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Dawn's Notes

Johnny Appleseed, Leaving a Legacy - August 2015
by Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW

He was described as eccentric and funny-looking.  He wore old clothing or a coffee sack.  Much of the time he went barefoot, even when the weather was getting colder. Some say he wore a tin pot on his head as he traveled many miles in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana, planting apple orchards.

In legends and in real life, he was called Johnny Appleseed. Yet many do not know Johnny’s real name or the story of his beginnings. John was born in Leominster, Massachusetts, on September 26, 1774, four years after the birth of his sister Elizabeth.  He arrived during tumultuous times—wartime, and John’s father was away in the military.

In July, 1776, his mother gave birth to a third baby—the same month the country declared their independence from England. John’s mother died soon after giving birth, and his baby brother Nathaniel died two weeks later. 

John’s father, Nathaniel Chapman, was a minuteman at the Battle of Bunker Hill and served in the Continental Army with General George Washington during the Revolutionary War.  He did not return home from military duty until 1780, so it is unclear who took care of John’s older sister and young John after their mother died.  But in spite of John’s circumstances, things would turn around, and he would contribute to the future of our nation.

After returning home to the family, John’s father taught John how to farm. But it was John’s apprenticeship under an orchardist named Mr. Crawford that changed young John’s life forever, inspiring him to set out on his miles-long, apple-tree-planting journeys.

Stories are told of John, who soon became known as Johnny Appleseed, picking seeds from the pomace, the pulpy matter that remained after apples were pressed for their juice, at cider mills.  Apple seeds became Johnny’s treasures. But he did not randomly plant his seeds, even though he sometimes gave away apple seeds to struggling frontiersmen.

Johnny traveled many miles in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, planting apple nurseries, making apple trees available to hundreds of new settlers.  Then every year or two, he returned to tend the nurseries he had started. While on his treks, Johnny befriended Native Americans; they regarded him as someone who had been touched by the Great Spirit. He was a vegetarian and an advocate for animal rights.

While on his journeys, Johnny Appleseed planted his apple seeds into the soil and planted his religious doctrines into souls.  He was a kind man, a strong believer, a missionary of the doctrines of Swendenborg.

On March 18, 1845, after not being seen on the streets for a couple of days, Johnny was found dead, at Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Johnny was 70 years old.  One remark from a local newspapers said:

“Many citizens will remember this eccentric individual, as he sauntered through town . . . eating cold meat, and freely conversing on the mysteries of his religious faith.”

Another read:

“The deceased was well known through this region for his eccentricity and the strange garb he usually wore.  He followed the occupation of a nurseryman, and has been a regular visitor here upwards of 10 years.  He was a native of Pennsylvania, we understand, but his home—if home he had—for some years past was in the neighborhood of Cleveland. . .  He is supposed to have considerable property, yet denied himself almost the common necessities of life.”

In spite of his eccentric appearance and ways, Johnny Appleseed was loved by many.  He planted seeds into soil and souls and left a legacy behind, in spite of the adversities in his younger life.  He used his knowledge of tree-planting to help provide apples to hundreds of settlers.  Just think of the apple cider, applesauce, and apple pies that settlers’ families enjoyed because of Johnny’s seed planting!  (And think of the health benefits of apples!)  Johnny left behind a legacy of apple trees and stories.  Supposedly one of his original trees still stands in Nova, Ohio.

Perhaps there are lessons to be learned for anyone who has gone through some tough times in life, for those who has experienced a loss.  During the tough times, we are challenged to search for ways to deal with unwelcomed situations.  Sometimes we are forced to learn new things, new coping skills, to look for new dreams after the death of someone we love.  But all of us can use what we have learned to help others. 

After all, as Debby Boone said, “Dreams are the seeds of change.  Nothing ever grows without a seed, and nothing ever changes without a dream.”  We, like Johnny Appleseed may need to plant some seeds—first for our own good and then for the good of others.

“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.” - Robert Louis Stevenson

Call about the next "Living Life after Loss" Group at:
Meadowlark Hospice 709 Liberty Clay Center, Kansas
(785) 632-2225
Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW, Group Facilitator