John Chapman, legendary as Johnny Appleseed, was a real person with a Pittsburgh connection. One charming version has John arriving in Pittsburgh in the midst of the Whiskey rebellion, living on the top of Grant’s Hill (much later with the hill removed, the site of the City-County Building), working in a local shipyard, tending the remaining apple trees of the King’s Orchard outside the ruins of Fort Pitt, and providing “a way-station for the stranger in want”. It was in Pittsburgh that Chapman discovered his calling to be Johnny Appleseed.
Born in 1774 in Massachusetts, Chapman, as a young man in his mid-twenties, made his way to the northern Allegheny Valley near Franklin. R.I. Curtis knew him as a child. “He was very fond of children and would talk to me a great deal, telling me of the hardships he had endured, of his adventures and hair-breadth escapes by flood and field.” Curtis remembered him clearing little patches along French Creek “where he thought at a future day apple trees would be wanted; then, in the fall, repair to Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, and wash out of the pomace at cider mills a bushel or two of seeds, and return with them on his shoulder, plant them at the proper time, enclose the spot with a brush fence, and pay some attention to the cultivation. He never secured title to the land for his nurseries.”
With “the thick bark of queerness on him” and no fixed address his entire adult life, Chapman preferred to spend his nights out of doors. A vegetarian, he deemed it a cruelty to ride a horse or chop down a tree; he once punished his own foot for squashing a worm by throwing away his shoe. He liked the company of Indians and children best. Johnny Appleseed stands as a powerful symbol of those who give of themselves for the betterment of those around them with no expectation of earthly reward. (His mystical religious beliefs as a missionary of the Church of New Jerusalem were inspired by Emmanuel Swedenborg who wrote: "Man is first introduced into the innocence of childhood, which consists of knowing what is true and good from the Lord only and not from himself, and in desiring and seeking truth only because it is truth, and good only because it is good.")