Today we remember a legendary (literally) character in Americana: Johnny Appleseed, Evangelist and Erstwhile Ecologist.
Born John Chapman in the late 18th Century, Johnny’s mother died at a young age leaving him and his infant sister in the care of their father, a Minuteman who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill.
At the turn of the 19th Century a young adult Johnny shows up in Pennsylvania, tossing around apple and pear seeds like they’re confetti at a ticker-tape parade, espousing the philosophical and religious teachings of a certain Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish spiritual teacher.
Yeah. All you forgot about that, didn’t you?
Because he carried around these seeds and threw them everywhere, wanting to “provide shade for all travelers,” Chapman became known as Johnny Appleseed. But chiefly he was a religious fanatic (not in a bad way, just was), preaching the Swedeborgian philosophical beliefs as he went along. With a pack of apple seeds you also got a free religious pamphlet, as if to say, “Please, throw this away for me.”
As unusual as his journey was, his dress was just as odd for the times. Like a mirror of John the Baptizer, Johnny traveled barefoot with a broad-rimmed hat, to keep the sun out of his eyes. He traveled largely by horseback or canoe, and lived off of the extreme kindness of strangers who found a place for the young evangelist at their supper tables.
Though Johnny’s birthday falls in September (and some heretics honor him in that month), the sane Americana-lovers like myself prefer this March date because now is the time of planting.
Do yourself a favor and check out Swedeborgian churches. There are some still in the United States, though it’s a quickly-shrinking religion.
One final note, and this is worth remembering: though Johnny Appleseed dressed funny and espoused an unusual religious creed, most every legend or personal account of him notes his pure kindness.
Honestly: despite all our quirks, if we’re remembered just for that…that’s a pretty good life.
“Oh, the Lord is good to me, and so I thank the Lord,
for giving me the things I need: the sun, and the rain,
and the apple seed.
The Lord is good to me. Amen!”