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


John “Appleseed” Chapman:

steve_jobs.w.applesaint_francis_of_assisi.bird.cross

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

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

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

Was John Chapman kinda like this man . . .

Was John Chapman kinda like this man . . .

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

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

 . . . or more like this woman?

. . . or more like this woman?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Was Johnny Appleseed a Barefoot Vegetarian?


Was Johnny Appleseed a Barefoot Vegetarian?

While researching my book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, I sifted through mountains of oral traditions and tall tales about the legendary apple tree planter.  What proved to be more difficult to find were concrete traces of the real John Chapman preserved in the historical record.  Some of the more useful sources of information about Chapman were Dry Goods Store ledgers in some of the communities where he resided.  But I was certainly caught by surprise with a discovery I made at the Crawford County Historical Society in Meadville, Pennsylvania.  There, in a Holland Land Company store ledger from the 1790s, I found this list of items purchased by John Chapman: brandy, whiskey, sugar, chocolate, tobacco, three pairs of “mockasins,” gunpowder, and pork.

In the popular legend Johnny Appleseed carried no gun, went barefoot everywhere, was loathe to harm any living creature, was a vegetarian, and is sometimes described as a teetotaler.  These brief entries in the Holland Land Company records appeared to upend those legends.  In fact the Holland Land company store ledger isn’t the only story that suggests John sometimes carried a gun. A story from Warren, Pennsylvania describing his first crossing of the Alleghenies also has him fitted out with a rifle.  And one of the central Ohio stories recounting Chapman’s time there during the War of 1812 has John responding to suspicious gunfire by grabbing his own rifle to investigate, and returning later with a venison ham given to him by the deer-hunting neighbor responsible for the first shot.

Nevertheless, many people who knew John Chapman in his later years recounted his extreme aversion to harming any living creature, and asserted that his diet was vegetarian.  In all likelihood, Chapman adopted a vegetarian diet later in life.  If he did, he may have been among the nation’s first advocates of the vegetarian diet.  In the early 1820s, when John Chapman was in his

The Reverend William Metcalfe, leader of the Philadelphia Bible Christians, one of the earliest advocates of vegetarianism in the new nation.

mid forties, what was perhaps the first vegetarian community was established in Philadelphia.  The Reverend William Metcalfe and his followers, calling themselves the Bible Christians, shared with John Chapman an interest in the writings of the Swedish mystic Emanuel Swedenborg. .  Metcalfe’s conversion to vegetarianism was at least in part a response to Swedenborg’s description of meat-eating as a dramatic sign of man’s fall. By the end of the 1820s, vegetarianism had found other American advocates as well, including Sylvester W. Graham, promoter of the Graham diet, and Bronson Alcott, father of Louisa May Alcott.  All three of these early American advocates of vegetarianism argued for it on both spiritual and scientific grounds.

As for those moccasins, Chapman’s aversion to footwear is recounted in many sources that span his adult life.  But there are also surviving stories which recount that in times of very severe weather, he might be seen wearing the ragged, discarded boots of others. But even these he would give to others who in his mind needed them more than he did.  The three pairs of moccasins he acquired at the Holland Land Company Store in 1797, he may have purchased because they would be easy to carry, and might be traded for other things he needed, or be given to others in need.  And what should we make of the brandy and whiskey John Chapman purchased?  John Dawson, who knew Chapman in his later years recalled that he “was generally regarded as a temperate man . . . but occasionally he would take a dram of spirits to keep himself a little warm, as he said.”   That John Chapman was not a fiery prohibitionist should come as no surprise.  Many of the apples from the seedling trees John Chapman planted found their way to the cider mill, where they were converted to cider, both hard and sweet, and some then into cider brandy.  But that is a subject worthy of a future post.

Disney’s Johnny Appleseed


Johnny Appleseed's Bible features prominently in the Disney version of the story, from the 1948 animated feature Melody Time.

Johnny Appleseed’s Bible features prominently in the Disney version of the story, from the 1948 animated feature Melody Time.

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

Disney made Appleseed part of its team of early American superheroes, alongside Paul Bunyan, John Henry and others.

Disney made Appleseed part of its team of early American superheroes, alongside Paul Bunyan, John Henry and others.

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.

disneyjohnnypotbibleThe Lord’s been good to me

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

disneyjohnnyguardianThe 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:

disneyjohnnyconestogaGet on a wagon, rolling west

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,

The diminutive Johnny goes west without a gun, but in the Disney version, this is a result of his poverty and small size. No pacifist, he dreams of emulated the gun-toting frontiersman.

The diminutive Johnny goes west without a gun, but in the Disney version, this is a result of his poverty and small size. No pacifist, he dreams of emulated the gun-toting frontiersman.

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.

The creatures of the wild forest Johnny Appleseed will transform into an ordered orchard embrace him as a friend.

The creatures of the wild forest Johnny Appleseed will transform into an ordered orchard embrace him as a friend.

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:

disneyjohnnyoldhilltopnurseryThis 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:

Johnny Appleseed and our National Origin Story


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.

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


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.

Mansfield, Ohio boys dressed as Indians in front of the local Johnny Appleseed monument in 1953.

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.

Johnny sowing appleseeds in Disney’s 1948 film Melody Time.

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.

Johnny Appleseed and Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley


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.

stonewall apple 5The 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.

This apple barrel stencil at the Belle Grove plantation is evidence of the commercial importance of apple growing on that Shenandoah Valley farm.

This apple barrel stencil at the Belle Grove plantation is evidence of the commercial importance of apple growing on that Shenandoah Valley farm.

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.

Statue in front of the Johnny Appleseed Restaurant, New Market, VA.

Statue in front of the Johnny Appleseed Restaurant, New Market, VA.

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.

Inventing Stonewall JacksonThe 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.

Stonewall Jackson foam stress-relieving lemons are available in the gift shop at his Lexington, VA home.

Stonewall Jackson foam stress-relieving lemons are available in the gift shop at his Lexington, VA home.

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.

Popular Civil War Artist Mort Kunstler depicts a farewell scene with his beloved wife, in front of the Winchester home that served as his headquarters.

Popular Civil War Artist Mort Kunstler depicts a farewell scene with his beloved wife, in front of the Winchester home that served as his headquarters.

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 . . .”

freshnewsFinally, 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.

The steroid-infused version of Jackson and his horse "Little Sorrel" on the Manassas Battlefield.

The steroid-infused version of Jackson and his horse “Little Sorrel” on the Manassas Battlefield.

The best, or worst, Johnny Appleseed analogies.


jaofpigsdesotoWhat is required to earn the title, “The Johnny Appleseed of” something?  Well, there appears to be more than one way to earn the honorific.  You could be the first person to introduce an object or idea, but if you are not the first, you still might earn the title by becoming the most important or most evangelical promoter of that object or  idea.  A recent article in the New York Times  declared Conquistador Hernando de Soto to be “the Johnny Appleseed of pigs” because during his reign of terror through the American southeast he released Old World swine into the region, which proliferated rapidly, wreaked much environmental destruction, but ultimately helped to cement pork as “the other white meat.”  He clearly earned the title, but I would prefer to put a more positive spin on it by calling him “The Johnny Appleseed of Bacon.”

jaofkid-bacon

Many other notable figures of recent history had “the Johnny Appleseed of” honorific bestowed upon them.  Here are a few of my favorites:

“Freeway” Ricky Ross, “the Johnny Appleseed of Crack Cocaine.”

jaofcrackfreewayrickyross In the early 1980s, Ross oversaw a crack cocaine empire from a few properties along Los Angeles’ Harbor freeway. the empire was so vast that he claimed to have sold $3 million worth of the drug in a single day.  Ross seems worthy of the Johnny Appleseed title because at its height, his empire appeared to be responsible not just for most of the crack in southern California, but most of it distributed in the Midwest, Texas, Louisiana, and the Carolinas.  Perhaps fittingly, Ross once claimed that the original Johnny Appleseed’s old haunt of Ohio was his most lucrative market.  Convicted in 1996 after trying to purchase 100 kilos of crack from a Federal agent, Ross eventually had his sentenced reduced to twenty years, and was released after fifteen for being a model prisoner.

Alfred Matthew Hubbard, “The Johnny Appleseed of LSD.”

Ross was not the first evangelizer of drug use to earn the Johnny Appleseed moniker.  jaoflsdhubbard
Alfred Matthew Hubbard, once a “barefoot boy from Kentucky,” moved west, became a small time inventor with an entrepreneurial spirit, and found his calling distributing hallucinogenic drugs.  He was said to have turned more than six thousand people on to the acid trip.  He also distributed magic mushrooms and mescaline, all of which he carried around with him Johnny Appleseed style–in  a leather satchel strung over his shoulder.  One Beverly Hills psychiatrist recalled that “we waited for him like a little old lady waits for the Sears-Roebuck catalog.”  Also known as Captain Trips, in his appearance the crewcut-wearing Hubbard didn’t quite fit the stereotype of the beatnik or hippy. Aldous Huxley and Timothy Leary were two of his customers and champions, though the latter once commented that he had the appearance of a “carpetbagger con man.”

Thomas Bendelow, “The Johnny Appleseed of Golf”

jaofgolfbendelowIt isn’t just drug dealers who develop an evangelical zeal for their favored mode of recreation.  Scottish-American Thomas Bendelow’s passion for golf certainly matched that of Ross’s and Hubbard’s for illicit substances.  Bendelow was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, to a family of pie makers. Which was an appropriate occupation for the Bendelow family, because they were also well known for their religious pie-ty. Thomas migrated to America, where he first taught golf, and eventually began to design golf courses. Soon Bendelow was designing golf courses across the nation, and his courses became known for both their “naturalistic” and “sporty” designs.  By the time he died in 1936, Bendelow had designed over 600 golf courses.

Michael Roizen, the Johnny Appleseed of the Male Orgasm

Ohio might be called “the Johnny Appleseed of Johnny Appleseeds,” as it has jaofmaleorgasmmichael_roizenplayed a central role in the careers of so many Johnny Appleseeds. It might also be called “the Johnny Appleseed of Presidential birthplaces” because it appears that all of the nation’s most obscure Presidents were born there.  But I digress.  Michael Roizen, the chief  wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic has accomplished many things in his life, so perhaps it isn’t really fair to saddle him with the title “the Johnny Appleseed of the Male Orgasm.”  But that is what Men’s Health Magazine has called him, because of his efforts to promote the idea that men should have more of them–at least three a week–if they want to live long, happy, healthy lives.

The United States of America, The Johnny Appleseed of Nuclear Weapons

jaofnuclearweaponsamerican-flag-libertycsmonitorThis last one is so important, it could not belong to a single person, but only to a whole nation.  According to the Christian Science Monitor, the title belongs not to one President, but to every one from Harry S Truman to Barack Obama, and to all the people who voted for them. I chose to illustrate this last one with an image of the Statue of Liberty, because, frankly, there is clear gender bias going on in the bestowal of Johnny Appleseed honorifics.

So, what are you the Johnny Appleseed of?

“The Invention of Johnny Appleseed” now available online


Fall 2012 issue of the Antioch Review.

Fall 2012 issue of the Antioch Review.

“The Invention of Johnny Appleseed” first appeared in the Fall 2012 issue of the Antioch Review.  It is excerpted from the final chapter of Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, which is available at finer bookstores and at a number of online sellers, including:

Powell’s Books

Harvard Bookstore

Elliott Bay Book Company

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

It is also available in ebook form:

Kindle

Nook

Sony Reader

My interview with the New Books In Food Network


A few weeks ago, I connected with Eric Lemay of the New Books Network and recorded this interview about my new book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchardwhich is now out in ebook form (Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader) as well as hardcover and paperback.

Below is Eric’s introduction to the interview, which is about one hour long.

Not many of us, not even the most ardent foodies, think of the crab apple as a fruit worth eating, Imagemuch less extolling, but Henry David Thoreau saw something like the American pioneer spirit in this hard, gnarled, sour hunk of fruit.  In his essay “Wild Apples,” he celebrates the apple because it “emulates man’s independence and enterprise.”  Like America’s first settlers, he goes on, “it has migrated to this New World, and is even, here and there, making its way amid the aboriginal trees.”  He claims that “[e]ven the sourest and crabbedest apple, growing in the most unfavorable position, suggests such thoughts as these, it is so noble a fruit.”

William Kerrigan quotes from this passage at the start of his fascinating book, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard: A Cultural History (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012) and he shows us the man behind the myth, a man very different from the one we might expect, but a man who nonetheless seems like the real-world embodiment of Thoreau’s thoughts on the apple.  Born in 1774, John Chapman is the planter who would eventually become Johnny Appleseed.  Kerrigan not only tells us the story of his life and afterlife, but also the story of the American apple, which begins, surprisingly enough, in Kazakhstan and goes on to our moment of genetically modified fruits and heritage varietals.

At the center of this story, Kerrigan shows us the journey of an unusual American for his time and then the creation of an unusual—and perhaps timeless—American myth.

John Chapman, Lydia Maria Child, and the Frugal Life


John Chapman, Lydia Maria Child, and the Frugal Life 

One of the many Johnny Appleseed stories preserved in central Ohio communities

A slop pail. Standard household equipment in the pre-disposal days.

was of the day a farm woman opened her front door to find John Chapman fishing scraps of stale bread out of a slop pail that she intended for her hogs.  The woman was startled enough by the scene, but startled still more by John Chapman’s reaction to her discovery: he scolded her for wasting food perfectly suitable for human consumption on swine.

John Chapman’s radical commitment to the frugal life was the subject of many stories told about him.  His primitive dress, constructed primarily of the castoffs of others, and his insistence on the meanest of diets suggest that he took Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 6:25, quite literally: “Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body more than raiment?”

Historians often refer to the years between the War of 1812 and the Civil War as the era of the “market revolution.”  During these years, advances in transportation technology—good roads, canals, steamboats, and eventually railroads—gave Americans greater access to material goods.  The change in lifestyle was nowhere more dramatic than in the trans-Appalachian west, where communities moved rapidly from isolated frontier outposts to middle-class communities deeply integrated into a national economy.  While most embraced this revolution, like all change it also fostered some ambivalent reactions.  In particular, some saw the new material prosperity as a threat to personal piety, and the new rules of economic exchange as a threat to traditional notions of community.

It is worth considering whether John Chapman’s continued commitment to a life of austerity when material comfort was within reach was his personal reaction to the changes the market revolution had brought.  If so, he was not alone. In eastern cities, small numbers of committed middle-class reformers embraced “retrenchment,” and replaced their fine furniture with simple wooden tables, and their fancy silverware with more primitive utensils.   Perhaps no greater symbol of ambivalence to the new

Lydia Maria Child

materialism was the popularity of Lydia Maria Child’s best-selling book, The American Frugal Housewife.   First published in 1829, Frugal Housewife was an early American best-seller, in its 33rd edition by 1855.  Sub-titled “for those who are not ashamed of economy,” Child’s advice manual offered American women countless practical tips for getting by with less.In fact a piece of advice that Child offers in the preface of that book is curiously similar to the advice John Chapman gave to the startled farm wife:  “Look frequently to the pails, to see that nothing is thrown to the pigs which should have been in the grease-pot,” Child admonished her readers, and “look to the grease-pot, and see that nothing is there which might have served to nourish your own family, or a poorer one.”

In her obsession for keeping and finding uses for every candle stub and even the smallest scraps of fabric and twine, Child was a kindred soul to Chapman.  For Child, as for Chapman, frugality was religion and had the power to improve the world. “True Economy,” Child declared, “is a careful treasurer in the service of benevolence; and where they are united respectability, prosperity, and peace will follow.” Similarly, John Chapman’s own frugality allowed him to be more charitable, giving away not just his own worn out shoes to a barefoot family, but also cash he earned selling apple-seedlings and had saved by sleeping rough rather than paying for board.

Both Child and Chapman were products of the market revolution era, and each in their own way offered some resistance to it; Child through her advice manual, and Chapman through his lifestyle.  It is no accident that the vast majority of Johnny Appleseed stories that come down to us are about his later years, when John Chapman, the primitive Christian, found himself living in a world transformed by markets. It was only then that his radically anti-materialistic lifestyle truly stood out.  John Chapman’s increasingly middle-class neighbors appear to have found his lifestyle eccentric but also charmingly quaint.  While they had little desire

Acquiring this popular bumper sticker is perhaps the twenty-first century equivalent of buying a book on household economy.

to follow his example, they nonetheless harbored a nostalgia for simpler times, and worried about what values had been lost with the passing of the frontier.  By retelling stories about Johnny Appleseed, they were, in a sense, trying to honor those pre-market values.  They also honored them in a curiously modern way: by heading to the nearest dry goods store to purchase a copy of Ms. Child’s best-selling book.  By doing so, they hoped to demonstrate that despite their new material comfort, they were “not ashamed of economy.”

“The Invention of Johnny Appleseed” in the Antioch Review


Image

Fall 2012 Issue of the Antioch Review

The Fall 2012 issue of the Antioch Review, “Johnny Appleseed and Other Legacies,” features a range of excellent non-fiction and fiction essays and poetry, including my essay, “The Invention of Johnny Appleseed.”  The essay, which is excerpted from Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard, examines how Americans of different generations found new meanings in the story of the wandering apple tree planter.