Today marks the 239th brithday of John Chapman aka Johnny Appleseed, the legendary frontiersman who traversed America to spread apple tree seeds across the land. By meeting people around the country, Johnny Appleseed’s story spread like wildfire, introducing conservationism to nation that never considered “environment” or “ecology.”
Today his history continues to inspire, and yet there’s another part to Johnny’s story that could educate young romantics. You see, Mr. Appleseed was obsessed with his work. He witnessed the impact his apple orchard-building had on the country (the popular fruit does not grow naturally in America — it was populated from English seeds) and was driven to spread his seeds (ahem) until the day he died. Unfortunately, this took a severe toll on his personal life. Appleseed died a bachelor, and the reasons continue to be debated.
An 1871 profile from Harper’s Monthy Magazine suggested that Appleseed’s lack of romantic interests was a choice motivated by religion. The orchardist was a known missionary, but the article suggests that, perhaps, all that time spent alone in the woods may have left him so immersed in his own ideology, that he was motivated to cut ties with any potential companions:
“Himself claimed to have frequent conversations with angels and spirits; two of the latter, of the feminine gender, he asserted, had revealed to him that they were to be his wives in a future state if he abstained from a matrimonial alliance on Earth.”
Appleseed lived to be 80. That’s a long time to avoid dating and be a career man.
There are reports that conflict this mentality, at least for a flash in the pan moment in life. In American journalist Henry Howe’s acclaimed book Historical Collections of Ohio, the writer recounts Appleseed’s attempts at proposing to Miss Nancy Tannehill of Perrysville, Ohio:
“Now we had always heard that Johnny had loved once upon a time, and that his lady love had proven false to him. Then he said one time he saw a poor, friendless little girl, who had no one to care for her, and sent her to school, and meant to bring her up to suit himself, and when she was old enough he intended to marry her. He clothed her and watched over her; but when she was fifteen years old, he called to see her once unexpectedly, and found her sitting beside a young man, with her hand in his, listening to his silly twaddle.
I peeped over at Johnny while he was telling this, and, young as I was, I saw his eyes grow dark as violets, and the pupils enlarge, and his voice rise up in denunciation, while his nostrils dilated and his thin lips worked with emotion. How angry he grew! He thought the girl was basely ungrateful. After that time she was no protegé of his.”
Well, maybe it’s better that didn’t work out.
Like all history spun into tall tales, there’s a lesson to be gleaned from Johnny Appleseed’s extraordinary life. Ambition and success should be a priority. Be great at your job. But don’t be a Johnny Appleseed, so absorbed that you find yourself waiting for the perfect someone (or duo of angels?) to show up at your doorstep. By the time you make the move, they may be looking the other way.