to Virginia fur trader Nathanial Gist* and Wu-te-he, the daughter of a
Cherokee Chief, the early years of Sequoyah (S si-qua-ya) are blurry,
but he would literally leave a large mark on the Cherokee People as the
inventor of their written language, the Cherokee syllabary (a.k.a.
It is thought he was born sometime in the
early to mid 1760's, near the old Cherokee capital of Echota in Tuskegee
(Tasgigi), now flooded by Tellico Lake. Other sources place his birth
around 1776. Later in life his English name
would appear as George Guess (annotation on Treaty of 1828). Because of
an affliction in his leg he was known among the Cherokee as Sequoyah,
which translates to "pig's foot" according to at least one source we
Since he suffered physical limitations,
Sequoyah worked as a trader and carried on his mothers business in trade
after her death in 1800. He would also become a silversmith and
blacksmith, creating his own tools.
Sequoyah was exposed to the English
concept of writing early in life, but never learned the alphabet.Then
in 1809, after conversing with friends over the idea at his shop, he
began toying with how to translate verbal Cherokee words to a written
His project was put on hold with the War
of 1812. By October of 1813, Sequoyah had volunteered to help fight the
British. He would see action in both the Battle of Tallaschatche in
November of 1813, and the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in March of 1814,
before being discharged shortly after.
The next year he would marry Sally Waters
of the Bird Clan, and continued to work on how to create a written
language for his people. He quickly realized that creating a symbol for
every word would be almost impossible, so instead he started paying more
attention to the sounds that made up the words.
there were 85 syllables in the language, which he then created symbols
for, to be used in combinations for each word. He would first teach
is brother-in-law Michael Waters, before turning to his own daughter, A-Yo-Ka,
who became the first to read and write with his invention.
In 1821, using his daughter as an
example, he presented his invention to the tribe. They both were
promptly charged with witchcraft, but luckily an 1811 Cherokee law
provided them a civil trial before execution. The group of
warriors brought in to judge the case were given demonstrations of A-Yo-Ka
sending written messages to her father, which finally convinced them
that the symbols on paper represented their own verbal language.
Within a week the warriors were able to read and write, and the new
Cherokee syllabary quickly spread.
In 1822 Sequoyah headed to present day
Arkansas to begin teaching the written language.
In 1824 the General
Council of the Cherokee Nation voted to give him a silver medal in
honor of his creation. By 1825 much of the Christian Bible had been
translated into Cherokee, and in 1827 it was used to write the
Constitution of the Cherokee Nation. In 1828 the first national
bi-lingual newspaper, the "Cherokee Phoenix" was published.
Sequoyah would also be awarded $500 by the U.S. Government in a January 1828
treaty, along with land in present day Sequoyah County, Oklahoma. In 1829, as part of the Indian relocation, he and 2500 Cherokees moved
to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) in exchange for land they had occupied in
what would become Arkansas. He would wind up building a log cabin
near what is now Sallisaw, Oklahoma, which remains today as a National