September 26, 1774: Environmentalist and folk hero John Chapman is born in Leominster, Massachusetts. He was the second child of Nathaniel and Elizabeth Chapman who were struggling farmers. A third child was born while Nathaniel was serving as a carpenter during the Revolutionary War. John’s baby brother and mother both died and John and his sister were raised by relatives until after the war. Nathaniel remarried and he and his new wife had ten more children. At age 18, John and his 11-year-old half-brother left home and traveled west. He became a nurseryman and grew fruit trees.
By 1800, the Chapmans were in Licking County, Ohio and were growing trees there. Revolutionary War veterans were granted lands in Ohio and Nathaniel moved west to join his eldest son. John’s nurseries were doing well. He took seeds and left his trees to go off further westward, planting groves of trees and building fencing to protect them from livestock. He would place a local farmer in charge of the trees and return every year or two to check on progress. Trees could be sold and John would use the proceeds to fund further plantings.
He continued to wander the countryside, planting groves of trees. He lived an ascetic, subsistence life, traveling as far as Indiana and Illinois. His seeds were acquired free from cider mills. His lifestyle cost little. He dressed in secondhand clothes people had used to barter for his trees. He wore no shoes even in winter. He had no house to maintain. If John heard of a horse to be put down, he would buy it. He then fed, pampered, and doctored the horse back to health. He would then give the horse to someone in need for the promise to treat it kindly.
As John traveled farther afield, he told stories to the children and preached a little gospel to the adults in return for permission to sleep on the floor and food for the night. He was an early environmentalist, planting trees across the frontier and caring for animals. His original nursery in Ohio remained in his name and when he died his sister inherited over 1,200 acres worth millions of dollars. He is remembered by US children as one who skips and sings through the countryside often wearing a saucepan for a hat. Most of his trees have succumbed to old age, but one is said to survive in Nova, Ohio. The legacy of Johnny Appleseed.
“You never know how many apples there are in a seed.” – unknown
“We are born believing. A man bears beliefs as a tree bears apples.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Every thought is a seed. If you plant crab apples don’t count on harvesting golden Delicious.” – unknown
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” – Martin Luther
This article first appeared at Examiner.com in 2009. Editor’s update: Apple trees are part of the species Malus domestica which is part of the rose family. They originated in Central Asia from a wild ancestor, Malus sieversii, which is still found today. They have been grown for thousands of years in both Asia and Europe. They appear in the mythologies of many cultures including Norse, Greek, and Christian traditions. There are more than 7,500 known cultivars of apples. Different cultivars are bred for taste or consistency and are therefore better suited to cooking, eating, or cider making. In 2010, the genome was decoded and there is now a greater understanding for disease control and selective breeding. Diseases can affect the trees. They are susceptible to fungal and bacterial problems as well as larger pests. These are controlled either organically or non-organically. Each year, about 69 million tons of apples are grown worldwide with China growing the most.
Also on this day: The Parthenon – In 1687, part of the Parthenon was destroyed during a bombing attack by the Ottoman Turks.
Lurking Evil – In 1937, The Shadow premiered.
Thrown Games – In 1908, Big Ed Reulbach pitched a no hitter double header.