John Chapman 1774-1845, better known as Johnny Appleseed, is revered for sowing random apple seeds along the midwestern frontier that sprouted and grew into apple orchards during the years that American immigrants settled into communities.
His kindness to animals and insects was legendary. Once when mosquitos flew into his forest campfire and burned, he filled his cap with water and extinguished the fire with the remark, “God forbid that I should build a fire for my comfort that should be the means of destroying any of His creatures.”
Actually, Johnny Appleseed’s, or John Chapman’s seeds came not from edible apples, but from a variety too sour for eating, that instead fermented into hard cider.
Johnny planted his seeds in well-supervised nurseries tended by farmers. He then returned periodically to watch them mature into orchards. Michael Pollan writes in The Botany of Desire that “Far from becoming the American Saint Francis, John Chapman turned out to be the American Dionysus. No wonder everyone was glad to see him coming down the western roads! ‘The reason people … wanted John Chapman to stay and plant a nursery was the same reason he would soon be welcome in every cabin in Ohio. … Johnny Appleseed was bringing the gift of alcohol to the frontier.”
With no mention of Chapman’s hard-drinking heritage, a museum at Urbana University was founded on the belief that “those who have the opportunity to study the life of Johnny Appleseed will share his appreciation of education, our country, the environment, peace, moral integrity, and leadership.”
Small and sour apples grown from seeds are called “spitters.” Sour enough, Henry David Thoreau wrote to “Set a squirrel on edge and make a jay scream.” The Legend of Johnny Appleseed is a segment of Melody Time, a 1948 Walt Disney movie. Statues, festivals, and citations abound throughout the midwest to honor Appleseed. The U.S. Postal service issued a 5 cent Johnny Appleseed stamp.
So do legends get born.
Courtesy Delancey Place.com, 4/12/18, Drinking in America: Our Secret History by Susan Cheever; Wikimedia Commons