Where I’m from, children learn about the legend of Johnny Appleseed during elementary school. In fact, I remember celebrating this holiday in first grade with an entire field day where we bobbed for apples and planted a tree as a class!
Johnny Appleseed was a pretty cool guy. And even cooler is the fact that he was real. And the legends about him are just as real as he was.
Born on September 26, 1774, John Chapman (that was his birth name) lived through the Revolutionary War and saw the birth of America as a free nation. Not only that, but he was just coming into maturity when America truly began to grow as settlers pushed into the midwest region of the United States.
Now, this is where things get interesting.
The legends say that Johnny Appleseed saw that America had potential and wanted to help it grow, so he began planting apple trees in Pennsylvania. Soon enough, he was traveling further into the unclaimed lands of America, planting trees from West Virginia to Indiana, even in Iowa and Michigan.
According to legend, Johnny Appleseed was a dreamer and a wonderer whose only hope was to produce enough apples so that no one would ever go hungry.
Truth is, Johnny was a businessman. His planting wasn’t random, but rather, it was carefully thought out and organized. He stayed ahead of settlement not to leave food behind for new settlers, but to claim the land he planted on. He regularly returned to his orchards to tend the earth and sell the trees and land.
However, this doesn’t really change the legend too much. He mat not have been a dreamer, but he was still a kind and religious man.
The settlers looked forward to his return trips because with him, he brought news and stories. He preached the Bible as he traveled through settlements. He befriended and learned the languages of various Indian tribes. He lived off the Earth, but never killed animals. And he preferred to trade his apple trees for clothing and other goods rather than sell them for money.
My favorite part of the story is the clothing he wore. Though he often traded his apple trees for cast-off clothing, he only kept the worst of it and gave the better clothes to those who needed it more. It’s said he didn’t wear shoes, even in the winter, and walked across the snow and ice as if it were nothing.
I don’t know if I believe all of that, but it’s fun to pretend.
Though the date of his death is not officially confirmed, it is believed to have been sometime mid-March, which is why the holiday is celebrated today. It is also celebrated on September 26, but March is often preferred because of the planting season.
The easiest way to celebrate today is to eat an apple.
Yes, I know, that’s kind of obvious. But you know what? It’s true, so deal with it.
Anyway… Have a wonderful day of celebration!
Picture sources: Celebrating Johnny Appleseed Day