarity stops there. Maybe.
The Stonewall Jackson Apple can be found in Winchester, Virginia, at the lower (northern) end of the Shenandoah Valley. And the artist who painted Stonewall Jackson’s visage on a giant apple probably didn’t intend to make a Johnny Appleseed association. He was simply combining two things for which Winchester is known: Stonewall Jackson and apples. Jackson’s time in Winchester was brief, but it was at the height of his fame. He used a home in Winchester as his headquarters in 1862, while he engineered a brilliant military campaign driving Union forces out of the Valley and threatening to bring the war into the North. That headquarters and brief residence is now one of Winchester’s more popular tourist destinations, and has been a regular stop on our Civil War study tour.
Winchester’s association with the apple predates the Civil War. The Shenandoah Valley was Virginia’s richest apple-growing region in the mid-19th century, and while the Valley’s fertile fields earned it the nickname “The Breadbasket of the Confederacy” during the war, it might have also been called “The Orchard of the Confederacy,” because tree fruit was another very successful crop. The Belle Grove Plantation, which sat in the middle of the Cedar Creek battlefield in 1864, has re-established a small heritage apple orchard and also has on display the apple barrel stencil used by Bell Grove’s planters in the 19th century. The Valley’s orchards were no doubt plundered by Sheridan’s marauding armies during the Fall of 1864, but they survived the war more or less in tact, and apples continued to be an important valley crop all through the next century. New Market, Virginia, further up the Valley still has a Johnny Appleseed Restaurant, and Winchester has been hosting an annual Apple Blossom Festival for about ninety years. While there is no real evidence that John Chapman ever visited the Valley, like most of the nation’s apple-growing regions it nevertheless still has a few of its own Johnny Appleseed legends.
The similarities I found between Stonewall and Appleseed had less to do with the actual men than with their myths. In my essay, “The Invention of Johnny Appleseed,” and also in my book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, I argue that the Johnny Appleseed legend largely took form during the Victorian era, and as a result reflects that era’s values and obsessions. So I was pleasantly surprised this year when we stopped at the Stonewall Jackson House in Lexington, Virginia and I stumbled across a fascinating and relatively new book by Wallace Hettle titled Inventing Stonewall Jackson. Hettle explores the myth of Stonewall from many angles, and I cannot do justice to his sophisticated and nuanced argument in this blog post. But Inventing Stonewall Jackson affirmed for me that some of the most prominent features of the Stonewall myth emerged in the Victorian era.
Despite the profound differences in the way these two men lived, there are at least three prominent elements of their myths–each celebrated by Victorians–that Stonewall and Appleseed share: eccentricity, piety, and domesticity. Jackson’s penchant for sucking on lemons and holding one arm straight up in the air as he rode on his horse are two stories which are still told today, and Appleseed of course is remembered for his peculiar eating habits, dress, and penchant for going barefoot in even the worst weather.
Jackson’s deep and very public faith is a central feature of his legend, and his death in battle has made him a Christian martyr to many. Rosella Rice, one of Appleseed’s most important hagiographers in the late 19th century, also sought to present him as a martyr of sorts, declaring that “His bruised and bleeding feet now walk the gold-paved streets of the New Jerusalem, while we so brokenly and crudely narrate the sketch of his life— a life full of labor and pain and unselfishness; humble unto self-abnegation . . .”
Finally, despite the fact that Stonewall left his family to take up the sword, and Chapman was a life-long bachelor, the Victorian hagiographers of each man threaded domestic virtues into each man’s story. Stonewall, we are constantly reminded, was a devoted husband and had special affection for children. Appleseed shared that fondness for children and helped to sustain families by visiting their cabins and reading the Bible to attentive frontier families.
Between May 13 and May 23, 2013, I co-taught a study tour of Civil War battlefields with a colleague. While this was the sixth time I have offered this study tour for undergraduate students, I decided at the outset that I would use this opportunity to gather information about orchards on Civil War battlefields. I was aware of the “famous” peach orchard where many men died on the field at Gettysburg, and was aware of a few other references to battlefield orchards, but was surprised at the abundance of information I uncovered on the eleven day trip. This is the first in a series of blog posts on battlefield orchards.
Joseph Sherfy purchased land along the Emmitsburg Road, south of the town of Gettysburg, in 1842. Sherfy was a striver, and decades later his obituary declared that “he made out of sterile acres a most productive farm [and] deservedly stood in the front rank of intelligent and successful agriculturists.” Planting much of his land in peach trees, by the eve of the Civil War Joseph Sherfy’s peaches, which he sold fresh, dried, and canned, were locally famous, and his orchard appeared on an 1858 map of Adams county. The business supported Joseph, his wife Mary, and their six children.
When the Union army reached Gettysburg on the first of July 1863, Joseph Sherfy and his family were ready to help, providing water and bread to thirsty and hungry soldiers. The next day they were forced to evacuate their home, and did not return until the battle was over.
On days two and three of the battle, the Sherfy farm was in the midst of the conflict. A decision made by Union General Dan Sickles, against the orders of his commanding officer, ensured that Joseph Sherfy’s Peach Orchard would never be forgotten. Ordered to hold his men in a line that extended south of the town of Gettysburg to a hill called Little Round Top, Sickles’ decided instead to move his men forward to another spot of high ground in the middle of Sherfy’s orchard, a position he believed would be more defensible. By doing so, Sickles created a sharp bend in the line, a vulnerable “salient,” in the language of war, which could be attacked by the Confederate army from two sides. By the time Commanding General Meade realized what Sickles had done, easy retreat was not possible, and the soldiers in Sherfy’s Peach Orchard faced withering fire for several hours before those not killed were able to retreat. The fighting in and around the peach orchard salient is remembered as among the fiercest of the three day battle.
What the Sherfy’s found when they returned to their home after the battle surely disheartened them. Their barn had been burnt to the ground, the exterior of their home was riddled with bullets, and the interior had been ransacked by Confederate soldiers. The soils in the orchard and elsewhere on the farm had been hastily dug up, with the corpses of soldiers buried wherever they had fallen, while forty-eight dead horses remained strewn about the orchard, swelling and decomposing in the summer heat. The Sherfy’s estimated their losses as $2500, but like most residents of the village, were awarded little or no compensation from the government.
Yet the peach trees in the orchard where so many men and beasts fell, rattled by canister and rifle fire, mostly survived. In the ensuing years, Joseph Sherfy’s peach orchard became a popular stop with returning veterans and curious visitors. Veterans shared their stories with the Sherfy’s and Mary Sherfy collected pictures of these men, displaying them on a wall in her home. Veterans of the battle, as well as tourists, were eager to view and touch a large cherry tree which stood alongside the Sherfy home, which had a 12 pound ball lodged deep within its trunk. “Soldiers and veterans saw trees (and their fragments) . . . as objects that provided access to the past, a vital link to the landscape of war they had created,” Mary Kate Nelson reminds us in Ruin Nation, her fascinating study of the war’s aftermath. Before they departed, both veteran and tourist to the Sherfy farm took away with them a souvenir of another sort–canned or dried peaches from the Sherfy’s surviving orchard.
Joseph Sherfy died in 1881, but his famous peach orchard survived him, and drew more visitors with each passing year. Just when and why the Sherfy orchards was uprooted I do not yet know. But for decades, the land remembered for the bloody fighting at “the peach orchard,” contained no peach trees at all.
The battle of Gettysburg was waged on the many family farms which surrounded the village, and most of these farms had orchards in 1863. The Sherfy’s peach orchard is the most remembered of these, but all across the battlefield, soldiers sought shelter from unrelenting fire beneath the trunks of fruit trees. In recent years the National Parks Service has begun an effort to restore many of its preserved battlefields to their condition on the eve of the battles fought there. In line with those efforts, the NPS has
partnered with local volunteer organizations to replant and maintain many of the fruit orchards which dotted the landscape of war. Gettysburg National Battlefield Park has perhaps done more than any other battlefield, and today dozens of young orchards are rising out of Gettysburg’s soils. New orchards also appear on the Trostle and Rose farms, adjacent to the Sherfy’s Emmitsburg Road farm. Many of the Confederate soldiers who assaulted Sherfy’s Peach Orchard did so from the Rose Farm’s apple orchard, which witnessed destruction as bad or worse than that inflicted upon the Sherfy Orchard. One early postwar visitor to the Rose farm declared that “No one farm on all the widely extended battlefield probably drank as much blood as did the Rose farm.”
William Kerrigan is the Cole Distinguished Professor of American History at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio and the author of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard. He is currently working on orchards in American History. Other posts in this series on Civil War Battlefield Orchards include:
Between May 13 and May 23, 2013, I co-taught a study tour of Civil War battlefields with a colleague. While this was the sixth time I have offered this study tour for undergraduate students, I decided at the outset that I would use this opportunity to gather information about orchards on Civil War battlefields. I was aware of the “famous” peach orchard where many men died on the field at Gettysburg, and was aware of a few other references to battlefield orchards, but was surprised at the abundance of information I uncovered on the eleven day trip. This is the fourth in a series of blog posts on battlefield orchards.
It was about six days into my eleven day Civil War study tour that I realized that replanting orchards at historical parks had become something of a movement. It wasn’t that I was completely unaware of this. I had read Susan Dolan’s excellent Fruitful Legacy: A Historic Context of Orchards in the United States, which catalogues historic orchards at National Parks sites and also offers a nice historical overview of orchard agriculture in America. I was aware that the Gettysburg National Military Park had replanted the historic Sherfy Orchard. But as we visited one Civil War site after another, and my students rolled their eyes each time I asked a ranger or interpreter about orchards at that particular place, I was happily surprised at how many of them were planning or already in the process of restoring historic orchards.
Gettysburg has replanted dozens of orchards on their historic sites, and now that they have removed the old Cyclorama building, they intend to replant a historic orchard on that site as well. The oldest trees in Antietam’s restored Piper Orchard are now more than ten years old. The privately-run Belle Grove Plantation on the Cedar Creek battlefield now has a small orchard, of heritage apples and is also keeping honeybees.
At Grant’s Headquarters at City Point on the James River, which had been the Richard Eppes plantation before the war, a few fruit trees have been replanted on the grounds. More significantly, the National Parks Service commissioned a study by the Olmsted Foundation which scoured sketches and paintings of the Eppes Plantation, Richard Eppes’ diaries and account books at the Virginia Historical Society, as well as the letters and diaries of other visitors to the plantation just before or during the time it served as Grant’s headquarters to determine what Eppes planted and where. They are using that study as a blueprint for a gradual restoration of Eppes’ original landscaping, which included a wide range of fruit trees scattered about the property.
Nonetheless, it is easier to decide to restore orchards on historic sites, than it is to actually succeed in these efforts. Our National Parks have been starved for funding for years, and the current sequester will only make an already tight situation tighter. Privately funded sites like Belle Grove also struggle to meet their payrolls. While visiting the Manassas National Battlefield Park, I was delighted to learn that at least one orchard was mentioned in the story of the Battle of Second Manassas, and that Park Service staff had made some effort to replant trees on the Brawner Farm. It was under the branches of the Brawner apple orchard that the hapless but always hungry Ohio General Irvin McDowell spread out his maps and ate “apples by the basket” as he tried to figure out what his Confederate foes were up to.
When I arrived at the Brawner Farm, however, I was disappointed with what I found. In the middle of a pasture of waist-high grass resided a motley collection of young apple trees, each surrounded by not-so-sturdy deer fence, many of them collapsed in on the trees. I strode into the wet grass to get a closer look, and found several trees completely entangled in the collapsed deer netting, some of them having been in that condition long enough that they were now growing sideways. While I didn’t hold out much hope for these trees, I couldn’t leave without making some effort to rescue them, carefully untangling the netted trees while my bemused but patient students waited along a dry path some yards away.
In the interpretive center at the Brawner Farm, one ranger expressed skepticism about the whole project. The farmhouse that the interpretive center occupies was itself a post-war construction, albeit on the site of an earlier farmhouse that resided on roughly the same footprint. If the very farmhouse itself was not the same as the one that was there in the midst of the battle, he asked me, what value was there in trying to replant a historic orchard on the site? Was this taking the desire to restore battlefields to their precise pre-battle condition a bit too far?
Given what I know about the effort and resources it takes to care for an orchard—and to protect them from the ravages of deer, insects, and harmful diseases and fungi—I had to conceded that this might not be the wisest use of scarce park resources. At Gettysburg and elsewhere, success in these efforts came only when the historic site found committed and knowledgeable volunteers willing to take responsibility for the trees. I can’t fault the over-stretched staff of Manassas National Battlefield Park for neglect, and instead I applaud their intention. It is my hope that they can find a group of committed volunteers to take over this project. And they will need to invest in some more substantial deer fence.
These local volunteer organizations might learn a great deal by looking at the efforts of Urban Orchard organizations around the country, which would no doubt be great resources for them. These include groups like the Philadelphia Orchard Project, Seattle’s City Fruit, the Portland Fruit Tree Project, the Boston Tree Party, and Los Angeles’ Fallen Fruit collective. These organizations have learned a great deal about the pitfalls and promise of planting and maintaining public orchards. I hope that efforts to replant orchards on federal, state, and private historic sites continues to grow, and am eager to learn about other efforts out there. Please let me know about other efforts by contributing a comment below.
Between May 13 and May 23, 2013, I co-taught a study tour of Civil War battlefields with a colleague. While this was the sixth time I have offered this study tour for undergraduate students, I decided at the outset that I would use this opportunity to gather information about orchards on Civil War battlefields. I was aware of the “famous” peach orchard where many men died on the field at Gettysburg, and was aware of a few other references to battlefield orchards, but was surprised at the abundance of information I uncovered on the eleven day trip. This is the second in a series of blog posts on battlefield orchards.
Chatham Manor sits on the north bank of the Rappahannock River, on a high bluff overlooking the City of Fredericksburg. It was built for entertaining Virginia’s elite. Its first owner, William Fitzhugh, was among that elite, and at different times both Washington and Jefferson were guests at the house. The 1280 acre plantation, surrounded by carefully-designed and managed gardens, two orchards, and fields of commercial crops, was designed to impress its guests with the wealth and refined tastes of its owner. We can imagine William Fitzhugh providing guests like Washington and Jefferson with a spectacular meal, perhaps one that ended with a dessert of fine and rare fruits from his orchards. And we can imagine the fruits of Chatham’s orchards being a subject of their conversation. Both Washington and Jefferson were immensely proud of their own carefully kept orchards of the fine fruit, acquired from nurseries on both sides of the Atlantic. Perhaps Fitzhugh and his guests promised to exchange grafts of especially rare varieties with each other, as members of this elite club were wont to do.
The Fitzhughs, Jeffersons, and Washingtons of Virginia could afford to devote time and resources to the hobby of fruit growing because they commanded the labor of hundreds of unfree persons. Slavery made Chatham’s fine gardens and orchards possible. Despite the efforts of Fitzhugh and other southern planters to present themselves to the world as benevolent patriarchs overseeing an Edenic and peaceable kingdom, the truth was that all of this wealth and refinement was derived from their exploitation of other people. In 1805, Fitzhugh’s slaves rose up in rebellion against their cruel treatment. An armed posse of white men put the rebellion down. Two of the rebels were killed as they tried to escape; another was captured and executed as a warning to others; two more were sold away to another plantation, probably in the West Indies. Fitzhugh, who had come to find both managing enslaved laborers and entertaining other elite Virginians a wearying task, sold Chatham the next year.
Its subsequent owners continued to operate Chatham manor as a plantation estate. When southern states seceded in 1861, believing Lincoln’s election a threat to the institution of slavery, Chatham’s then thirty-seven year old owner, James Horace Lacy, followed his interests and joined the Confederate army as a staff officer. In April of 1862 when the Union Army occupied the north bank of the Rappahannock, Lacey’s wife and children fled to Fredericksburg on the south side of the river.
In December of 1862, Union General Ambrose Burnside used Chatham as a command center. He hoped to launch a quick strike across the Rappahannock before Lee and his Army were prepared, then push on towards the Confederate capitol at Richmond. But when he arrived with his army on the north side of the Rappahannock, the pontoon boats he needed to build a bridge across the river had not. As Burnside waited, Lee and his army dug in, occupying a long imposing ridge just south of the city of Fredericksburg.
In the 19th century, it was customary for armies to suspend campaigns in winter. Most of the major battles of the Civil War occurred in the spring, summer or fall. But Lincoln, eager for a decisive victory before the Emancipation Proclamation came into effect on January 1, pushed Burnside to act. Burnside, too, was eager to demonstrate that he was different from the overly-cautious McClellan whom he had recently replaced. The result of this impatience was one of the costliest, most lop-sided Union defeats of the war. Union forces were able to make the crossing and take the town, but the assault on the Confederate position on Marye’s Heights, across open fields, was a terrible folly. Confederate riflemen fired upon advancing Union soldiers from a sunken road at the base of the heights; Confederate artillery rained down upon the exposed soldiers from the heights. Burnside stubbornly persisted, sending fourteen separate charges against the entrenched Confederates, all of them costly failures. At the end of the day, Union casualties just in the Marye’s Heights section of the line, were six to eight thousand, while Confederates lost less than a quarter of that many. After the battle, Chatham Manor was converted from Union Command Center to field hospital. Hundreds of wounded and dying men faced triage and amputation in tents set up on its grounds, many of those who did not survive were temporarily buried in Chatham’s gardens.
One week after the battle the poet Walt Whitman came to Chatham House to nurse and comfort the wounded and the dying. Today Chatham is owned and maintained by the National Parks Service, as part of the Fredericksburg National Battlefield Park. On a wall next to a window that overlooks the front garden, a copy of Walt Whitman’s The Wound Dresser is mounted, open to the pages that describe what he witnessed at Chatham:
“Outdoors, at the foot of a tree, within ten yards of the front of the house, I notice a heap of amputated feet, legs, arms, hands, etc., about a load for a one-horse cart. Several dead bodies lie near, each covered with its brown woollen blanket. In the dooryard, toward the river, are fresh graves, mostly of officers, their names on pieces of barrel staves or broken board, stuck in the dirt.”
The catalpa tree which sheltered the pile of unsalvageable appendages survives, and is visible from that window. Its bark more gnarled and knotted with age, and its aging trunk and some of its heavier branches now held up with steel supports, in a heroic effort to preserve the last witness to this terrible scene. It is as if this old catalpa has become Whitman himself, pointing at the precise spot of the carnage, telling us not to look away.
While Whitman’s catalpa tree survives, the orchards of Chatham Manor, a symbol of the luxury that slavery provided to an elite group of white men, do not. After the battle the Union army hunkered down for the winter on the north side of the river. On January 1, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, and the Rappahannock became one of the most important boundaries between slavery and freedom. Throughout that winter Virginia slaves stole themselves and gained their freedom by crossing to the Union side. Many stayed with the Union camp, and took jobs with the army. Soldiers and freedmen scoured the countryside that winter, seeking fuel to keep them warm. By spring the north shore of the Rappahannock was mostly denuded of trees, save Whitman’s Catalpa and a few other mature trees that graced the lawn of Chatham Manor. Chatham’s two orchards were no doubt among the first targets of the fuel foragers. When I asked the park rangers on duty at Chatham if they could point me to the original location of these orchards, they could not. The opulent orchards of Chatham, created by slavery, were ultimately extirpated by the soldiers and freedmen who brought about slavery’s demise.
Between May 13 and May 23, 2013, I co-taught a study tour of Civil War battlefields with a colleague. While this was the sixth time I have offered this study tour for undergraduate students, I decided at the outset that I would use this opportunity to gather information about orchards on Civil War battlefields. I was aware of the “famous” peach orchard where many men died on the field at Gettysburg, and was aware of a few other references to battlefield orchards, but was surprised at the abundance of information I uncovered on the eleven day trip. This is the third in a series of blog posts on battlefield orchards.
An Army marches on its stomach.” This old adage, commonly attributed to Napoleon, was certainly one every Union and Confederate soldier understood. Soldiers spent a great deal of time thinking about their stomachs: what last went into them, and what might next go into them. Even when rations were plentiful, they were nonetheless dependably monotonous—salt pork, hard tack, and desiccated vegetables were standard fare. When opportunities arose to satisfy their stomachs with something different, soldiers could go to extraordinary lengths to seize them. This truth was perhaps no more dramatically demonstrated than at Sharpsburg, Maryland in the Fall of 1862, on the bloodiest single day of the war. The battle of Antietam has long been remembered for the fierce fighting which occurred in the cornfield, the West Woods, along Bloody Lane, and at Burnside’s Bridge, but actions that day in the Piper Orchard were also worthy of commemoration.
The Piper apple orchard sat on a hill just south of the Sunken Road, where on the morning of the battle Confederate forces were entrenched in what appeared to be an impregnable defensive position. But once flanked by Union forces, the Sunken Road quickly became a death pit now memorialized as Bloody Lane. To the South of the Sunken Road on a hillside resided the Piper cornfield and orchard, and it was to this ground that Robert E. Lee sent a division of 4,000 men in an effort to rescue their trapped comrades. While this high ground allowed the Confederates to fire upon Union forces north and west of the Sunken Road, it also left the soldiers in that orchard terribly exposed to both Union artillery and rifle fire. Caught at the highest, most exposed part of the orchard, Georgia’s 22nd Infantry hunkered down, as minie balls flew over their heads and canister shot rattled the apple trees around them. Private W.B. Judkins, a member of that Georgia regiment recalled “the company was in the thick of the fight there in the apple orchard and cornfield. The ground was covered with apples where we fought, shot off the trees.” Judkins himself was wounded by schrapnel, but he and his fellow Georgians wasted no opportunity and instinctively grabbed as many fallen apples as they could.
Later that afternoon, the focus of the battle shifted south to Burnside’s Bridge, but the scene near Bloody Lane and the Piper Orchard was far from peaceful. Confederates continued to use the high ground of the Piper farm and orchard to fire upon Union forces now firmly in control of the area around Bloody Lane. At this point, seizing the high ground of the Piper Orchard had no strategic importance, so Major Thomas Hyde was a bit shocked to receive orders from Colonel William Irwin to send his 7th Maine regiment—diminished by earlier fights to only about 200 men—to take the Piper Orchard from a Confederate force at least four times as large. The Maine men did so, but soon found themselves pinned down in the hilltop orchard, with no support coming from other regiments behind them. Thomas Hyde remembered “how the twigs and branches of the apple-trees were being cut off by musket balls and were dropping in a shower.” Another member of the regiment recalled how “bullets, men and apples were dropping on all sides.” Nonetheless, in a fight so fierce that Captain John B. Cook declared it was in the Piper orchard that he “learned how thickly bullets could fly,” the fearless and hungry men of the 7th Maine were reaching up into the branches of the trees to gather apples.
When the fighting finally ended that evening, more than one in three of Georgia’s apple-gathering soldiers were casualties, while Maine’s second-harvesters lost more than half their regiment.
The Piper Orchard at Antietam, like the Sherfy Orchard at Gettysburg, survived the war but not the century. When the Congress acquired the battlefield at Antietam and established a national park, there were no more apple trees on Piper hill. In 2002, as part of a wider effort to restore National Battlefields to their pre-battle landscapes, Antietam National Battlefield replanted 6.5 acres in apple trees, selecting 19th century varieties; five years later, they planted an additional 13.5 acres, this time including some modern disease-resistant varieties. Protecting the young orchard from the ravages of deer has been a challenge, and today about half of the trees in the orchard are surrounded by sturdy deer-proof fencing. Slowly but surely, the Piper Orchard is returning to something looking a bit like its 1862 appearance.
A detailed description of the 7th Maine’s fateful charge into the orchard can be found here. For a thrilling description of the entire battle, including the experience of the Georgia 22nd in the Piper Orchard, pick up Richard Slotkin’s The Long Road to Antietam. More about the efforts of Antietam staff and volunteers to restore the Piper Orchard can be found here and and also at the Save Historic Antietam Foundation website.
Excellent, detailed maps of the entire battlefield, including the locations of the Piper and other orchards can be found in Bradley Gottfried’s The Maps of Antietam.
“Any American who has eaten a winter tomato, either purchased at a supermarket or on top of a fast food salad, has eaten a fruit picked by the hand of a slave.” When I first read this line in Barry Estabrook’s book Tomatoland, I was both shocked, but also, I confess, a little skeptical. The assertion, made by U.S. District Attorney Douglas Molloy, of Florida’s Middle District is based on his extensive on the ground knowledge of the labor conditions in Central Florida’s tomato fields, which, Molloy claims, have been until recently “ground zero for modern-day slavery.” Molloy’s insistence that the most exploitative working conditions in Florida’s tomato field amounted to slavery was no mere opinion, but supported by convictions of six men involved in the enslavement scheme. Migrant workers in the employ of Cesar Navarette were coaxed into accepting jobs that promised good pay and clean housing. Instead they found themselves lured into debt peonage, forced to live in unsanitary box trucks with no toilet facilities, locked in trucks overnight to ensure they would be available to work the next day, chained together, beaten and threatened.
While not all workers who toiled in Central Florida’s tomato fields in the first decade of the twenty-first century could be called slaves, instances of extreme exploitation and inhumane work and housing conditions were quite common. The good news is that in less than a decade, thanks to the collective action of workers and their allies, conditions in central Florida tomato fields have gone from among the worst in the United States to “probably the best working environment in American agriculture” according to Susan Marquis of the RAND Graduate School.
Before explaining how this remarkable turnaround occurred, I want to say a few words about my own interest in this subject. In the final chapter of my recent book, Johnny Appleseed and the American OrchardI offer a brief but sweeping history of the apple in America since 1860. When I finished that book I realized I had a lot more to say about the history of the apple in America, including much material that was too far afield from that book’s anchor narrative: the story of John “Appleseed” Chapman and the legend that emerged from his life. I decided that a broader history of the apple in American history was warranted, and have begun to map that book out. One persistent issue in the story of the apple in America is, of course, the problem of labor: who picked your apple, and under what conditions was it picked? Was the laborer adequately compensated for her work?
Slavery and exploitation have been a persistent and recurring part of the global history of agricultural labor. Even in the early 19th century United States, a golden age of sorts for the family farm in the northeast and midwest, slave labor was the engine of southern agriculture. In the middle of the 19th century most of America’s apple orchards resided on family farms and were picked by members of that family or local laborers, or not picked at all. (A significant percentage of the nation’s apples were simply left to drop on the ground, where they would fatten hogs released into the orchard.) In the late 19th and the early 20th century, as orcharding became an increasingly specialized and primarily commercial activity, orchards got larger, the challenge of seasonal labor needs became greater. And as markets became increasingly national and international in scope, competition, more often than not, exerted downward pressures on both the prices of apples and the wages those picking them received. The same factors that created the exploitative working conditions in central Florida’s tomato fields have come to bear on agriculture across the United States and the world, and the apple industry has not been exempt from this.
My project for this summer to is trace part of this transition in orchard agriculture in one small region by telling the story of the Shenandoah Valley’s orchard industry across the first half of the twentieth century. One part of that story is a transition in harvest labor, from family and local labor early in the century, when many Appalachian families came down from the mountains in the fall to pick apples, to their replacement with Jamaican and Bahamian guest workers by mid-century. In the Handley Library in Winchester, Virginia I have found a large collection of the ephemera connected to this harvest labor, including the “picker’s tickets” given to each laborer, intended to help determine what each worker is owed in wages at the end of the day. Agricultural labor was exempted from most of the labor regulations passed in the 1930s New Deal legislation, and the grower’s preferred method of payment–by the pound, bushel or barrel, rather than by the hour–has long made this kind of work especially vulnerable to exploitation.
That has certainly been the case in central Florida’s tomato fields, where workers are paid by the pail. Growers have long insisted that workers make better than minimum wage, but make those calculations are based upon often unrealistic estimates of how many pails of tomatoes a worker can pick in an hour, and also by ignoring the time workers spend at the field waiting for the morning dew to dry before they can begin to pick. The wages and conditions in Florida’s tomato fields have improved dramatically in the last decade by the inspired creation of a “Penny Per Pound” campaign launched by the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW). Growers had long responded to worker’s requests for higher wages by claiming, not unfairly, that they, too, were victims of a global marketplace, and anything that raised their cost made it harder for them to compete against tomatoes grown in Mexico and elsewhere. The CIW’s solution was to go directly to the major purchasers of Florida’s fresh tomatoes–fast food chains and grocery stores–and ask them if they would be willing to pay one penny more per pound if they were assured that the additional penny would go to improving the working conditions and wages of the pickers. The CIW did not initially receive a warm reception, but through
strategic boycotts, they have managed to bring many of the biggest buyers on board. Among fast food giants, the biggest player still refusing to pay an extra penny a pound is Ohio-based Wendy’s; among grocery chains, Kroger’s is one of the last holdouts. Even Walmart has signed on for the Penny Per Pound campaign, and gone one step farther–promising to see if they can institute a similar program with their suppliers of apples and strawberries.
The Penny For Pound program–now called the Campaign for Fair Food–has already dramatically improved conditions and wages for central Florida’s tomato growers, and is on the eve of a complete victory. Please visit their website to see a full list of the supporters and hold outs. Consider printing out information about the campaign from their website and stopping in to talk to the manager of your local Kroger’s and Wendy’s and letting them know how important it is to you, as a consumer, that the people who work to provide your food are treated humanely and paid fairly.
For a historical perspective on the persistence of slavery and labor exploitation, visit the Historians Against Slavery website.