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Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard

, 248 pages

7 b&w illus., 4 line drawings

November 2012



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Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard

A Cultural History

Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard illuminates the meaning of Johnny "Appleseed" Chapman’s life and the environmental and cultural significance of the plant he propagated. Creating a startling new portrait of the eccentric apple tree planter, William Kerrigan carefully dissects the oral tradition of the Appleseed myth and draws upon material from archives and local historical societies across New England and the Midwest.

The character of Johnny Appleseed stands apart from other frontier heroes like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone, who employed violence against Native Americans and nature to remake the West. His apple trees, nonetheless, were a central part of the agro-ecological revolution at the heart of that transformation. Yet men like Chapman, who planted trees from seed rather than grafting, ultimately came under assault from agricultural reformers who promoted commercial fruit stock and were determined to extend national markets into the West. Over the course of his life John Chapman was transformed from a colporteur of a new ecological world to a curious relic of a pre-market one.

Weaving together the stories of the Old World apple in America and the life and myth of John Chapman, Johnny Appleseed and the American Orchard casts new light on both.

William Kerrigan is Arthur G. and Eloise Barnes Cole Distinguished Professor of American History at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio.

"Well written, interesting, and original. A multi-layered story of the settling and transformation of the frontier."

"This coverage provides a satisfying blend of frontier history, agricultural and business insights, and American history and is a powerful pick for a range of holdings, from those strong in agricultural or American history to home and garden collections."

"This book takes away the dross of mythology, but replaces it with the realistic humanity of a most fascinating unique American... Highly recommended."

"This slim volume does many things well... In just one paragraph, the author spans five centuries of agricultural change from competing 17th century European and Native American conceptions of land ownership to the recent introduction of cleverly marketed boutique apples from South America. This breadth of argument and free interplay between topic and period are a refreshing change from the microscopic studies that have become the bread-and-butter of specialized historical journals."

"A succinct, meticulous, and fascinating triple biography of the man, the myth and the American apple—a fine contribution to cultural and horticultural history."

"John Chapman’s life, which Kerrigan argues may have been a rejection of the growing materialism of market capitalism, tells us much about the early republic. Kerrigan’s dogged research and clear, lively writing strip away the mythology to reveal an impractical and unusual, though fascinating, individual. Academics and general readers will want to add this title to their bookshelves."

"Clearly, Kerrigan deserves credit for carefully and skillfully piecing together a biography of John Chapman - one that departs from the caricatures of the past. Arguably, the book's true value lies elsewhere... Perhaps even more important, he exposes the political and cultural forces that transformed a humble collector and planter of apple seeds into an American icon. In so doing, he causes us to experience and appreciate places like Appleseed Park in Athens, Ohio, in altogether new and different ways."

"Readers who are seeking new insights into America's cultural history through the lens of the American orchard, or just hoping for a refreshing look at Johnny Appleseed, will find that this book is replete with new information culled from over fifteen years of meticulous research in country courthouses, historical societies, and Swedenborgian archives. They will also be delighted to discover that the tastelessness of an overproduced, overgrown, chemically dependent apple is absent; instead, they will find the invigorating crispness and freshness of a sun-ripened, pioneer apple, eaten at leisure with one's back against a sturdy tree."

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