Jonathan Chapman, born in Leominster, Massachusetts, on September 26, 1775, came to be known as “Johnny Appleseed.” Chapman earned his nickname because he planted nurseries and individual apple trees across 100,000 square miles of midwestern wilderness and prairie—resulting in settlers’ planting their own orchards.
The first record of Chapman’s presence in the Midwest dates to 1801 when he was known to be on the Ohio River transporting bushels of apple seeds from western Pennsylvania for his nurseries. Chapman’s first apple-tree nursery was along the Allegheny Valley in northwestern Pennsylvania; he then ventured into central and northwestern Ohio and to eastern Indiana. Chapman scouted routes that he thought pioneers would settle and planted his seedlings ahead of the new settlements.
Chapman lived in Mansfield, Ohio, for about twenty years. Years before the Homestead Act he acquired about 1,000 acres of farmland in Mansfield through a local homestead arrangement. Chapman used the land to develop apple-tree nurseries. His reputation as a conservationist, a brave frontiersman, and as an eccentric (in dress as well as mannerisms) grew, as did stories of his kindness to animals and his heroic exploits.
Chapman was an ambulant man. Each year he traveled hundreds of miles on foot—wearing clothing made from sack cloth and carrying a cooking pot that he is said to have worn like a cap. His travels took him through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, and Indiana.
As a member of the New Church, or, Church of the New Jerusalem, (Swedenborgian), he left sections of Swedenborgian tracts at cabins that he visited and preached “God has made all things for good.”
In about 1830, Chapman also acquired land in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he planted a nursery that produced thousands of seedling apple trees that he sold, traded, and planted elsewhere. Chapman passed away at the age of seventy. Every September, when apples are ripe, Fort Wayne hosts an annual festival to commemorate the life of Johnny Appleseed.
Legend and folklore has transformed Johnny Appleseed into a folk hero—the patron saint of horticulture.
- Search the Digital Collections with photographs using the keyword apples for a wide variety of related images.
- Search on apple in Historic American Sheet Music: 1850-1920 External for sheet music with an apple theme.
- Search the American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940 interviews on the term apple to find information on apple picking, instructions on how to peel apples, a recipe for apple dumplings, and much more. These life histories were written by the staff of the Folklore Project of the Federal Writers’ Project for the U.S. Works Progress (later Work Projects) Administration (WPA). This Library of Congress collection includes 2,900 documents representing the work of over 300 writers from 24 states.
- Search on Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, or Indiana in the Maps Collection to see early maps of the towns visited by Johnny Appleseed. Follow the instructions presented with each map to zoom in on details such as houses, fields, horse drawn carts, bridges, and much more.
- Search on the keyword apple in the collection Tending the Commons: Folklife and Landscape in Southern West Virginia to see photos and to hear audio selections concerning apples. Listen to, for example, Old Apple Orchards on Drews Creek and view Wolf Rivers Apple Tree behind Elsie Rich’s House.