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USA: 19th Century
Johnny Appleseed 1774-1845

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The Vegetarian


Johnny Appleseed: Johnny, we hardly knew ye, but we enjoy the fruits of your labors

By Karen Iacobbo
(this article first appeared in the VivaVine, from, June/July, 2000)

Johnny Appleseed became an American folk hero by traveling far and wide to plant apple seeds. But Johnny Appleseed was much more than a sower of seeds: he was a missionary who was very likely a vegetarian. He was born John Chapman in Leominster, Massachusetts, in September 26, 1774--appropriately, a time of year when apple picking is at its peak.

Little is known about Chapman's early years, but scholars trace the start of his saga to the late 1790s. Chapman gathered seeds from the cider presses in western Pennsylvania, put them in bags and carried them into the wilderness of Ohio and neighboring territories and states. Chapman ventured out as far west as Indiana and as far north as the Northern lakes, but spent many years in Ohio. He was respected by settlers and even by hostile Native Americans.

Most of the time Chapman, who was a small and wiry man with long dark hair and a beard, walked barefoot, but he occasionally wore hand-me-down moccasins or shoes that he received as payment for his seeds. Chapman ate fruit, nuts, berries and other goodies from the woods, but he sometimes accepted food from settlers.

The bearded traveler was a follower of the teachings of 18th-century Christian mystic and vegetarian Emmanuel Swedenborg. He carried copies of Heaven and Hell and other Swedenborgian writings on his journeys. Chapman wouldn't knowingly harm any animal, and it has been said that he would prematurely extinguish fires that he started to keep warm, because the light attracted bugs that might burn if they flew too close to the flames. However, Chapman wasn't just a forest dweller. He bought and sold land in Ohio, mostly for use as orchards and seedling farms. Chapman, who died in 1845, also distributed medicinal herbs.

For more information, e-mail, or write the Johnny Appleseed Society, Historic Bailey Hall, Urbana University, 579 College Way, Urbana, OH 43078-209