What do you know about Johnny Appleseed? Is it something like this?
A quote from one of the characters in my novel, wherein I scratch the surface of this misconstrued legend through fiction: "All I ever heard of
you was that you would travel the American wilderness and plant apple
orchards to feed the hungry colonists that came behind you because you
were some kind of benevolent nature-spirit come down to Earth in the
shape of a human being, or something like that.”
A devout follower of the fundamental Christian teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg,
John Chapman was an eccentric, to say the least.
Rejecting the idea of the Trinity and believing the threefold god was
found in Jesus alone, Swedenborg also believed that faith alone was not
enough to save one's soul, and that one must also perform charitable
acts to attain true salvation. Chapman followed this Swedenborgian
doctrine to the letter, refusing to eat meat or harm even the
tiniest of God's creatures. He befriended usually hostile
Indians and was said to be quite fond of children. Preferring to go around barefoot at all times, he would entertain adoring audiences by walking over
hot coals or sticking needles through the thick, leathery calluses on his
Surely John Chapman did not intend or expect to be
mythologized. But by the end of his life, he had become much more than
man: Johnny Appleseed, one of the first homespun American folk
heroes. A living legend.
So far, so good, right? Everything on par with what you remember? But about that thing with the apples...
In modern depictions, Johnny Appleseed usually shares the
spotlight with seeds. Sackfuls of apple seeds. Apple seeds pouring from
his hands into piles at his bare feet, often wearing nothing but a
burlap sack and a tin cooking pot on his head (this attire is based on
John Chapman did bring relief in
the form of the apple to colonists, but not in the way you were taught
in elementary school. He was known for carrying around apple seeds. Let
me reemphasize: apple seeds.
And the apples that grow on the branches of apple trees grown from directly from seeds are
almost always inedible. In order to ensure an apple tree's fruit
will taste good, it is necessary to graft the
is a means of domesticating fruit trees where a shoot of
the desired tree is fused into the trunk of the
undesirable tree; basically a form of cloning plants. But John Chapman,
habitual wanderer, did not stay in one place long enough to
graft trees and cultivate orchards to their full, edible fruition. He
dropped seeds, ensured the orchard would survive, and moved on down
the line to the next plot of land. He often sold off the new orchards
But if these orchards were filled with
trees that produce only inedible apples, why would ol' Johnny even
bother with them? And why would colonists be willing to pay for a bunch of worthless trees?
that's the whole thing. The apple trees filled with uneatable fruit were
far from worthless. In fact they were quite valuable. But for a
different reason than eating, though these apples were
At that time in colonial America, what was there
to do? Not much, you would think, and you would be right. And when
there's not much to do, what do people do (besides reproduce like rabbits)?
where would they get their alcohol in this far-gone age of Manifest
Destiny? From the corner liquor store? From the local brewery? Wish it
into existence? No. Of course not.
The early American
came from about the only place to get it: seedling apples. When pressed
and allowed to ferment, seedling apples produce a hard cider about half
the potency of
wine. If frozen, voila!, you've got 70-proof applejack.
So, yeah, Johnny Appleseed brought relief to the colonists. In the form of drink.
I advocating the altering of the inspirational, "feel-good" legend of
Johnny Appleseed? Am I proposing the complete stripping of myth from our
childrens' minds? No. But perhaps the time has come for us adults to
wrest the Appleseed banner from our youngest generation and hoist it as