When you hear the name Johnny Appleseed, what do you think of? Do you think of the Legend of Johnny Appleseed segment in the 1948 Disney film Melody Time. The segment is also one of four (Johnny Appleseed, Casey Jones, Paul Bunyan and John Henry) that are packaged together in Disney’s American Legends.
I remember watching Melody Time as a kid and really enjoying the kind hearted Johnny Appleseed. Especially the part with the skunk. When he befriends the skunk, all the other animals then trusted him.
Of course, Johnny Appleseed was not a legend, but a real person.
John Chapman was born in Massachusetts in 1774, just before the start of the Revolutionary War. His father, Nathaniel, fought as a Minuteman in Concord and may have actually heard the ‘Shot heard ’round the world.’
At the age of 18 Johnny left home and starting spreading both apple seeds and the Swedenborg gospel. Johnny would help establish nurseries in different areas so that pioneers would have stock to establish their own orchards to fulfill requirements for land claims. Johnny traveled throughout large areas of Pennsylvania and Ohio. His family moved to Ohio, and even though he continued his wandering lifestyle, he considered his home to be with them. In 1845, Johnny passed away in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Fort Wayne Sentinel stated the following in Johnny’s obituary:
The deceased was well known through this region by his eccentricity, and the strange garb he usually wore. He followed the occupation of a nurseryman, and has been a regular visitor here upwards of 10 years.
Many years ago my Grandmother told all of us kids that we were related to Johnny Appleseed. My 3rd Great-Grandmother is Maria Betsy Chapman, and my Grandmother claimed that she was a cousin of Johnny Appleseed.
I am not sure where my Grandmother got her information, as I have not found the claim in any other letters or papers from other family members. My Grandmother did not even know who Maria’s parents were. It is only in the past several years that I have been able to trace her family further back. Alas, as several of the family stories have turned out, Maria was not a close cousin of Johnny Appleseed.
John Chapman is a descendant of an Edward Chapman who was born in England in the early 1600’s. Maria is a descendant of a William Chapman who was born in England in the mid 1600’s. Of course there is a possibility that the families may be connected in England, but we do see that Maria and Johnny were not close cousins.
There is a chance that their may be a connection through a maternal line, but I have not been able to find one yet. I still need to do a lot of research on Maria’s ancestry. I can then check for connections with John’s ancestry. You can find part of his ancestry, along with the ancestry of other folklore figures in a great article by Gary Boyd Roberts: Notable Kin: Figures in American Folklore
I have confirmed some of the relationship claims that my Grandmother has made. I also have found many new connections that are notable and plan on writing about them in the future.
Genealogy is a great way to learn about history, as you chase down clues to the lives of your ancestors.