The interesting history of Johnny Appleseed
Although a certain ammount of "folk mythology" has grown up surrounding him, Johnny Appleseed was a real person. He was born John Chapman in Leominster, Massachusetts on September 26, 1774.

Here is an excerpt from his history as published by the Johnny Appleseed Trail Association of Leominster, MA on their website here

His father, Nathaniel Chapman, was one of the Minutemen who fought at Concord on April 19, 1775, and later in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. John's mother, Elizabeth Symond Chapman, had three children: Elizabeth, who was born in 1770, John, and Nathaniel Jr., who died shortly after birth in 1776. John's mother, who was sick from tuberculosis, died just three weeks after her third child.
Although there is no proof, it is reasonable to assume that Elizabeth's parents took care of John and his sister while their father was in the Army. Nathaniel married his second wife, Lucy Cooley of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, in 1780. With their family of ten children, Nathaniel and Lucy lived in Longmeadow for many years. Johnny and Elizabeth lived with them for at least part of that time.
There is little authentic information available about Johnny's life with the new family. However, he did start his westward journey about 1797. "Johnny Appleseed" was not a scatter of seeds many people believe. He was a practical nurseryman. He realized that there was a real need and an opportunity for service in supplying seeds and seedlings.
For the most part, moving ahead of the pioneers, Johnny started many nurseries throughout the Midwest by planting seeds which he bought from cider mills in Pennsylvania. In order to assure stability of the newly established homesteads, the law required each settler to plant fifty apple trees the first year. Because of the poor transportation that existed in the interior in those days, apples were a practical necessity in the early settlers diets.
John Chapman, or Johnny Appleseed, owned many tracts of land throughout Ohio and Indiana. He used this land to plant apple seeds, transplant seedlings and set out orchards. He sold and gave trees to the pioneer settlers. John Chapman spread religion as well as apples.


It is within these last three paragraphs that their story starts to veer off course in a very easily documentable way. The issue with planting Apples as food for future settlements is that Apples do not breed true to seed. Period.

If you bite into an Apple, like the taste enough save the seeds and plant them for a tree, the resultant tree will not be anything like that apple. It will more often than not be a bitter tasting Crab Apple instead of an eating Apple.

In order to propegate eating trees, you need to plant rootstock and then graft a bud branch (scion) from the desired tree.

What Crab Apples are good for is to convert into Hard Cider. The process of fermentation converts a lot of the bitterness (Malic Acid and Tannins) and the result is a wonderfuly flavorful (and mildly alcoholic) beverage.

Beer is more popular today but in the 18th and 19th centuries it did not enjoy widespread availability outside of a large city. The energy cost to brew a batch is high, the grains (wheat and barley) were better used as food for the pioneers and it was difficult to make - the process requires maintaining accurate control of the temperature during the mashing stage (conversion of starch in the grain to sugars) and accurate thermometers were not widely available at that time.

Hard Cider on the other hand does not require boiling or temperature control during its manufacture, is an excellent way to preserve extra Apple fruit. Water in that day was not potable. Settlers boarded their animals close to their houses and frequently the primary source of water was a hand-dug (therefore shallow) well, a few steps away from the house. The alcohol and acidity of the Cider serves to kill off any harmful microorganisms. There is no known pathenogenic organism that can live in Hard Cider or in Beer. You can get strains of bacteria and yeast that make it smell and taste rank but these will not kill you.


This is just the stub of a much larger series
of articles that will be posted
over the next weeek or so.