Appleseed’s Progress: Preamble, Part I

Book III of “Eden to Ohio”

Chapman, Appleseed, Swedenborg, Colonization

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At memory’s farthest reach, my people touch Ohio, Appleseed country, before that, none now living can say.  We have photographs, well, drawings, really, most of what was photograph has faded leaving the outlined highlight of handsome, strong willed citizens.  One such picture, the largest, in charcoal, resides in a solid, thick, black frame of hard floral carving.  The two pictured within are neatly, tightly dressed, he bearded and severe with piercing eyes, she firm, almost exquisitely proportioned, comely, a fine formed women.  Somehow, I cannot say, my features are hers in each particular, in entirety through time of all proportion, although I by birth am male.  How this cross-gendered oneness can be I cannot say, though I do say because true.  We all live through the pattern of our begetting, for good or ill, or for some other purpose beyond understanding

Of the maiden, Elleman, Ohio ancestors, the Swanks, the Garners, the Hayes, and here, the Westphal Westfalls

As I was saying, Ohio, Appleseed country, formed of the man, John Chapman, “Johnny Appleseed”, born two years before our War of Independence from the mother country, England, a war within which Johnny’s father served, on the patriot side, directly under our founder, father of the nation, General George Washington, first president of these United States.

Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman, Birthplace, Leominster, Massachusetts

Massachusetts it was, Leominster, 1774, the year of the Boston Tea Party and those first shots fired in Lexington Green that John Chapman came to life.  Little is known of these early years: seven months after John’s birth, his father, Nathaniel Chapman, joined the patriot cause, served in New York and at Bunker Hill before becoming Captain in the Continental Army.  Some few weeks before signing of our Declaration, Johnny’s mother, Elizabeth, gave birth to a second son; exhausted, both she and the baby perished.  Where Johnny, and his older sister, Elizabeth, lived for the ten years we Americans battled England, no one can say, yet, we do know that after the war, Chapman married again, the eighteen year old, Lucy Cooley, who soon gave birth to John’s brother, Nathanial.  It was this Nathaniel who accompanied John into Western Pennsylvania and beyond into the broad Northwest Territory.  For many years, John and Nathaniel traveled, settled and planted, and traveled again, and again.  When it was the brothers parted, we do not know.

Floyd Davis, Johnny Appleseed, Saturday Evening Post, 1949

Anecdotes true, apocryphal, fantastic come to us of John Chapman, some from the man himself, some from Johnny Appleseed, the man he would become.  Which is to be believed?  John or Johnny, or those who tell us of the two.  And then, of the same men, of the same story, of the same event, the tellings differ.  Who can say.  In truth, can any of us tell of anything truly, or of ourselves the truth.  If gods, perhaps, yet even gods see outward, inward, see themselves from what each knows.  And yet, if a god could be a thing incorporeal, a thing that is, though not in the particular, well, then, but again, who can say.  Anyway, many tale tellings come to us from spare records of John Chapman, many more come to us from accounts of Johnny Appleseed, and it is from these apple-seeds that the Appleseed tellings grow.

For instance, Johnny Appleseed, in the Napoleonic War (the War of 1812), to warn Ohio settlers of a British inspired Indian uprising—scalps had been taken—Appleseed overnight ran from Mansfield to the fort at Mount Vernon [Ohio] warning settlers along the way,

“Fly!  Fly!  For your lives!  The Indians are murdering and scalping at Mansfield.”

and this message at each cabin,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, and he hath anointed me to blow the trumpet in the wilderness, and sound an alarm in the forest; for, behold, the tribes of the heathen are about your doors, a devouring flame followeth after them.” 

Al Schmidt, Johnny Appleseed, 1959

This “Appleseed” ran 26 miles barefoot and bareheaded over Ohio’s broad savanna in the dark through stick-speared wood, Revere-like warning all.  And then, next morning, Johnny ran back from Mount Vernon to take his post in Mansfield.  Perhaps you noticed Johnny’s similarity to Pheidippides who ran from Marathon to Athens, et alibi, and in whose memory the “marathon” is named.  Seems to me, we might initiate the “Mansfield”, a 52-mile, American endurance race.  For truly, our republic has double distanced the endurance of Athens’ democracy, and more.  Yes, Athens and the Greeks turned back the Persians, liberating the Greek islands; yet, our America liberated all the world from democratic socialism, that German, Nazi party, the fascists, the communists, the remnants of monarchy and primitive brutalism, the entrenched, native superstitions.  

Here, it should be told that Appleseed’s strength exceeded the common, outpaced the extraordinary:

            Johnny would go barefoot in winter, as was noticed of Socrates when in lecture or when at night in war with Sparta, sentinel-like along Athens’ snow-drifted long-wall, skin numbed;

Johnny Appleseed record album, Disney Corporation, 1948

            to amuse boys, Appleseed would walk hot coals, push broad needles into his leather-tough feet; to girls he gifted bright, delightful ribbons;

            then, Johnny might with callused hands, knotted arms and lean muscled back, single-handed at a stretch fell a tangled wood, tear-up stumps, prepare rich black earth to plant some15,000 pretty, white blossoming apple trees;

            the Wyandot recognized in Appleseed a primitive force, a man who spoke with gods, a medicine man whose spirit charmed to life all things that surround him;

            yet, not all Indians favored Johnny Appleseed’s charm: one marauding, blood mad band chased the barefoot Johnny miles down a frozen river until Johnny at a dappled marsh slipped beneath the ice to breath-in-air through a hollow, brittle reed, frigid ‘til the Indian band passed along away. 

Our country was formed of smart toughness, invention, necessity, broad cloth and brimmed hats in days before working-boots became burnished, costume jewelry.

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What else of Appleseed deserves telling.  You might know that Johnny Appleseed was a spiritualist, a gregarious frontier preacher, a practiced naturalist—in the way of the God of Nature—a goodly man of a new, Christian belief “come direct from heaven”, and that this Appleseed delivered to we young Americans that news from infinity which deserves telling. 

Likely, you know the outlines of the old, Roman church built on Saint Peter, the rock of Jesus.  You might know that in the long tradition, Catholics are confirmed into the church with a Saint’s name, a “confirmation name”, Peter, Paul, John, et alia.  Mine is Francis, after Saint Francis, patron of Italy, of animals, and of that Nature which God designed to encircle his special creation, us, you, me, Appleseed and all others.  And then, you might be interested to learn that Francis was first to be marked by Christ’s Passion, the stigmata, and that Saint Francis was first to minister to wolves and to birds and to other creatures

Ghirlandaio, Stigmata of Saint Francis, Santa Trinita, Florence, 1483 – 1485

Alike Saint Francis, Appleseed ministered to the wild spirits: he purchased lame horses to save from slaughter, spared insects from fire, freed a wolf from a trap, nursed him to health, and for many years enjoyed the wolf’s grateful companionship.  And then, a snake’s surprise attack forced Appleseed’s defense and the snake’s murder, a death for which Appleseed refused self-forgiveness.  As we know, all conscious things participate in God’s knowledge, God’s love; in practice, Appleseed would not put his teeth to, or in any manner harm creatures of fellowship in God.  If Catholic, Johnny Appleseed might have been canonized, yet he was not Catholic, Appleseed was Swedenborgian, a unique denomination undecorated by the firmament of exemplary saints. 

Carl Frederick von Bredel, Emanuel Swedenborg, 1818, Glencairn Museum, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania

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These days, the polymath and seer, Emanuel Swedenborg, is little know and less remembered—scientists in direct communication with God and the angels are inconvenient to censorious Progressive dogmatists, those modernistic iconoclasts who growl and spit at wonder, beauty, and goodness—yet, in those better days, Swedenborg illuminated genius, Coleridge, Emerson, Baudelaire, Keller, Heine, Goethe, Yeats and Schoenberg—as you would imagine—and others beyond counting.  These days, people need reminding of Swedenborg’s news fresh from heaven, his direct conversations with angels, his view through the veil into the encompassing spirit world, his visits to eternity, et cetera, et alia, and et alibi. 

Now, you might like to learn of Swedenborg’s heavenly doctrine which, scanned in brief outline, resolves into something rather like this:

            the place of no space, of no time, is the realm of God, the spirit world through which He from His will created the universe, and He from His seed created we souls, spirits who in the universe are clothed in pearly flesh;

            within each of us, the ineffable angels and spirits, those voices which guide us toward the good or the ill

Sweedenborg, Heaven and Hell and the Wonderful Things Therein, 1812, First American Edition

—you know, you have heard the voices, often louder than a whisper, even now, in this moment, in reading, summoning you toward light or calling you into dark—

            in daily, defining acts that shape a person’s history and form a person’s character, a character which, when again unbodied, we take with us into eternity, the spirit world, heaven, where we rejoin family and loves in friendship, where we are drawn to immortal souls who, alike us, by corporeal acts were shaped to the good or to the ill; if ill, hell, a torture of being; if good, heaven, a lightness of being. 

In particular example:

            alike corporeal Jesus, the light of the world, God, assumed our pearly form through the mother, Mary, and He suffered our corporeal temptations; yet, through exquisite hardship, Jesus chose the good, conjoining his corporeal body with the Divine. 

Through the unique example of Jesus, who in body resisted the demon-spirits, we learn by example how to achieve beauty, the lightness of being, heaven, where we might Jesus-like conjoin with the Divine—and here, Swedenborg would advise that the vicarious atonement upon the cross, the mythology of Eden’s original sin, is a doctrinal error of the Catholic church, et cetera.

Yet, for Johnny Appleseed, doctrinal disputes were not a profitable occupation: Appleseed was a soul saver, a soul collector, a frontier missionary of Swedenborg’s New Church come to share the Good News fresh from Heaven.  And this saving, this planting, this cultivation along the frontier trail he accomplished, county to county, cabin to cabin, person to person, a goodly spirit, almost angelic, loving, enthusiastic, unassuming, kind.    

William Gropper, America its Folklore, 1946

In planting, Johnny Appleseed was a traveling librarian, a circulating Bible, tearing into easy sections the canonical Book and Swedenborg’s many books of revelation, gifting this section, that story, those verses or what seemed most fitting, urging those he so gifted to share the Good News with familiar friends and friendly neighbors.  When visiting a broad homestead, a lonely cabin, or some neighborly townhouse, Johnny would engage the residents in colloquy, Academy like, instructing, debating, revealing truth and sharing experience, sometimes interweaving an Appleseed yarn, some tale of adventure, exploit or danger well into-the-cups, spilling full-throated into the evening over a jug of hard apple-cider—few good stories begin with bread; alcohol more than ichor inspires the tongue; Dionysus it was who stimulated theological dialogue in the territories.  True, Swedenborgianisms were the topic divine; yet, apple-cider, the American wine, inspired the symposia of the plains, and lusty Dionysus was the tutor who lead Appleseed into ‘divine inspiration’, enthousiasmos, enthusiasm for the true vision of heaven. 

Daughmer Savanna, Ohio

Yes, sometimes it is difficult to distinguish Arcadia from Eden from the Ohio savanna, each has been our genesis, each has been our country, all are in our blood.  Here, in speaking upon Ohio’s savanna of “Arcadia” and of “Eden”, every second spoken word carries the memory of Greece or of Jerusalem, every third word was sensibly coined in Rome, the rest, a hodge-podge of Saxon, German and others, each an inheritance of idea from time out of memory—what a jumble, what a treasure.  Alike a democratic Greek, alike a citizen Roman, John Chapman cultivated Eden, planting, alike a colonus in neat rows, ten thousands of apple trees.  Truly, Chapman tilled the land

Course of John Chapman’s Travels

—but then, you know, of “colony” the verb colere is ‘to cultivate’, and you understand the noun colonus to describe “he who tills the land”, so you recognize, that in deed, Appleseed in planting colonized the Indian peopled plains for American settlement, and for this we Ohioans are grateful. 

Something of the apple you might not know: from the Caucasus through cultivation, Caesar brought the apple to England, “Avalon”, the “Isle of Apples”, then in colonization from England across the Atlantic to Johnny who, Caesar-like in cultivation, rooted the apple among the hickory in civilizing colonization of our Ohio.  There is a bit of apple, a bit of Eden, a bit of Arcadia in us all—in the end, three-fifths of the world is Roman made, and another fifth, mostly so.

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In the screen-novella, Appleseed’s Progress, a telling of seven excellent adventures not commonly known, yet known to be true in the nature of such things. You understand, true of stories, of myths and of legends, true in the words that live in our bones, in our imagination transcendent and everlasting.

Here, beneath a guileless cover live apple-seed rich ideas, Johnny tellings by which we Americans realize ourselves within our self.  And there it is … I hope you will enjoy the story; I hope that you will take these adventures, this book as your own.

Appleseed’s Progress , Volume III of “Eden to Ohio”, to be released 30 June 2020

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Title Image:
Mosaic of Dominus Julius, Carthage, late IV to early V A.D.

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