Sequoyah, the great creator of the Cherokee alphabet!
Sequoyah, is the great Cherokee Indian that gave his people a gift that will endure forever. He created a writing system - so that the greatness of the Cherokee Nation will live forever.
Sequoyah was born in 1776 near the town of Tuskeegee, Tennessee, near Chote. Sequoyah was a mixed breed Cherokee. His mother Wut-teh was a full blood Cherokee, the daughter of a Cherokee Chief. He was usually known to his white contemporaries as George Guess, or Gist (because, it is claimed, he was fathered by a white explorer-soldier, Nathaniel Gist). Sequoyah was a name given him by Christian missionaries - his Cherokee name was Sogwali. Sequoyah (Sikwo-yi) is Cherokee for "pigs foot". This is probably where he got his name as he was born with a handicap.
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 living there, a man who purchased one of his works suggested that he sign his work just like the white silversmiths were doing. 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 work with the idea of a Cherokee writing system at that time in 1809.
He moved to Willstown, Alabama, where he and other Cherokees enlisted on the side of the United States under General Andrew Jackson to fight the British troops and the Creek Indians in the ware of 1812. He fought 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.
In 1824 he was given a medal of honor and a letter of recognition for his work on the alphabet. By 1825 much of the Bible and numerous hymns had been translated into Cherokee. By 1828 they were publishing the Cherokee Phoenix, first national bi-lingual newspaper, along with religious pamphlets, educational materials and legal documents.
In recognition of these contributions, the Cherokee Nation awarded Sequoyah a sliver medal struck in his honor and a lifetime literary pension. He continued to serve Cherokee people as a statesman and diplomat until his death.
Because of his knowledge of the alphabet, Seqouyah became a delegate from Arkansas to appeal the federal government and defend the lands and people from the encroaching whites. President Andrew Jackson gave the order for removal to Indian Territory. That dreadful day started that long "Trail where we cried."
After the Cherokees had settled in their new homes and had once again built their government and had begun to prosper, Sequoyah left for Texas and Mexico to help the Cherokee there. By now he was getting on in age, but was determined to help. In the summer of 1842, Sequoyah left his home in Oklahoma, never to return.
It was a very hard trip. They suffered of hunger, floods, illness, and finally death. It is believed that Sequoyah is buried in an unmarked, unknown grave.
The Cherokee Syllabary
A syllabary is an alphabet where each symbol stands for a syllable. In Cherokee, there are 85 symbols, each representing a different syllable and sound. There are 6 vowels, an s that stands alone, and the remaining 78 syllables are a combination of consonant and vowel. The s is used as a prefix and suffix, without it, 17 more symbols would be needed.
There are no sounds for the English sounds B, F, J, P, R, V, X, or TH.
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