New Church Worthies

Rev. Dr. Jonathan Bayley


Who Made a great part of his Religion to Spread the New Church and Plant Apple-trees in the Western States of America

THE story of the worthy New Church Christian, Jonathan Chapman, A PIONEER HERO, which we are about to relate, is abbreviated from Harper's New Monthly Magazine for November, 1871.

He was a man who in other and darker ages would have made a hermit of the desert, like St. Antony in A.D. 305, who was devoted to his sense of duty, but considered it saintly to keep himself unwashed for twenty years together; or a St. Francis d' Assisi in A.D. 1209, who not only loved birds and fishes, but deemed it right to preach to them.

Our hero desired above all things the spirit of love, but he prayed also for the truth, and for power to diffuse the truth, as constantly inculcated in the Word, though much overlooked: "I have not concealed thy loving-kindness and thy TRUTH from the great congregation" (Ps. xl., 10); "Behold, Thou desirest TRUTH in the inward parts" (Ps. li., 7); "Send out thy light and thy TRUTH, let them lead me to thy holy hill, and to thy tabernacles" (Ps. xliii., 3); "Ye shall know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH shall make you free" (John viii., 32).

For more than fifty years, his religion consisted of self-denial as far as his personal comforts were concerned, spreading through the far west of America the cultivation of apple-trees, and the knowledge of New Church truth as "NEWS RIGHT FRESH FROM HEAVEN."

Chapman was born in Boston, in 1775, and probably became acquainted with the works of Swedenborg from some of the early New Churchmen of that famous city. In personal appearance Chapman is said to have been a small, wiry man, full of restless activity; he had long dark hair, a scanty beard which he never shaved, and keen black eyes that sparkled with peculiar brightness. His dress was of the oddest description. Generally, even in the coldest weather, he went barefooted. But sometimes for his long journeys he would make himself a rude pair of sandals; at other times he would wear any cast-off foot covering, a boot on one foot, a shoe on the other. He had always money to purchase shoes, but he did not care to do so. On one occasion, in an unusually cold November, while he was travelling barefooted through mud and snow, a settler who happened to possess a pair of shoes which were too small for him, forced their acceptance on Johnny, declaring it was sinful for a human being to travel with naked feet in such weather.

A few days afterwards the donor met Johnny in the village that has since become the thriving city of Mansfield, plodding along contentedly, with his feet bare and half-frozen. With some degree of anger, he enquired for the cause of such foolish conduct, and received for reply that Appleseed had overtaken a poor barefooted family moving westward, and as they appeared in much greater need of clothing than he was, he had given them the shoes.

His dress was generally composed of cast-off clothing that he had taken in payment for apple-trees. In his later years he seems to have thought that even this kind of second-hand raiment was too luxurious, as his principal garment was made of a coffee-sack, in which he cut holes for his head and arms, and pronounced it a very serviceable cloak, and as good clothing us any man need wear.

These eccentricities must be regarded, not as matters for imitation, but as illustrations of the judgment even good and wise men sometimes need to guard themselves against the tendency to run into extremes.

The first reliable trace we have of our modest hero is that in the Territory of Ohio, in 1801, he was forming orchards, with a horse-load of apple seeds, in various places on and about the borders of Sicking Creek, the first orchard thus originated being on the farm of Isaac Stadden, in what is now known as Sicking County, in the State of Ohio. During the succeeding five years, though he was following the same strange but useful occupation, we have no authentic account of his movements, until we reach a pleasant spring day in 1806, when a pioneer settler in Jefferson County, Ohio, noticed a peculiar craft with a remarkable occupant and a curious cargo, slowly dropping down with the current of the Ohio river. It was Johnny Appleseed, by which name Jonathan Chapman was afterwards known in every log cabin from the Ohio river to the northern lakes, and westward to the prairies of what is now the State of Indiana. With two canoes lashed together, he was transporting a load of apple seeds to the western frontier, for the purpose of planting orchards on the farthest verge of white settlements. A long and toilsome journey it was, as a glance at the map will show, and must have occupied a great deal of time, as the lonely traveller stopped at every inviting spot to plant the seeds, and form his infant nurseries. These are the first authenticated facts in the history of Jonathan Chapman.

The seeds he gathered from the cider presses of Western Pensylvania. His canoe voyage in 1806 appears to have been the only occasion on which he adopted that method of transport; all his subsequent journeys were made on foot. Securely packed, the seeds were conveyed sometimes on the back of a horse, not unfrequently on his own shoulders, either on a part of the old Indian trail that led from Port Duguesne to Detroit, by way of Fort Sandusky, or over the second route through the wilderness of Ohio, which would require him to traverse a distance of one hundred and sixty miles in a west north-west direction, to reach the Black Fork of the Mohican.

This region, although it is now densely populated; still possesses a romantic beauty that railroads and bustling towns cannot obliterate, a country of forest clad hills and green valleys through which numerous bright streams flow on their way to the Ohio; but when Johnny Appleseed reached some lonely cabin, he would find himself in a veritable wilderness. Johnny would shoulder his bag of apple-seeds, and with bare feet penetrate to some remote spot that combined picturesqueness and fertility of soil, and there he would plant his seeds, place a slight enclosure around the place, and leave them to grow until the trees were large enough to be transplanted by the settlers who in the meantime would have made their clearings in the vicinity. The sites chosen by him are many of them well known, and are such as an artist or a poet would select—open places that border the creeks, rich secluded spots hemmed in by giant trees, picturesque now, but fifty years ago they must have been ten-fold more so. Theoretically he was as methodical in matters of business as any merchant. In addition to their picturesqueness, the locations of his nurseries were all fixed with a view to a probable demand for the trees by the time they had attained sufficient growth for transplanting.

He would give them to those who could not pay for them. Generally, however, he sold them for corn meal, or a small sum, or a note payable when he applied, or at an indefinite period. When this was accomplished he seemed to think that the transaction was completed in a business-like way, and if the giver of the note did not attend to its payment, most likely the holder of it would not trouble much about its collection. His own expenses for food and clothing were so very limited, that he was frequently in possession of MORE MONEY THAN HE CARED TO KEEP, and it was disposed of to some poor family whom the ague had prostrated, or the accidents of border life bad impoverished, or for the wintering of infirm horses.

Wherever Johnny saw or heard of an animal being abused, he would purchase it, and give it to some more humane settler, on condition that it should be cared for and kindly treated. It frequently happened that the long journey into the wilderness would cause the new settlers to be encumbered with lame and broken-down horses that were turned loose to die. In the autumn Johnny would make a diligent search for all such animals, and gather them up; he would bargain for their food and shelter until the next spring, when he would lead them away to some good pasture for the summer. If they recovered so as to be capable of working, he would not sell them, but lend or give them away, stipulating for their good usage.

He had a most profound reverence for the writings of Swedenborg, and always carried a few volumes with him. These he was very anxious should be read by everyone, and he was probably not only the first colporteur in the wilderness of Ohio, but, as he had no Tract Society to furnish him supplies, he certainly devised an original method of multiplying one book into a number.

He divided a volume into several parts, and of course Heaven and Hell would easily arrange itself to this treatment, and he would leave a portion at one cabin and a portion at another, and continue this process as though the work had come out in serial numbers. By this plan he furnished reading for several people at the same time.

It was his custom, when he had been welcomed to stay for the night in some hospitable log-house, to lie down on the floor, and after asking if his friends would like to hear him read a portion of the New Testament, then he would give them some "NEWS RIGHT FRESH FROM HEAVEN."

A lady who knew him in his later years, writes in the following terms of one of these domiciliary readings to the poor settlers of self-sacrificing Johnny Appleseed: "We can hear him read now, just as he did that summer day, when we were busy upstairs quilting. His was a strange eloquence at times, and he was undoubtedly a man of genius. What a scene is presented to our imagination! The interior of a primitive cabin; the wide open fire-place, where a few sticks are burning beneath the iron pot in which the evening meal is cooking; around the fire-place the sturdy settler, with his wife and children, listening with reverential awe to the 'news right fresh from heaven;' and, reclining on the floor, this wanderer clothed in rags, but glowing with faith and love and with the gifts of genius and eloquence, who believes with the faith of apostles and martyrs that God has appointed him to preach the Gospel of love and plant apple-seeds that shall produce orchards for the benefit of men, women, and little children whom he had never seen. If there is a sublimer faith, or a more genuine eloquence, in richly decorated cathedrals, and under brocade vestments, it would be worthy a long journey to find it."

Next to his advocacy of his religious views, his enthusiasm for the cultivation of apple-trees in what he termed the only proper way, that is, from the seed, was the absorbing subject of his life.

Upon this, as upon religion, he was eloquent in his appeals. He would describe the growing and ripening fruit as such a beautiful gift of the Almighty, with words that became pictures, until his hearers could almost see its manifold forms of loveliness present before them. To his eloquence on this subject, as well as to his actual labours in planting nurseries, the country over which he travelled for so many years is largely indebted for its numerous orchards.

Though so strangely clad, and wandering through forests and morasses, suddenly appearing in the white settlements and Indian villages, he was always treated with the greatest respect by the rudest frontier settlers. By the Indians he was regarded as a great Medicine-man. There must have been some real force of goodness dwelling in him, manifest in his looks, and pervading his words, for even the boys of the settlements never jeered at him.

He had a great affection for little girls, always having pieces of ribbon and gay calico to give to his little favourites. Many a grandmother in Ohio and Indiana can remember the presents she received when a child from homeless Johnny Appleseed.

When he consented to eat with any family, he would never sit down to table until he was assured there was an ample supply for the children. His sympathy for their youthful troubles, and his kindness toward them, made him friends among all the juveniles of the borders.

In the unhappy war of 1812, between Great Britain and the United States, when the former made the cruel mistake of subsidising the Indians to assist them, and the frontier settlements were assailed and their inhabitants tortured and slaughtered by the savage allies of England, Johnny Appleseed continued his wanderings, and was never molested by the roving bands of hostile Indians.

On many occasions his impunity enabled him to learn where an attack was intended, and he spared no toil or pains to warn the settlers to shelter in their block-houses before the savages could attack them.

In the most cruel part of this danger Johnny travelled day and night warning the people. He visited every cabin and delivered this message: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me, and He has anointed me to blow the trumpet in the wilderness, and sound an alarm in the forest; for behold, the tribes of the heathen are round about your doors, and a devouring flame followeth after them."

The aged man who narrated this incident said that he could feel even now the thrill that was caused by this announcement of the wild-looking herald of danger, who aroused the family on a bright moonlight midnight with his piercing voice. Refusing all offers of food, and all rest, he traversed the border day and night until he had warned EVERY SETTLER of the approaching peril.

Appleseed was not without a vein of drollery in his character. Towards the latter portion of his career in Ohio a missionary found his way to the village of Mansfield, and preached to an open-air congregation. The discourse was tedious, and the preacher, though tolerably showy in his own dress, held forth with much Pharisaic leaven on the sin of extravagance as showing itself among the people in the carnal vanities of calico and stone tea. "Where now," he said, "is there a man who, like the primitive Christians, is travelling to heaven bare-footed and clad in coarse raiment?" This he repeated beyond reasonable endurance. Johnny rose from the log on which he was reclining, and advancing to the speaker, he placed one of his bare feet on the stump of the tree which served for a pulpit, and pointing to his coffee-sack garment, he quietly said, " HERE'S YOUR PRIMITIVE CHRISTIAN!"

The well-clothed missionary hesitated, stammered, and dismissed the congregation. Johnny's personal appearance was far more primitive than the preacher was inclined to copy.

In 1838, thirty years after his appearance at Sicking Creek, Johnny noticed that civilisation, wealth, and population were pressing into the wilderness of Ohio. Hitherto he had easily kept just in advance of the wave of settlement; but now towns and churches were making their appearance, and even at long intervals the stage-driver's horn broke the silence of the grand old forests, and he felt that his work was done in the region in which he had laboured so long. He visited every house, and took a solemn farewell of all the families. The little girls who had been delighted with his gifts of calico and ribbons had become sober matrons, and the boys who had wondered at what he could bear were heads of families. With parting words of loving admonition he left them and turned his steps steadily toward the setting sun. During the succeeding nine years he pursued his avocation on the western border of Ohio and in Indiana.

In the summer of 1847, when his labours had literally borne fruit over A HUNDRED THOUSAND square miles of territory, a space twice the size of Great Britain, he entered the home of a settler and was, as usual, warmly welcomed. He declined to eat with the family, but accepted some bread and milk, which he partook of sitting on the door step and gazing on the setting sun. Later in the evening he delivered his "news right fresh from heaven," and read the Beatitudes. Declining other accommodation, he slept as usual on the floor, and in the early morning he was found with his features all aglow with a supernal light, and his body so near death that his tongue refused its office.

The physician, who was hastily summoned, pronounced him dying, but added he had never seen a man in so placid a state at the approach of death. At seventy-two years of age, forty-six of which had been devoted to his self-imposed mission, he ripened into death, as naturally and beautifully as the seeds of his own planting had grown into fibre, bud, and blossom, and the matured fruit.

Thus died one of the memorable men of the pioneer times, who never inflicted pain or knew an enemy. A man of strange habits, in whom there dwelt a comprehensive love, that reached with one hand downward to the lowest forms of life, and with the other upward to the very throne of God. A labouring, self-denying, and yet most happy man—happy in living, as he believed, as pleased the Lord. A benefactor of his race, homeless, solitary, ragged, he trod the thorny earth intent only on making the wilderness fruitful. Now, no man knoweth of his sepulchre; but his deeds will live in the fragrance of the apple-blossoms he loved so well.

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