Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard

William Kerrigan. Johns Hopkins Univ., $50 (248p) ISBN 978-1-4214-0728-9
The myth of Johnny Appleseed comprises some of the odder elements of the American origin story, but as Kerrigan, Professor of American History at Muskingum University, shows, the real John Chapman was a complicated figure whose journeys highlighted major trends in the spread westward. Acknowledging that "most details of Chapman’s life escape us," Kerrigan analyzes various oral traditions of Chapman’s life and actual evidence of his presence through shopkeepers’ ledgers and county land records. He charts Chapman’s course from childhood in Puritan Yankee Massachusetts, through his youthful wanderings in western Pennsylvania, to the semi-nomadic existence of his Ohio adulthood. Though the exact reasons Chapman headed west remain unclear, Kerrigan asserts that the Old World apple tree "plant[ed] European ideas of property on the landscape," and it’s likely Chapman was replicating his forefathers’ pattern of settlement in an attempt to achieve Puritan social standing. Well-versed in theology, Chapman also possessed many quirky personal habits, yet contrary to myth, he wasn’t the "clean-living vegetarian who never carried a gun." By following Chapman across the frontier, Kerrigan demonstrates the harsh realities of frontier life and the rapid pace of change in the new lands; a welcome perspective that illuminates a crucial, but oft-overlooked period of American history. (Dec)
Reviewed on: 01/14/2013
Release date: 10/01/2012
Ebook - 246 pages - 978-1-4214-0796-8
Paperback - 231 pages - 978-1-4214-0729-6
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