If you imagine him dressed in ragged clothes complemented by a tin pot hat, historic drawings support that impression. Stories about his dedication to the ordinary act of planting and nurturing trees are also well documented.
The Johnny Appleseed of legend was a simple, religious man who introduced his beloved fruit throughout northeast America during the turn of the 18th century. However, you probably don’t think of him as a successful liquor distributor or eccentric entrepreneur.
His real name was John Chapman. He delivered what the public wanted and he died a very wealthy man. If these last few facts surprise you, welcome to the wonderful contradictions of Johnny Appleseed Day.
When we celebrate Mr. Appleseed’s 1774 birthday on September 26, it seems proper to polish a shine on a Red Delicious and chomp into its sweet flesh with the relish of remembrance. While this is a satisfying salute to the gentleman, it overlooks his aversion to grafting.
This botanical technique is the only road to cultivating a tasty apple, but Mr. Appleseed opposed man’s intervention in the evolution of God’s favorite trees. Those countless seeds planted by our traveling nurseryman could only yield sour fruit and its only use was the production of hard cider.
His gift to the American frontier was not baked into delicious pies cooling on window sills. With his hearty approval, it was distilled into the 19th century’s alcoholic beverage of choice.
The mythology immortalizing our pioneer horticulturist as an indigent broadcaster of random seeds is simply wrong. He carefully chose locations for his orchards and enlisted neighboring folk to watch over the plantings while he methodically expanded his apple tree kingdom.
Upon his death in 1845, Johnny Appleseed’s estate included more than 1,200 cultivated acres and extensive property throughout Indiana. True to his deep religious beliefs, the gentleman gave away his vast wealth and died as simply as he lived.
Our American holidays honor countless historic contradictions and Johnny Appleseed deserves his place among them. To that, we should raise a hearty toast. So put down that Red Delicious and pass the cider.