Who Was Johnny Appleseed?

This article explains the real history behind the story of Johnny Appleseed. Is he really who we learned about as kids?


9/22/20233 min read


Johnny Appleseed is an elusive character in American history. Although many people learned about him in grade school, and perhaps completed fun-fact worksheets or coloring pages about him, he has slowly slipped away as children get older. But who was Johnny Appleseed? Is the image all kids remember of a man in scrappy clothes with a pot on his head real? Or is it a generalization that’s been created as time has marched forward?

Johnny Appleseed's Beginnings

John Chapman, born in Leominster, Massachusetts 1774, was a visionary. Although little has been discovered about Chapman’s early life, it is known that his mother died when he was young and that his father fought in the American Revolutionary War. When Johnny was

eighteen years old, he and his brother, Nathaniel (age eleven), headed west. After Nathaniel stayed behind to farm with Johnny’s father, Johnny Appleseed planted his first orchard in Allegheny Valley, Pennsylvania 1798. From there, he moved west, where he would go on to plant numerous orchards.

Johnny Appleseed's Travels

Legend says now that Johnny Appleseed moved all the way across the United States, from the East Coast to the West. However, evidence of Johnny’s orchards ends in Illinois or Iowa. As he went along, he practiced an unusual philosophy. Johnny was a committed and strict follower of the Swedish Philosopher and Theologian Emanuel Swedenborg. Swedenborg’s philosophies were Christian, maintaining that nature, which comes from the Lord, signifies God’s love for humanity. Thus, Johnny carried his Bible and preached wherever he went, proclaiming that travelers should not harm any sort of nature but rather treat it with kindness and respect, as it is a gift from God. Beginning in Massachusetts, Appleseed moved through New York, Pennsylvania, possibly West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and possibly Iowa. Evidence of his trees still remains to this day.

The Last Apple Tree

Now, 249 years following Johnny Appleseed’s birth, there is only one apple tree still living that Johnny planted himself. In Nova, Ohio, a tree that is over 170 years old lives on and still produces apples to this day. It’s important to understand that Johnny’s trees were not the big red apple trees that we envision today. Rather, Johnny planted Cider Apple Trees. The fruits produced by the tree are small and tart, and rather unpleasant to eat. However, the fruits can be used to create hard cider, which was a vital piece of the American pioneer’s diet, who followed after him, adventuring west. Nearing the end of his lifetime, word began to spread of a “Johnny Appleseed” who appeared to be different from the average pioneer.

Johnny Appleseed's Appearance

Surprisingly, Johnny Appleseed looked much like he did in the legends that are spread today. He did indeed wear a burlap sack with cut-out holes for his arms, head, and torso, as a shirt. Further, he did wear a tin hat, although it did not have the pot handle that it does in most illustrations today. He was well-known later in his lifetime for walking around with a sack of apple seeds and planting orchards along his journey west.


According to legend, Johnny Appleseed is painted as a young man with a sack for a shirt, a pot on his head, and a bag of apple seeds in hand. Legend has it that he moved west all the way from Massachusetts to California, planting orchards along his way. According to history, John Chapman was a young man with a sack for a shirt, a tin cap on his head, and a bag of apple seeds, and his Bible, in hand. With regard to nature, John Chapman ensured that his lifestyle didn’t burden the environment around him. And, history has it that he moved west all the way from Massachusetts to Iowa / Illinois, leaving numerous apple orchards for all of the American pioneers to use for food and drink.


Protheroe, Ashley. “Fact from Fiction: Johnny Appleseed and His Apple Trees.” Plant Me Green, Simpson Nurseries, 23 Sept. 2022, www.plantmegreen.com/blogs/news/fact-from-fiction-johnny-appleseed-and-his-apple-trees#:~:text=You%20Can%20Still%20Visit%20One,%2C%20applesauce%2%20and%20hard%20cider.

Unkown. “His Theology.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 1 Aug. 2007, www.britannica.com/biography/Emanuel-Swedenborg/His-theology.

Unkown. “The Story of Johnny Appleseed.” Washington Apples, Washington Apple Commission, 26 July 2021, waapple.org/johnny-appleseed/.

Unkown. “Was Johnny Appleseed a Real Person?” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, inc., 1 Aug. 2007, www.britannica.com/story/was-johnny-appleseed-a-real-person.