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Chapman also distributed medicinal herbs such as pennyroyal, catnip, horehound, rattlesnake root, wintergreen and mayweed

Johnny Appleseed - Early American Nurseryman


By —— Bio and Archives--September 23, 2017

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Johnny Chapman has been claimed to have been a pioneer nurseryman, active in Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and the northern counties of present-day Virginia. While this may be something of an overly enthusiastic designation, Johnny Appleseed, as he has come to be known, was certainly one of North America’s great horticultural characters.

Born in a cabin Leominster, Massachusetts on 26 September 1774, he left home 18 years later to wander for several years in Pennsylvania. Possibly planting his first apple trees along Big Brokenstraw Creek near Warren, 1801 found Johnny in Ohio distributing apple seeds. He grew his trees from seed in small nurseries across Ohio and Indiana which he visited and tended regularly, passing the seedlings to newly-arrived settlers.

Chapman also distributed medicinal herbs such as pennyroyal, catnip, horehound, rattlesnake root, wintergreen and mayweed. The last he believed prevented malaria—the ‘ague’ as it was known then, far more prevalent in those days. In fact, it does nothing of the sought, but does spoil the taste of milk of cows that graze on it. New frontier families designated it contemptuously “Johnnyweed.”

Since apples will not come true to name from seed, grafting is necessary to surmount this problem. Unfortunately, one of Johnny’s strange beliefs was that grafting was abusive and painful to the tree. It is dubious then of just how effective his fruit tree enthusiasm was. He was also a vegan, refusing to indulge in meat, declined to ride a horse and is even said to have doused his campfire if mosquitoes fell into it.

Despite this, and arraying himself in a coffee sack with a tin pan as head cover, he lived to the ripe old age of 70. He succumbed one mid-March 1845 day in Fort Wayne Indiana from pneumonia having travelled for 15 miles to repair one of his nursery fences.

 



Wes Porter -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Wes Porter is a horticultural consultant and writer based in Toronto. Wes has over 40 years of experience in both temperate and tropical horticulture from three continents.

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