Johnny and Sam
Mason, New Hampshire. Summer, 1788. Thirteen year old Johnny Chapman meets young Sam Wilson while visiting his cousin Betsey at her family’s farm. Sam and Betsey later marry and move to Troy, New York, where they launch a meat packing business.
After Sam and Betsey’s wedding, Johnny heads west until he comes to a river about nine miles below Steubenville, Ohio. Men describe him as “small, wiry and restless, with hollow cheeks in a face bronzed by wind and sun and with piercingly brilliant, dark eyes that can surely read the thoughts in a man’s soul.” He sleeps outdoors, never wearing shoes or carrying weapons. His clothing is a coarse, coffee sack with a hole cut in the center for his head, and his only possession is the tin cooking pot he wears like a hat.
For more than 50 years, when settlers arrive to settle a new area, they find Chapman already there nursing a small orchard of young apple seedlings. But the man who will be known as Johnny Appleseed doesn’t wander the Midwest giving away apple seeds and seedlings. He is a businessman. In Boston, the price of a seedling apple tree is 6 or 7 cents, which is what Johnny charges for his trees out in the wilderness, even though the settlers would gladly pay a great deal more. Throughout his life, Johnny serves his fellow man by preparing apple tree nurseries along the banks of rivers and streams, staying just ahead of the settlers as they move ever westward.
Years pass and Johnny becomes accidentally rich. The wilderness plots on which he planted apple seedlings now mark the center of town after town. He happily sells the land, but uses the money for charity rather than for his own personal comfort. His amazing generosity, startling endurance and personal faith in God inspires and changes a fledgling nation during her most formative years. His name continues to live in legend nearly a century and a half after his passing.
But what of Sam and Betsey?
During the War of 1812, while Johnny is planting apple trees across Ohio and Indiana, Sam and Betsey are supplying the American army with beef in Troy, New York. America is not often referred to as the “United States” during these years, so when Sam marks barrels of army meat with a big “U.S.,” not everyone is sure what it means. When a federal inspector asks a watchman why “U.S.” is marked on the barrels, the watchman makes a guess, “I think it means Uncle Sam.”
Forty years later, The New York Lantern publishes the first drawing of “Uncle Sam,” the invisible benefactor who has become every soldier’s best friend. On September 15, 1961, the 87th Congress of the United States adopts the following Resolution: “Resolved by the Senate with the House of Representatives concurring, the Congress salutes “Uncle Sam” Wilson of Troy, New York, as the progenitor of America’s national symbol of “Uncle Sam.”
Johnny Appleseed and Uncle Sam. Just a couple of kids who met one summer on a farm outside Mason, New Hampshire. Just a couple of kids like you and me.
Roy H. Williams,