Johnny Appleseed was the name given to John Chapman, an eccentric wanderer who planted apple trees on the American frontier. Like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, Chapman was a real person from the early history of the United States whose deeds were romanticized and embroidered by later writers until the man became a folk legend.
Chapman was born in Massachusetts in 1774, shortly before the outbreak of the American Revolution. As a young man, he settled in Pittsburgh, which then looked out on the frontier of American settlement in the Ohio River valley He became an orchardist, someone who cultivates trees to sell their fruit or the seedlings of new trees.
In the early 1800s, Chapman began traveling west into the Ohio Territory with bags of apple seeds and loads of seedlings to sell to the pioneers settling there. When he came upon pioneers who could not afford to buy from him, he gave his seeds and seedlings away or exchanged them for a meal or a piece of cast-off clothing. Although he owned a sizable portion of land himself, Chapman preferred the life of a wanderer and became famous for his simple tastes. He often walked barefoot, no matter what the weather, and he was content to wear any old clothes he could find. In later life, he favored a shirt made out of a coffee sack with armholes cut in it.
Chapman came to be known on the frontier as Johnny Appleseed. His gentle and generous behavior won the affection and respect of everyone he met. Even the Native Americans of the region, who were involved in conflicts with white settlers over land ownership, treated Johnny Appleseed kindly.
By the time Chapman died in 1845 near Fort Wayne, Indiana, he had planted apple orchards across a large part of the Midwest. Vachel Lindsay's poem In Praise of Johnny Appleseed and Charles Allen Smart's play The Return of Johnny Appleseed are among the literary works that have helped promote his legend.