Johnny Appleseed

Johnny Appleseed.

Editor's Note: This is an ongoing series which runs each Thursday morning titled the Richland Chronicles by author Paul Lintern. It is set in 1831 and tells the story of Richland County through the eyes of a young girl.

Among the guests that entered the Oakland Inn each night were some rather unusual characters, as Amelia saw them.

Women dressed in buckskin coats and pants. Men as big as a bear and just as furry, some with beards as long as their arms. Indians dressed in suit coats and breechcloths. People speaking English with every twang and twist imaginable.

She had heard a variety of speaking styles while growing up in Boston, but when they were placed in the middle of the woods, it sounded to her like so many coyotes. However, nothing had prepared her for the person she was about to encounter.

His pants were frayed just below the shins, held up by a piece of rope. A muslin coffee bag was his shirt. The arm and neck holes were cut in shapes that almost made it seem like he had been running somewhere while he cut them. His dark straight hair hung over his shoulders, and, was that a tin pan on his head?

His name was John Chapman, but many around here called him Appleseed John. His feet were bare, not unusual for this time of year, but Amelia noticed that his toes were rather grey and as leathery as she had ever seen.

This was someone her mother would have pulled her away from if she had seen him walking toward her, but here everyone seemed to be running up to him -- Autumn, Elizabeth, Isaac, a couple of the guests outside.

“What news have you?” Elizabeth asked. “News straight from Heaven,” John replied. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”

“Where have you been?” Isaac asked. “We haven’t seen you since autumn.”

“That’s right, since me,” Autumn smiled.

“I’ve been to paradise, to the gates of Heaven, to the glories of God’s creation, but mostly to Ft. Wayne, to visit my sister,” he said with a smile. “And to tend my trees.”

“How many do you have now?” Isaac asked.

“None, they all belong to God.”

“Anyone can count the seeds in an apple, but only God can count the apples in a seed,” Elizabeth said.

John looked at her.

“Sister Elizabeth, that is profound. I will carry that with me and pass it along.”

Elizabeth blushed. To Amelia it seemed funny that a woman would fuss over this strange character. Still, she was inviting him to sit for supper, and he was happy to accept.

Soon, several of the guests had stepped out to greet John. These seemed to be people who knew him from somewhere, and as Amelia listened she heard them recounting for John when they had met in the past.

“You sold me some saplings down in Licking County, back in ‘15. Great producers, all.”

“We met you at the Miller place over in Galion, when you passed through about 10 years back.”

“Those herbs you planted for us over in Upper Sandusky have really helped us fight the winter diseases.”

One fellow, older than John, said, “I was in one of the houses you stopped at in ‘12, on your way from Mansfield to Mt. Vernon, when you thought the Indians were hostile. You may have saved our family.”

Amelia looked at this Appleseed John. Who is he that people speak so well of him? John noticed Amelia.

“And you, child, I don’t recognize you. Did Zeiters graft another daughter?”

“I am Amelia, Pendergast, from Boston.”

“Boston? I was born not far from there, in Leominster. My father was one of the Minutemen, at Concord and Lexington.”

“How did you get here?”

“God sent me to plant seeds of the Word of God, and to plant trees of the apples of God. Look in an apple blossom and you will see a sermon. Now, Amelia, how did you get here?”

“My parents sent me.”

“And what seeds will you plant in Ohio?” he asked.

“Me?” Amelia had no answer.

“Seeds of music,” Elizabeth said, playing an imaginary fiddle.

“Seeds of wisdom,” Katherine said, opening an imaginary book.

“Seeds of swimming,” Isaac said, making an imaginary dive. Autumn smacked him with a towel.

“Sounds like a fine start. And perhaps after supper we shall regale each other with stories of our journeys,” John said, reaching for the plate of potatoes, carrots and strawberries Elizabeth had prepared for him.

“He doesn’t eat meat,” Autumn explained quietly, before Amelia could ask about the missing beef. “He doesn’t ride horses, he doesn’t believe in hurting any animal, even a mosquito or a rattlesnake.”

“I heard he once put out a campfire because bugs were flying into the flame and dying,” Isaac said.

“And once a rattlesnake bit him, and he killed it without thinking, then felt bad for weeks,” Autumn said.

“Everyone feels bad after a rattler bites them,” Isaac said.

“You know what I mean,” Autumn said.

“Is he really that poor,” Amelia asked.

“Are you kidding? He has hundreds of acres of apple orchards all over Ohio and Indiana,” Isaac said. “But he gives a lot of it away. He often buys lame horses to keep them from slaughter, he doesn’t think shoes are necessary, and he won’t sleep in a bed,” Autumn said.

“Why won’t he sleep in a bed?” Amelia asked, apparently a bit too loudly, because John stopped his conversation with Elizabeth and turned his attention to the children.

“Amelia, child, there are no beds in Heaven, and so I don’t want to be tempted by the comfort of a bed here. It might let my eyes stray from my journey to Heaven,” he said.

“Why are there no beds?”

“Because there is no reason to sleep in Heaven,” he said, eyes sparkling. As Amelia lay down in her bed, that night, Johnny was lying on the floor of the tavern, reading aloud from the old worn books he carried in his shirt. His eloquent, deep voice sent the words drifting through the shelter, to everyone’s benefit. Maybe I should not be sleeping in a bed, if there are no beds in Heaven, Amelia thought to herself, but she didn’t stay awake long enough to decide.

Support Our Journalism

History is about understanding where we’ve been. A membership with the Source supports where we’re going. Help us tell your story in the present.