Monday, September 26, 2022

Today on the Almanac, Dan tries to get to the bottom of the legend of Missionary and American Legend: Johnny Appleseed.

*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 26th of September 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

All right, today we don’t have a traditional mailbag but stick with me. Back in the early days of the show, listener and friend Alice asked about the story of Johnny Appleseed- mentioning that he was some kind of self-appointed missionary and part of the Swedenborgian movement. Well, it just so happens that today, the 26th of September, is the anniversary of the birth of John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed.

It’s a fascinating story wrapped up in American lore, the peculiar Church of the New Jerusalem, and the teachings of Emmanuel Swedenborg.

John Chapman was born on this day in 1774 in Leominster, Massachusetts- he was baptized a year later with his sister in the local Congregational church.

When he was 18, he convinced his half-brother to travel west with him- and his plan wasn’t to just plant apple trees willy nilly, but instead, he had a business plan. As people traveled westward and set up homesteads, he would travel ahead of them, plant apple trees, and sell them to the new inhabitants. And apples were helpful, not only as a source of sugar but for making cider- mashed and fermented apples made a cider that was safe to drink and had less alcoholic content than corn-based beverages.

He was a nomad- never had a home himself and would often trade stories for a meal or floor to sleep on. Legend had it that he wore a tin pot on his head that could double as a mush pot (a minor league affiliate of the San Diego Padres in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is called the “tin caps” as an homage to Johnny Appleseed).

So not only is he a self-made man, frontiersman, naturalist, and all the things that would make him an American legend, but his eccentricity led to everyone on the western frontier having a “Johnny Appleseed” story- he is said to have had long black hair and piercing blue eyes.

His feet were bare and hard as rocks.

He was revered by native tribes and allowed to travel through their territories,

He was a vegetarian.

He once doused a fire he made to keep himself warm because mosquitoes were flying to close to the flames and being killed.

The stories of kindness to animals are legion. It seems that part of living on the frontier was to have a Johnny Appleseed story.

As far as being a missionary- it seems he believed this was his call from an early age. From his earliest days on the Potomac, he called himself a “bible missionary.” He would often preach a kind of primitive Christianity with heavy doses of the Swedish mystic Emmanuel Swedenborg.

Swedenborg was the son of a Swedish Lutheran theology professor and bishop who claims to have had a vision of Jesus in 1775. At this point, he left his considerable scientific writings behind and began to write about his own interpretations of the Bible. His teachings would lead to a church forming- the Church of the New Jerusalem- about a decade after his death. It recognizes the authority of the Bible and the importance of Jesus as both God and Man, but beyond that becomes a kind of standard 18th-century spiritualism with a thin line dividing the creator and the creation- thus, creation could be seen as semi-divine. This would obviously fit with Johnny’s approach to life as a vegetarian, naturalist, and lover of all creatures, great and small.

It would be hard to label Johnny Appleseed as a “Swedenborgian” as we don’t have writings of his, and he never formed a church as he was on the move, planting and selling his apple trees to cider-loving frontiersmen. And it was a good business as he died with considerable estates based on his shrewd speculations. He died in 1845 at the age of 70.

And as a quick note- let’s give the apple a break. If you check your bible, I bet Genesis 2 and 3 only speak of a “fruit”- nothing specified. But the Latin Vulgate from Jerome gives us a pun. In Latin, the word evil and apple are homonyms- “malus.” The Hebrew word is “peri,”- which is generic fruit. But Jerome’s pun made its way into paintings, and the apple has had a bad rap ever since.

The Last Word for today comes from the lectionary for today from the book of Revelation, from chapter 3, and the letter to the Laodiceans.

20 “ ‘ “Behold, I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with that person and that person with me. 21 To anyone who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, as I myself overcame and sat with my Father on his throne.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 26th of September 2022, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by the apple of your eye, he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who remembers current but suspended Padre Fernando Tatis Jr was a member of the Fort Wayne TinCaps- I am Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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