March 11th – On National Johnny Appleseed Day, we remember a man who made apple (and pear) trees bloom across the nation. The day celebrates a kindly legend who lived by sage teachings and labored to bring the shade of fruit trees across much of the United States.
He was born John Chapman on September 26, 1774, in Leominster, Massachusetts, to Nathaniel and Elizabeth Simons Chapman. Not much is known about his early life other than his mother died when he was two. His father packed up Johnny and his sister (an infant brother had died the previous year) and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts. His father served as a Minuteman and fought at Bunker Hill.
Then in 1797, Chapman shows up in northwestern Pennsylvania, propagating his apple seeds. He worked his way steadily into the frontier of West Virginia, Ohio, and Indiana. Eventually, Chapman became known as Johnny Appleseed and worked his way as far west as Illinois and Iowa and as far north as Michigan and Wisconsin.
In his wake, he left orchards and the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish spiritual leader. Appleseed would buy his books with whatever payment he might receive for his endeavors. In turn, Johnny would give the books away as he traveled and planted.
Mostly, though, he planted his seeds and seedlings for free along with his wisdom, his broad-brimmed pasteboard hat keeping the sun from his eyes as he went. Often shoeless, he traveled mostly by foot and sometimes by horseback or canoe. His appearance was nearly as noteworthy as his accomplishments, but so was his kindness. Farmers and frontier folk always found a place at the table if Johnny Appleseed came visiting.
There are many stories told that the man would travel many miles to nurse an ailing orchard when word would reach him of its poor condition. Bringing the trees back to health would be his chief endeavor while dispersing wisdom, care, and kindness as he did.
Across the Midwest, landmarks pepper the countryside honoring the man that brought fruit to the frontier. Warren County, Pennsylvania, lays claim to Johnny Appleseed’s first tree nursery.
Mansfield, Ohio, honors the man with a monument in South Park. The last known Chapman tree still lives! In rural Ashland County, Ohio, the tree struggles to survive, but half of it still manages to bloom in the spring.
In his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts, there is an entire park named after the man who nurtured the land and made apple trees bloom across a young nation.
Two dates celebrate Johnny Appleseed Day, either March 11th or September 26th. The September date is Appleseed’s acknowledged birth date. However, many people across the country prefer the March date due to the planting season. While some vagueness surrounds Appleseed’s death and burial, he became ill in early March and passed soon after. In Fort Wayne, Indiana, in Johnny Appleseed Park, a grave marks the spot where the legendary sower of apple seeds rests.
HOW TO OBSERVE NATIONAL JOHNNY APPLESEED DAY
- Begin by reading any one of the many books written about Johnny Appleseed. Some of them are mere folklore but others delve into the man himself.
- Visiting some of the landmarks where Johnny Appleseed once lived and worked.
- Plant a fruit tree. Visit your local orchard to learn more about the trees that live and thrive in your area. Sometimes you will need two in order for them to bear fruit, so be sure you ask.
- Eat your favorite tree fruit. It doesn’t have to be an apple. Johnny Appleseed planted several varieties of fruit trees. While you can find apples in March, they aren’t in season. Tree fruits that are in season include avocados, kumquats, lemons, limes, oranges, mandarins, and pomelos. Only a few of these grow in the United States. Do you know which ones?
- Educators and families, visit the National Day Calendar Classroom for projects and ideas to help you Celebrate Every Day!
- Enjoy an apple and use #JohnnyAppleseedDay to post on social media.