Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard illuminates the meaning of Johnny "Appleseed" Chapman’s life and the environmental and cultural significance of the plant he propagated. Creating a startling new portrait of the eccentric apple tree planter, William Kerrigan carefully dissects the oral tradition of the Appleseed myth and draws upon material from archives and local historical societies across New England and the Midwest.
The character of Johnny Appleseed stands apart from other frontier heroes like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, who employed violence against Native Americans and nature to remake the West. His apple trees, nonetheless, were a central part of the agro-ecological revolution at the heart of that transformation. Yet men like Chapman, who planted trees from seed rather than grafting, ultimately came under assault from agricultural reformers who promoted commercial fruit stock and were determined to extend national markets into the West. Over the course of his life John Chapman was transformed from a colporteur of a new ecological world to a curious relic of a pre-market one.
Weaving together the stories of the Old World apple in America and the life and myth of John Chapman, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard casts new light on both.
The myth of Johnny Appleseed comprises some of the odder elements of the American origin story, but as Kerrigan, Professor of American History at Muskingum University, shows, the real John Chapman was a complicated figure whose journeys highlighted major trends in the spread westward. Acknowledging that "most details of Chapman s life escape us," Kerrigan analyzes various oral traditions of Chapman s life and actual evidence of his presence through shopkeepers ledgers and county land records. He charts Chapman s course from childhood in Puritan Yankee Massachusetts, through his youthful wanderings in western Pennsylvania, to the semi-nomadic existence of his Ohio adulthood. Though the exact reasons Chapman headed west remain unclear, Kerrigan asserts that the Old World apple tree "plant European ideas of property on the landscape," and it s likely Chapman was replicating his forefathers pattern of settlement in an attempt to achieve Puritan social standing. Well-versed in theology, Chapman also possessed many quirky personal habits, yet contrary to myth, he wasn t the "clean-living vegetarian who never carried a gun." By following Chapman across the frontier, Kerrigan demonstrates the harsh realities of frontier life and the rapid pace of change in the new lands; a welcome perspective that illuminates a crucial, but oft-overlooked period of American history.