He was raised on a small farm in Massachusetts. His favorite place was his father's apple orchard, as he loved apples. Whenever settlers passed by, he heard of fertile soils, and that inspired him to plant apple seeds through the frontier.
 Heading to the frontier
In 1792, 18-year-old Chapman went west, taking 11-year-old half-brother, Nathaniel, and his sister, Emily, with him. Their destination was the headwaters of the Susquehanna. There are stories of him practicing his nurseryman craft in the Wilkes-Barre area and of picking seeds from the pomace at Potomac cider mills in the late 1790s. Another story has Chapman living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Grant's Hill in 1794 at the time of the Whiskey Rebellion.
Land records show that John Chapman was in what is today Licking County, Ohio in 1800. Congress had passed resolutions in 1798 to give land there, ranging from 160 to 2,240 acres (65-900 hectares), to Revolutionary War veterans, but soldiers did not actually receive letters of patent to their grants until 1802. By the time the veterans arrived, John's nurseries, located on the Isaac Stadden farm, had trees big enough to transplant.
Nathaniel Chapman arrived with his second family and sister in 1805. At that point, the younger Nathaniel Chapman rejoined the elder, and his sister had married. John spent the rest of his life as an itinerant planter and sometime-preacher.
 Business plan
The popular image of Johnny Appleseed had him spreading apple seeds randomly, everywhere he went. In fact, he planted nurseries rather than orchards, built fences around them to protect them from livestock, left the nurseries in the care of a neighbor who sold trees on shares, and returned every year or two to tend the nursery. Many of these nurseries were located in the Mohican area of north-central Ohio. This area included the towns of Mansfield, Lucas, Perrysville, and Loudonville.
Appleseed's managers were asked to sell trees on credit, if at all possible, but he would accept corn meal, cash or used clothing in barter. The notes did not specify an exact maturity date—that date might not be convenient—and if it did not get paid on time, or even get paid at all, Johnny Appleseed did not press for payment. Appleseed was hardly alone in this pattern of doing business, but he was unusual in remaining a wanderer his entire life."Here's your primitive Christian!" Illustration from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, 1871
He obtained the apple seeds free; cider mills wanted more apple trees planted since it would eventually bring them more business.
 Subsistence lifestyle
Johnny Appleseed dressed in the worst of the used clothing he received, giving away the better clothing in barter. However, contrary to popular belief, Johnny actually didn't wear pots on his head or torn rags for clothing, although he did go barefoot in summers to save leather.
According to Harper's New Monthly Magazine, towards the end of his career, he was present when an itinerant missionary was exhorting an open-air congregation in Mansfield, Ohio. The sermon was long and quite severe on the topic of extravagance, because the pioneers were starting to buy such indulgences as calico and store-bought tea. “Where now is there a man who, like the primitive Christians, is traveling to heaven barefooted and clad in coarse raiment?” the preacher repeatedly asked, until Johnny Appleseed, his endurance worn out, walked up to the preacher, put his bare foot on the stump which had served as a podium, and said, “Here's your primitive Christian!” The flummoxed sermonizer dismissed the congregation.
 Life as a missionary
He spent most of his time traveling from house to house on the frontier. He would tell stories to children, spread the Swedenborgian gospel to the adults, receiving a floor to sleep on for the night, sometimes supper in return. "We can hear him read now, just as he did that summer day, when we were busy quilting upstairs, and he lay near the door, his voice rising denunciatory and thrilling—strong and loud as the roar of wind and waves, then soft and soothing as the balmy airs that quivered the morning-glory leaves about his gray beard. His was a strange eloquence at times, and he was undoubtedly a man of genius," reported a lady who knew him in his later years. He would often tear a few pages from one of Swedenborg's books and leave them with his hosts.
He made several trips back east, both to visit his sister and to replenish his supply of Swedenborgian literature. He typically would visit his orchards every year or two and collect his earnings