Johnny Appleseed

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.

[Johnny Appleseed]. William Gropper, artist, 1941. Fine Prints. Prints & Photograph Division

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.

Apples for Sale at Roadside Stand, near Berlin, Connecticut. Russell Lee, photographer, Oct. 1939. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division

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.

Bird’s Eye View of the City of Fort Wayne, Indiana 1868. Drawn by A. Ruger; Chicago Lithographing Co., 1868. Cities and Towns. Geography & Map Division
Eve Wasn’t Modest till She Ate that Apple; We’ll Have to Pass the Apples Again External.” Words by Charles McCarron; music by Albert von Tilzer; New York: Broadway Music, 1917. Historic American Sheet Music: 1850-1920 External.

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The Winter of Discontent

On September 26, 1777, British troops marched into Philadelphia and occupied the city. Their approach had forced the Second Continental Congress, meeting in the Pennsylvania State House (later called Independence Hall), to flee some days before. The Congress met briefly in Lancaster, and then convened at York, Pennsylvania until the British departed Philadelphia the following June.

Independence Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Carol M. Highsmith, photographer, [between 1980 and 2006]. Highsmith (Carol M.) Archive. Prints & Photographs Division

A few weeks earlier on September 11, General George Washington and his Continental Army had battled the British west of Philadelphia at Brandywine Creek. That evening, Washington sent a letter to the Continental Congress reporting the outcome:

Sir: I am sorry to inform you that in this day’s engagement, we have been obliged to leave the enemy masters of the field. Unfortunately the intelligence received of the enemy’s advancing up the Brandywine, and crossing at a Ford about six miles above us, was uncertain and contradictory, notwithstanding all my pains to get the best…our loss of men is not, I am persuaded, very considerable, I believe much less than the enemy’s…. Notwithstanding the misfortune of the day, I am happy to find the troops in good spirits; and I hope another time we shall compensate for the losses now sustained. The Marquis La Fayette was wounded in the leg, and Genl. Woodford in the hand. Divers other Officers were wounded, and some Slain, but the number of either cannot now be ascertained… G. Washington. P. S. It has not been in my power to send you earlier intelligence; the present being the first leisure moment I have had since the action.

George Washington to Continental Congress, September 11, 1777. George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress, 1741-1799. Manuscript Division

[George Washington at the Battle of Princeton, full-length portrait painting]. Charles Willson Peale, artist, photograph created/published [1913]. Detroit Publishing Company. Prints & Photographs Division
A New and accurate map of the present seat of war in North America, comprehending New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pensylvania, New-York, &c. London, 1777. American Revolution and Its Era: Maps and Charts of North America and the West Indies, 1750 to 1789 . Geography & Map Division

While the British occupied the city, Washington and his army took up winter quarters at Valley Forge, some twenty-five miles west of Philadelphia. At times, both supplies and morale were low as the American troops braved a cold and snowy winter. The winter at Valley Forge has since become a symbol of dedicated patriots overcoming adversity during the American War for Independence.

In a studio recording of a 1917 commemorative speech first delivered at Valley Forge, Speaker of the House of Representatives Champ Clark paid tribute to the suffering of the brave men there:

Here in the winter of discontent, our fortunes sank to the lowest point. But from this place, Washington went forth conquering, and to conquer, and to become the foremost man of all the world.

At Valley Forge.” Speech by Speaker of the House Champ Clark, circa 1918-20. American Leaders Speak: Recordings from World War I and the 1920 Election. Motion Picture, Broadcasting & Recorded Sound Division

In the spring of 1778, the British hastily abandoned Philadelphia for New York City, concerned that the new alliance between the French and Americans would result in a successful blockade of the Delaware River. Washington pursued, marching his men to the New Jersey coast where the Revolutionary War continued.

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