But there was an American, born in 1774, whose life I think mirrors St. Francis in some ways, even if he never knew the saint.
Johnny Appleseed, born John Chapman in 1774 in Massachusetts, is an American Legend and our own St. Francis for his love & care of God’s creation, and his humble nature. We know him best because of his planting of apple seeds from Ohio to Illinois. As a young teenager, John’s father helped begin his career by sending him to an apple orchard to be an apprentice. The skills and knowledge he learned would aid his planting of apples for 50 years!
In the late 1790s, he began his journey westward and began practicing his craft by using apple seeds from cider mills and planting those seeds in nurseries. He often gave away the apple trees he raised to needy families. It never was about profit. He often moved west as settlers moved, picking up prime real estate for his nurseries. He would come back to pick up his rent, but often forgave it. He lived his life as a nomad but was not truly poor.
He felt at home in the forests and woods. One author from 1830 collected this story about Johnny Appleseed: “One cool autumnal night, while lying by his camp-fire in the woods, he observed that the mosquitoes flew in the blaze and were burnt. Johnny, who wore on his head a tin utensil which answered both as a cap and a mush pot, filled it with water and quenched the fire, and afterwards remarked, “God forbid that I should build a fire for my comfort, that should be the means of destroying any of His creatures.”
He was known for his generous ways, often giving away good clothing to those in need while he would wear the simplest and roughest of clothing.
- Story: One Family Gave New Clothes -
He also considered himself a Bible missionary and it is said that he was respected by the pioneers and the Native Americans for his service to others. When the Natives were on the war path he knew the woods so well, he was often able to warn settlers ahead of time.
- Story: Primitive Christian -
He had similarities to St. Francis, and his simple & giving life bears all the marks of what the Lord asks of us: “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) Amen.