The Real Johnny Appleseed…

Like almost anyone that grew up in Indiana, I have a very specific image of Johnny Appleseed in my mind’s eye:

A ruddy man on the edge of being elderly, whistling cheerfully and tromping down dirt roads in bare feet. Johnny Appleseed has a grin and greeting for every passerby. On his head, of course, is the obligatory pot. Strapped across his poorly-clothed back, a sack of apple seeds, which he scatters over hundreds of miles of Indiana dirt.

A lovely myth, but, like most myths, not quite the real thing…

Franchises, not free trees.┬áJohnny Appleseed (real name John Chapman) didn’t plant trees orchards but tree nurseries. Once complete, he’d entrust them to a local caretaker, who sold the trees at a profit. The real Johnny Appleseed would then return every few seasons to check on the nurseries.


Missionary man. Chapman spent as much time preaching as he did planting apple trees. Chapman was an early member of The New Church, a religious movement founded by a Swedish theologian. His sermons frequently dwelt on his fellow settlers’ weakness for extravagant luxuries like calico. And tea.