Celebrate Johnny Appleseed Day September 26
According to folklore, Johnny Appleseed was a likable fellow who wandered around the frontier barefoot, wearing a tin can on his head, talking to the forest animals, and randomly planting delicious apples for future generations to enjoy. Like most legends, the story of Johnny Appleseed is based in fact that became exaggerated over time until he turned into a larger-than-life folk hero. So how did all of those stories get started? They started with a man named John Chapman.
Johnny Growing Up
John Chapman was born in Leominster, Massachusetts on September 26, 1774 or 1775 (no one is sure which year) — so, when we celebrate Johnny Appleseed Day, we are really celebrating John Chapman’s birthday. John’s father, Nathaniel Chapman, was a farmer who fought as a minuteman in the Battle of Concord and later served in the Continental Army under General George Washington. Not much is known about John’s early life. Most likely his father encouraged young John to learn about farming. By 1812, John became an independent orchardist and nurseryman.
Planting Apple Seeds Across the Frontier
In 1792, the Ohio Company of Associates offered 100 acres of land to anyone willing to homestead in the wilderness beyond Ohio’s first permanent settlement. To make sure the homesteaders planned to stay, the settlers had to plant 50 apple trees and 20 peach trees in their first three years on the property. Since it takes 10 years for the average apple tree to bear fruit, this almost guaranteed the farmers would stay on the land. John saw this as an opportunity to start a business.
John figured if he planted orchards on the free land before other people arrived, he could sell the land to incoming frontiersmen and make a good profit. Using seeds John got from Pennsylvania cider pressed, he spent 40 years roaming the wilderness from Pennsylvania to Illinois establishing nurseries, planting apple seeds, and cultivating orchards. He moved from place to place starting orchards and fencing them off. Once orchards were established, he returned every year to tend them. John also asked neighbors to watch the orchards when he was away. After several years, he started selling the orchards and the land around them to settlers. In this way, John got paid for land he received for nothing more than simply starting the orchards.
The Birth of Johnny Appleseed
John was often seen barefoot, wearing a coffee sack for clothes, and with a tin hat covering his head. A practicing vegetarian, he believed firmly in animal rights and condemned cruelty to any living thing, even insects. John felt bad when he saw other men struggling on the frontier. He sometimes gave them apple seedlings for free. This generous gift earned him the nickname “Johnny Appleseed” from grateful settlers. Thus, his nature, dress and kindness were the basis of his legend.
Although we associate Johnny Appleseed with delicious, red apples, most of the trees he planted didn’t actually yield edible fruit. Many trees John planted grew small, tart apples used to make apple cider. He chose to plant these trees because water on the frontier often contained dangerous bacteria. As a result, cider became the drink of choice for settlers and frontiersmen, and apple that could be used for cider were much more in demand.
Teach Your Kids About This Popular Fall Fruit
Here are a few ideas to help bring home the lesson of Johnny Appleseed to elementary students:
Taste the Difference
- Get several different varieties of apples and the same number of paper plates.
- Label the back of each plate with the type of apple.
- Put a number on the front of each plate.
- Slice the apples and put the corresponding apple on each plate.
- Mix up the plates and have each family member taste the apples, noting their flavor (sweet, tart, bitter, etc.) and which one they like best.
- Look on the bottom of the plates to find out which apple each person prefered.
Make Something with Apples
- Make an Apple Head Doll using a dried apple
- Bake an apple pie, turnovers, crisp, muffins or kuchen
- Dry apple slices for homemade apple chips
- Cook apple sauce
- Juice apples
Plan a Trip
- Plan a fun day visiting Apple Hill in El Dorado County, Machado Apple Barn or Twin Peaks in Placer County, or another nearby orchard
- Visit a local farmers market and talk to apple farmers
- Horizon families are encouraged to join our Parent Liaison and other HCS families at High Hill Ranch on September 29, 2017 at 11am. The ranch tour is already full, but HCS families can still join in the fun of our Apple Hill Meet Up. If you’d like to be put on the waiting list, visit: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSceV77AZorcpX65PVKrtTdJjPP7aImY_8L45QKo4Dg-qPTWxQ/viewform
Geiling, Natasha. The Real Johnny Appleseed Brought Apples—and Booze—to the American Frontier. Smithsonian.com. Smithsonian. n.d. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/real-johnny-appleseed-brought-applesand-booze-american-frontier-180953263. 18 September 2017.
Johnny Appleseed. Biography.com. A&E Television Networks. 2 February, 2015. https://www.biography.com/people/johnny-appleseed-38103. 18 September, 2017.
Johnny Appleseed Day. Days of the Year. n.d. https://www.daysoftheyear.com/days/johnny-appleseed-day. 18 September 2017.
Synan, Mariel. History.com. A&E Television Networks. n.d. http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/who-was-johnny-appleseed. 18 September 2017.
Malesky, Kee. The Strangely True Tale of Johnny Appleseed. Kee Facts: A Few Things You Didn’t Know. NPR, Capital Public Radio. 20 October 2012. http://www.npr.org/2012/10/20/162862456/the-strangely-true-tale-of-johnny-appleseed. 18 September 2017.