March 11 – Johnny Appleseed Day

Today is the alternate Johnny Appleseed Day. Most school children celebrate Johnny Appleseed Day on the anniversary of his birthdate, September 26. But March 11 is also celebrated as Johnny Appleseed Day because it coincides near the anniversary of his death and is during planting season.

John Chapman (1774-1845) born in Leominster, Massachusetts was the son of the minuteman, Nathaniel Chapman, who fought the British at Concord in 1775 and served in the Continental Army with General Washington during the Revolutionary War. John left home at the age of 18 traveling west. He apprenticed with an apple orchardist named Crawford. John Chapman was a Christian missionary who lived in harmony with Native Americans and American pioneers. He was known to bring medicinal plants with him on his visits. John called the apple blossom a living sermon and often quoted the Sermon on the Mount. John’s travels took him to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. During the War of 1812, many Native Americans allied themselves with the British against the American settlers. However, it is claimed that because of his reputation, they did not bother John Chapman. This gave John an advantage to travel freely. Whenever he could, John Chapman would warn the settlers of danger. His goal of pioneering was to plant apple orchards as a means of claiming the land for American settlers. However, his apple trees did not bear good fruit for eating. His apples were sour and popular among the settlers because they were used mainly to produce hard cider and applejack. Thus John Chapman earned the name Johnny Appleseed, and became an American legend in his own time.

Because of Johnny Appleseed’s love of nature, many folktales were also told about him. It was said that he made friends with wild animals – deer, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, and even raccoons, bears, and bobcats. Some say he even kept a wolf as a pet. He lived outdoors without shoes or extra clothing, carrying only a bag of apple seeds and a cooking pot which he wore on his head as a hat. He slept in a hammock hung between trees. And it was said that he was never sick a day in his life.

Whether you enjoy reading folktales or historical accounts of the man known as Johnny Appleseed, there are plenty of books to choose from. Two of my favorite children’s books about Johnny Appleseed are Johnny Appleseed, A Tall Tale retold and illustrated by Steven Kellogg, and The Story of Johnny Appleseed written and illustrated by Aliki.

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