(a.k.a George Gist)
Born: 1776 near Tuskeegee, Tennessee
Died: 1843, near Tyler, Texas.
Developed the Cherokee alphabet
Near the town of Tanasee, and not far from the almost mythical town
of Chote lies Taskigi(Tuskeegee), home of Sequoyah. In this peaceful valley
setting Wut-teh, the daughter of a Cherokee Chief married Nathaniel Gist, a
Virginia fur trader. The warrior Sequoyah was born of this union in 1776.
Probably born handicapped, and thus the name
Sequoyah(Sikwo-yi is Cherokee for "pig's foot"), Sequoyah fled
Tennessee as a youth because of the encroachment of whites. He initially moved
to Georgia, where he acquired skills working with silver. While in the state, a
man who purchased one of his works suggested that he sign his work, like the
white silversmiths had begun to do. Sequoyah considered the idea and since he
did not know how to write he visited Charles Hicks, a wealthy farmer in the area
who wrote English. Hicks showed Sequoyah how to spell his name, writing the
letters on a piece of paper. Sequoyah began to toy with the idea of a Cherokee
writing system that year(1809).
He moved to Willstown, Alabama, and enlisted in
the Cherokee Regiment, fighting in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, which
effectively ended the war against the Creek Redsticks.
During the war, he became convinced of the
necessity of literacy for his people. He and other Cherokees were unable to
write letters home, read military orders, or record events as they occurred.
After the war, he began in earnest to create a writing system.
Using a phonetic system, where each sound made
in speech was represented by a symbol, he created "Talking Leaves", 85
letters that make up the Cherokee alphabet. His little girl Ayoka easily learned
this method of communication. He demonstrated his syllabary to his cousin,
George Lowrey, who was impressed. A short time later in a Cherokee Court in
Chattooga, he read an argument about a boundary line from a sheet of paper. Word
spread quickly of Sequoyah's invention. In 1821, 12 years after the original
idea, the Cherokee Nation adopted Sequoyah's alphabet as their own. Within
months thousands of Cherokee became literate.
The crippled warrior moved west to Arkansas.
Mining and selling salt for money he was active in politics. In 1824 the
National Council at New Echota
struck a silver medal in his honor. Later, publication began on the first Native
American newspaper, The
Cherokee Phoenix in the same town. The painting of Sequoyah was made in 1828
on a trip to Washington to negotiate terms for removal from Arkansas to
Oklahoma. Leaving the state in 1829, he had lived in Oklahoma for 10 years when
Principal Chief John Ross led
North Georgia Cherokee on the "Trail
of Tears" to the state.
He died in Mexico (now Texas) in 1843 after
possibly visiting family in a band of Chickamauga Cherokee who had moved there
Perhaps the most eloquent praise paid to
Sequoyah was by H.A. Scomp, member of Emory College faculty, when he said
"...perhaps the most remarkable man who has ever lived on Georgia soil was
neither a politician, nor a soldier, nor an ecclesiastic, nor a scholar, but
merely a Cherokee Indian of mixed blood. And strange to say, this Indian
acquired permanent fame, neither expecting or seeking it."