Quaker horticulturalist Jonathan Jessop was 19th-century York County Renaissance man
For years, this marker designated the site where Jonathan Jessop developed the York Imperial Apple. With construction of Apple Hill Medical Center around that site, the state Horticultural Association-sponsored marker has been moved inside the medical complex. It sits in obscurity today in the area, quite naturally, of the center’s coffee shop. Background posts: Who were York County’s most influential citizens?, Research needed to unearth Underground Railroad in York County and 20 questions and answers to prove your York County smarts.
The 1968 book “Greater York In Action” tells the oft-repeated story about how the York Imperial Apple came into being.
In the 1820s, Quaker orchardist/clockmaker Jonathan Jessop received a seedling from a Hallam-area tree that had produced apples that kept all winter on the ground under a blanket of snow.
Jessop grafted a stem from this seedling onto another tree on his Springwood Farm in York Township.
He carried the tree to the Friends’ Yearly Meeting in Baltimore and from there members brought the tree to Virginia.
The apple original was known as Jonathan’s Fine Winter and later was changed to “Imperial of Keepers” and “York Imperial.”
So Jessop became largely known for his role in development of Imperial apples.
That’s where this story, which no doubt needs verification and corroboration, has stood for years… .
Now, David Diamond (DiamondDavidH@sau.edu), visiting assistant professor of history at St. Ambrose University in Iowa, wants to know more about this York County clockmaker, engineer and nurseryman. The professor is researching Revolutionary-era horticulture and fruit raising and is knowledgeable about Friends’ activities.
Longtime interest in Jessop’s role in the York Imperial has diverted study of his many and varied other accomplishments, Diamond wrote in an e-mail.
Here’s an edited excerpt from that e-mail:
His mother, nee Anne Mathews was an important plantswoman but I am only now realizing that Jonathan’s York Imperial episode was but a flicker in a brighter picture. He was so diversely employed professionally and so widely engaged in Friends’ activities that his nurseryman’s contributions have been subsumed under the little Imperial story.
It appears he used his work and religious traveling opportunities to also help diversify orchards, perhaps at meetinghouses and their schools. Socializing and gift exchanges appear to have been central features of Quaker visitations to Yearly and Quarterly meetings, and some sources, including the York Trust site, claim Jonathan carried apple trees to share at these gatherings. Yet I have found not one contemporary piece of corroborative evidence of this practice.
If any viewer has information on Jessop and his horticultural activities particularly as they relate to his Friends’ activities, please contact Dr. Diamond.
As for additional biographical work on the Renaissance man Jonathan Jessop, that sounds like a local master’s thesis prospect for some budding historian to tackle to add to an already lengthy list.
(Monument photo courtesy of “Greater York in Action,” York Area Chamber of Commerce.)