Marietta has been visited by several well known people, including former president John Quincy Adams, Revolutionary War hero the Marquis de Lafayette, Meriwether Lewis (of the Lewis & Clark Expedition), and even Johnny Appleseed! Here are some activities about Marietta's famous visitors.
Meriwether Lewis, painted by Charles Willson Peale (1807)
William Clark, painted by Charles Willson Peale (1810).
Gilbert de Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, painted by Samuel Morse (1825).
The Legend of Johnny Appleseed
John Chapman wasn’t the mighty hero of a battle, nor the creator of a new invention. He wasn’t a government leader, nor did he discover anything that hadn’t been known about before. John was just a simple frontiersman with an honest mission, but over 150 years after his death, his legend lives on.
John Chapman traveled through the wilderness of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, planting apple trees for the new settlers. The countless pioneers whose lives he touched came to know him as “Johnny Appleseed.” So many stories have been told about John that it is often hard to know which are true and which are not. People are sometimes surprised to find out that he was a real person.
The Real Johnny Appleseed
John Chapman was born in Leominster, Massachusetts on September 26, 1774. His parents were Nathaniel and Elizabeth Chapman. John’s father earned his living as a carpenter and farmer, but he was also a minuteman- a soldier who was ready to protect his village from the British with only a minute’s notice. When the American colonies began fighting for their independence from England, Nathaniel joined the army and was away from home most of the time.
In July, 1776, shortly after the Declaration of Independence was signed, John’s mother became very sick and died. Two-year-old John and his sister Elizabeth, who was six, probably lived with their grandparents for the next four years while their father continued to fight for American independence alongside George Washington.
Captain Nathaniel Chapman was discharged from the army in 1780. That same year he married a woman named Lucy Cooley, and moved his new bride and his children to the town of Longmeadow, Massachusetts. There John grew up in a house that soon became crowded with ten half-brothers and sisters!
Not much is known about John Chapman’s childhood, but one sister said that when he wasn’t wandering with the animals in the woods, he liked to read books. It is believed that he worked for a local farmer who had a large apple orchard. Perhaps that is where his love of apples began.
John Goes West
Sometime in the 1790s, John decided to go west. No one is sure exactly when he went, or why. One story tells of a tragic romance, in which the girl John loved moved west with her family. John followed soon after, but the girl had died of a broken heart just a few days before he found her. John later returned to her grave to plant an apple tree.
John’s half-brother Nathaniel, then a boy of fourteen or fifteen, went west with him. They lived in Pennsylvania for several years, and John discovered that he could support them by planting apple trees. He would visit the cider mills, where apples were crushed into cider. The leftover seeds were free to whomever wanted them. John took the seeds, cleared a piece of land, and planted them. When they grew into seedlings, he sold them for a small price. Far more than just a peculiar wanderer, John Chapman was a clever businessman who recognized the importance of a ready supply of apples to the pioneers.
Published in "The Harper's New Monthly Magazine" (1871).
Apples were the easiest fruit to grow, and they had many different uses in the pioneers’ diets. They were eaten fresh off the tree in late summer, and in the fall they were cooked in big kettles over outdoor fires to make apple butter. Apples were crushed into sweet cider for drinking all winter long. The cider could be boiled into vinegar and used to preserve other foods. Pioneers stored their apples in cool, dark cellars, or buried them in sawdust. They were sliced into thin rings and strung from the cabin rafters to dry.
When new settlers arrived in the west, they were glad to pay the small price John Chapman charged for his apple seedlings. If a family couldn’t afford to pay, John would accept their promise to pay later, or he would trade with them for a piece of cast-off clothing. The money wasn’t as important as his mission of helping pioneer families.
Johnny Appleseed journeyed into the wilderness ahead of most pioneers, always with a load of apple seeds and all his belongings in a sack on his back. He usually traveled on foot, but sometimes his route took him along rivers and streams where he could paddle a canoe.
John camped out in the forest among the wild animals. He learned their habits and became their friend. It is said that John never knowingly harmed an animal, and many stories tell of his kindness to them. Once he built a fire that attracted mosquitoes, some of which were being burned. When John saw what was happening, he threw a bucket of water on the flame, saying that he would not have a fire for his own comfort if it destroyed any of his fellow creatures.
John was also a friend to the Native Americans. He learned to speak their languages, and they taught him which wild plants and herbs to use for medicine. Because the Native Americans trusted him, John usually knew of their plans and movements and could warn the settlers of attacks. But John also warned the Native Americans if he thought they were in any danger.
An Unforgettable Appearance
A man of average height, John Chapman was very thin because he walked so much and ate mostly berries, nuts, and cornmeal mush. His eyes were dark and piercing, and his face was very tanned and lined from exposure to the sun and wind. John’s long, dark hair was parted in the middle and in later years he had a beard.
Believing that clothing should be useful instead of fashionable, John never worried about the way he looked. His shirts and pants were the shabby, cast-off garments of others. Sometimes he wore a shirt made of a coffee sack with holes cut out for his head and arms. John preferred to go barefoot, but would wear moccasins in very cold weather. On his head he wore a makeshift hat of cardboard, or sometimes a crownless hat with only a brim to shade his eyes from the sun. Although he is sometimes pictured wearing his tin cooking pot for a hat, no actual record of this exists, and it is unlikely that he did.
Image from "A History of the Pioneer and
Modern times of Ashland County" by H.S. Knapp (1862).
Apple Orchards in the Wilderness
John searched the wilderness until he found a spot that was just right for growing apple trees. His first job was to clear the land. Then he planted his apple seeds in long rows and built a fence around them for protection. Soon John had a series of apple orchards throughout the wilderness. He went from orchard to orchard, caring for his seedlings and repairing fences.
John’s first orchards were planted on land he did not own, which made him a “squatter.” As his business grew, he was able to rent or buy the land, and during his life he owned a total of over 1,200 acres.
A Welcome Visitor
When settlers moved into an area where John had planted orchards, he sold them small trees for a “fip penny bit,” or about 6 ½ cents each. The pioneer families he visited were happy to see him, for he brought much more than apple trees. John always had news from other settlements, stories of his adventures, and religious books to share. He loved children and sometimes had small gifts for them, such as a button or a ribbon. John knew which herbs would cure a sick pioneer, and he often sowed the seeds of catnip, horehound, and pennyroyal along with his apple seeds.
John’s mission, besides supplying the pioneers with apples, was to spread the gospel of the Swedenborgian religion. Some of the money he made selling apple seedlings was used to buy religious books. He removed chapters from his books to leave with the settlers he visited, and he read aloud from the Bible to those who could not read.
Many families enjoyed John’s company so much that they invited him to spend the night. John usually slept in their barn, but if he stayed in the cabin, he preferred the floor for a bed. He did chores in return for his board, helping with the haying or clearing land. He also helped the women by chopping wood for fires and carrying heavy wash tubs. John never stayed long in one place, and before long was off again into the wilderness with his bag of apple seeds.
Johnny Appleseed Comes to Marietta
Among the many legends about Johnny Appleseed is the story of his first visit to Marietta, Ohio. No one has found evidence to prove that the story is true, but it is an interesting tale.
The story goes that about the year 1796, John Chapman landed his canoe with its load of apple seedlings on the shore at Marietta. To his dismay, only one apple tree was growing in town, and it was in the yard of Dr. Jabez True. John wanted the Marietta pioneers to have an apple orchard. Commodore Abraham Whipple, a hero of the Revolutionary War, helped him find a small plot of land. According to the legend, Whipple was able to get the help of prisoners from the local jail to help with the planting.
Over the years, the story of Johnny Appleseed’s work in Washington County grew and grew. There are no actual records of his planting, only legends. He is said to have planted apple trees on land that is now at the corner of Seventh and Greene Streets in Marietta. In the Reno area, he planted an orchard at the mouth of the Little Muskingum River. John planted trees at Constitution, Little Hocking, and Belpre, and even started three orchards on Blennerhassett Island that were later washed away by a flood.
During John’s first visit, a terrible fever struck the pioneers at Marietta, and many people died. John Chapman fell ill with the fever, too, and Dr. True nursed him back to health. John stayed the winter with Dr. True and helped him take care of those who were sick. When spring came, John decided to move on, for there were more and more settlers coming west who would need his apple seeds.
The Chapman Family Comes West
In 1805, John Chapman’s family decided to leave Massachusetts and move west to Ohio. Nathaniel and Lucy Chapman brought their children over the mountains and down the Ohio River to Marietta. After resting awhile, they traveled to the land they owned along Duck Creek. It is said that John, who was used to frontier living, went with them.
The Chapmans went beyond Whipple and Lower Salem, and stopped about 15 miles north of Marietta in what today is Noble County. Here John helped them build a cabin on the hillside near the present-day village of Dexter City. Of course, he made sure they planted an apple orchard nearby! When the family was settled into their new home, John took his leather pouch full of apple seeds and headed up the Muskingum River into the wilderness.
John’s father died in 1807. His sons traveled downstream to the sawmill at Cedar Narrows to have a coffin made, and he was buried somewhere near Lower Salem. John’s stepmother died several years later, probably after 1810.
John’s half-brother Nathaniel continued to live in the Duck Creek cabin. One time while hunting in the woods, he found a hungry little black bear. It seemed to have no mother, so Nathaniel took the bear home. His children treated it as a pet and named it “Mr. Bear.” Mr. Bear’s favorite food was apple butter! Even after Mr. Bear grew up and went back to the woods, he would sometimes return for a taste of apple butter.
John’s half-brother Parley also stayed in the area. Parley’s grandson, William Tell Mitchell, started a plant nursery and apple orchard in Beverly in 1866, which was later called the W.T. Mitchell and Son Nursery. People from all over Washington County bought plants and apple trees there.
Most of John Chapman’s half-brothers and sisters remained in Washington County where their descendants still live today. John often returned to southeastern Ohio to see his family. His last known visit was in 1842, just a few years before he died.