EDITOR’S NOTE–This is another article on Findlay-area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.
By R.L. HEMINGER
We have a record of one Hancock County citizen who saw Johnny Appleseed when he visited Findlay in his rounds of apple tree distribution in the 1800s. The record is in the words of D.B. Beardsley, a former mayor of Findlay, a justice of the peace for a long time and one of the community’s prominent leaders. He wrote the first history of Hancock County, published in 1881.
An entire chapter of his historical volume is devoted to a discussion of John Chapman, Johnny’s real name, and Mr. Beardsley’s reminiscences of the famous traveler, who once owned three lots in Mount Blanchard where he had an apple tree nursery.
“The writer hereof remembers having seen ‘Johnny’ in the year 1838 or 1840, which was perhaps the last time he ever visited the county,” says Mr. Beardsley’s account. “He was at that time quite an old man and did not appear to have a very great quantity of this world’s goods. He was regarded as intelligent and harmless, although somewhat disturbed mentally. At all times sociable, but eccentric, full of pleasant stories and good advice, after his fashion, and he was always made welcome by the pioneers.”
MR. BEARDSLEY GOES on to say that Johnny “only protected from the wintry blasts and summer storms by nothing save a coffee sack, traversed the whole of Central and Eastern Ohio, time and again, planting appleseeds as he went.”
The Findlay man quoted from an article which he had seen in the old Cleveland Leader about Johnny.
“He was first seen in Ohio in 1801 and with him an old blind horse, drawing in an aged and infirm wagon, a quantity of appleseeds,” said the newspaper article.
“When emigrants from other states began to pour in and take up the land in Ohio, poor Johnny found his occupation gone and taking up his coffee sack, moved into Indiana where he continued to plant appleseeds for some time when death overtook him and he was laid away in a country churchyard, near Fort Wayne.”
Mr. Beardsley referred to him as “Johnny Appleseeds.” The plural of his last name was frequently used by some people.
There were reports of a companion Johnny Appleseed was thought to have had at times on his travels. Robert Price in his work on Johnny said the husband of a sister of Johnny, named Broom, did help him with his work and thus probably was the individual seen with him at times.
THERE ARE MANY folk tales about Johnny and author Price gives some of them in his book, “Johnny Appleseed,” published in 1954. He would not destroy one of God’s creatures, knowingly, and one day around 1830 a man met him walking through the snow with an old shoe on one foot and the other bare.
“Johnny,” he inquired, “what’s the matter with your foot that you have it bare?”
“It offended me,” said Johnny. “It tread on a worm and crushed it and I am going to punish it.”
He was known to walk barefoot through the snow and across the ice. He once walked across the ice on Lake Erie to Canada without shoes.
He always slept on the floor when within any dwelling. He wore hats of every description and sometimes none.
The familiar picture of him, known to many, for his gaunt-like appearance, barefoot, and in unkempt clothing, came from a drawing said to have been made by a student at Oberlin College who had known Johnny. A later artist changed the strange headgear — and the result became the standard picture of Johnny Appleseed now a part of American folklore.
Ohio 68 in Hancock County and elsewhere in the state is named for Johnny Appleseed, by virtue of action of the Ohio legislature.