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Know Ohio: Johnny Appleseed's Journey

Johnny Appleseed is an Ohio legend. In the 1770s, he traveled from Massachusetts to the Midwest planting apple and peach trees in exchange for 100 acre tracts of land in the American frontier. Historic markers around Ohio tell the tale of his travels and adventures.

Class Discussion Questions:

1) What do you think a brush-fence looks like? Illustrate a brush-fence and write instructions on how to build one.

2) Research Johnny Appleseed's path. Did he come close to your community?

Read the Script:

It's harvest time in Ohio, and if you're like me, it's a time you look forward to perusing pumpkin patches and picking apples.

But did you know that plenty of the apple trees we have here are thanks to the planting efforts of Johnny Appleseed, way back in the day? Maybe you've heard of the guy. His real name was Johnny Chapman, and he was born in 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts.

So how did he wind up all the way over here in Ohio? Well, he was quite the wanderer. In his early 20s he traveled to the Midwest, which was known as America's Frontier. In 1792 the Ohio Company of Associates, which owned land in the just barely-settled Ohio, offered 100-acre tracts of land to anyone willing to plant 50 apple trees and 20 peach trees. Seems like a bargain? Well they were looking for devoted settlers, and it takes quite a while before the fruit trees can be harvested.

Johnny took advantage of this. He would travel and plant apple trees as he went. Before leaving the seeds, he protected them with a brush fence, to keep hungry animals away. Then, in a few years, when the trees were still saplings, he was able to sell or lease the land to new settlers. When he died, he owned about 1200 acres of land.

You think he would have wound up a rich man, but Johnny was kindhearted and often gave the sapling trees away to settlers who could not afford them, or spent his money caring for horses that made the trek out to the new lands. Johnny didn't care to spend money on his outfits, either. He tended to rock a vagabond style; barefoot, with rags as clothes, and some say he even wore a tin pot on his head.

He planted over 100,000 square miles of orchards in the Midwestern wilderness and prairie. On average, apple trees live to be around 100-years old, but one tree, in particular, is still known to be standing, in Nova, Ohio, and while the exact trees he planted may be gone, there are still historic markers around Ohio telling his tale, like this one in Mount Vernon. It shows the place of Johnny's first recorded land purchase. He bought two parcels of land here in 1809. It also mentions a story told on a marker in Mansfield. On a night in 1813, a local shopkeeper was killed, and the townspeople thought that it might mean Native Americans were going to attack their village. Johnny went running for help from Mansfield to Mount Vernon and back, all in one day. That's 50 miles, round trip.

He was certainly willing to help, and it's a lesson we can think back on with every apple bite.