Who was a real living person?
a) Paul Bunyan
b) Johnny Appleseed
c) John Henry
The answer is b, Johnny Appleseed. This great American hero is now the subject of a new graphic novel, Johnny Appleseed. Written by Paul Buhle, whose graphic novels include the brilliant Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and the New Land, and featuring the work of artist Noah Van Sciver, Johnny Appleseed tells the story of a person who everybody has heard of but few actually know much about.
His real name was John Chapman, who was born in Leominster, Massachusetts in 1774. These were the days of the frontier, when an itinerant person like Chapman could go from field to field living and working on the land. Chapman moved to Pennsylvania in his twenties and became associated with the Quakers.
Johnny was unusual for his time in that when he left fields of apple trees he would take the seeds with him. He would then spread the seeds to new territories, freely giving them away to settlers. Chapman was an organic, heritage farmer before those terms were invented. Not surprisingly, he built close relationships with Native Americans who shared his reverence for nature.
Chapman soon became engaged with the spiritual and social movements of his time. Honored by novelist William Dean Howells in his popular history of Ohio, Chapman also proved the inspiration for many later historical figures including potentially Abraham Lincoln.
Johnny Appleseed is ideal for middle school or high school classes to use as a launching point for discussing current approaches to agriculture, spirituality, and the allocation of land. John Chapman’s accomplishments earned him the name Johnny Appleseed, and Buhle and Van Scriver are to be congratulated with reminding the world of his legacy.
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond ChronFiled under: Book Reviews