Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Johnny Appleseed in Lorain County

Visiting a local roadside produce stand over the weekend to get some apples reminded me that Johnny Appleseed is the topic for my article in the September issue of the Black Swamp Trader & Firelands Gazette.

Johnny Appleseed was actually a real person named John Chapman, and he spent a lot of time in Ohio in the early 1800's, particularly around Ashland and Mansfield. He planted many apple tree nurseries in the Mohican area and eventually three monuments were erected in his honor in that part of Ohio, which is the focus of my article.

Chapman covered a lot of turf while planting his nurseries, basically wandering all over Ohio from Steubenville to Central Ohio and eventually over to the Toledo area before leaving Ohio for Indiana. He had some involvement in a few historical events involving frontier violence during the War of 1812.

An excellent book, Johnny Appleseed – Man & Myth by Robert Price notes that many of the legends and actions attributed to the pioneer nurseryman around Ohio cannot be documented.

Here's a good example of such a legend, with a Lorain County angle. The following article appeared in the Lorain Journal on June 21, 1955.


Fabulous Johnny Appleseed Legend

Every age and every country have certain fabulous characters in their history whose adventures have been retold so often that they have become almost legendary.

The Western Reserve has such a character peculiarly its own – an eccentric nurseryman and servant of humanity whose exploits were of a peaceful rather than a warlike nature.

His name was Jonathan Chapman. History knows him as "Johnny Appleseed" because he devoted his life to planting young apple trees in small clearings for the benefit of the settlers whom he knew would be cultivating the land within a few years.

Story Recorded
Schools have been named for him, monuments erected to his memory and his story has been recorded in school texts for future generations to read.

He was known as the "Paul Revere of the Western Reserve" through his habit of warning settlers of impending Indian attacks.

Legend says that the settlers in Lorain County during the War of 1812 first learned the Americans won the Battle of Lake Erie through Johnny Appleseed.

He is supposed to have stayed on the lake shore bluffs at Vermilion during the battle being waged at Put-in-Bay, near Sandusky, and listened to the sound of the guns.

He was able to differentiate between the British and American guns, the story says, and when the final volleys were from American guns he knew the British fleet was silenced and the day won for Commodore Perry and his Lake Erie-made fleet.

Tells the News
As soon as the battle was over, Johnny Appleseed hurried eastward along the lake shore, telling every pioneer family he passed that the Americans had defeated their enemies in one of the decisive battles of the year.

Johnny Appleseed was born in New England, spent the last 50 years of his life in the wilderness, combining his apple tree planting with missionary work.

On one ocassion, when settlers near Mansfiefld were threatened by Indians, he carried a message through forests filled with hostile warriors, 30 miles to a garrison in Mt. Vernon. The next morning he acccompanied the soldiers back to Mansfield, a 60-mile trip accomplished in two days.

Johnny started his apple tree planting shortly after 1801 when he went to western Pennsylvania and filled several deerskin bags with apple seeds he obtained at cider mills along the way.

As he went westward, it was his practice to halt, clear away some ground and plant nurseries at strategic places throughout the wilderness.


Johnny Appleseed was such a larger than life character in Ohio that it is not surprising that Lorain County would also want to claim a small piece of him. Whether or not the Vermilion legend is true doesn't really matter at this point.  It's a nice story and I'm proud to do my bit to perpetuate it!

And don't forget to stop by the Vermilion Farm Market and pick up your free copy of the September Black Swamp Trader & Firelands Gazette which includes my Johnny Appleseed article.


Did you know that you could own your own genuine Johnny Appleseed apple tree?

That's right. The folks at American Forests, the oldest nonprofit conservation organization, have made it possible for you to own an apple tree that is a direct descendant of one planted by Johnny Appleseed himself! It's all part of the American Forests Historic Tree Program.

You see, the last living apple tree planted by Johnny Appleseed still grows on a farm in Nova, Ohio down in Ashland County. (That's it at left.) Johnny used to drop in on the family that lived there in the early 1800's to rest and visit, during his widespread travels around the Buckeye state.

American Forests takes soft bud cuttings from the tree and grafts them to apple root stock, creating a genuine Johnny Appleseed apple tree!

The tree comes with a certificate of authenticity and would make a great conversation and conservation piece for your yard!

To order your Johnny Appleseed tree, click here. (I'm thinking of getting one myself next spring!)

And for an update of sorts on the Nova tree, click here.

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