Cherokee Inventor of the Cherokee Syllabary


Sequoyah (Sikwayi or Sogwali), b.c. 1760 or 66, d. Aug.1843 (Cherokee (Aniyunwiya)), also known as George Guess, was born in Tennessee, the son of white trader Nathaniel Gist and a mixed-blood Cherokee woman.

The name Sequoyah was given to him by missionaries.

When his career as a successful hunter (as a young man he was a fine hunter, and warrior ), was terminated by a leg injury, he taught himself to become a master silversmith (silver craftsman) and trader in the Cherokee country in Georgia.

His natural curiosity, intellectual (an able linguist who learned French, Spanish, and English), and mechanical skills led him to explore a variety of fields, but he is best remembered for his development of the Cherokee Alphabet (Cherokee written language, the so-called talking leaves)

He was determined to preserve Cherokee culture and was implacably opposed to American intrusions into his tribal lands.

After continued white encroachments, however, Sequoya journeyed westward (1797), although he returned periodically to his homeland.

Recognizing the power of the written word, Sequoya developed a Cherokee syllabary (create a system for reducing the Cherokee language to writing, b. Loudon co., Tenn.), table of 85 or 86 symbols (characters) by adapting letters of the English alphabet to represent sounds in the Cherokee tongue (he took some letters from an English spelling book and by inversion, modification, and invention adopted the symbols to Cherokee sounds).

There is some dispute as to when the syllabary was completed.

The generally accepted date for its completion is 1821, (many historians date its completion at about 1821), although Cherokee tradition dates the syllabary earlier (Cherokee tradition holds that it was created much earlier and was actually in use as early as the late 18th cent).

Although there is some question whether Sequoya was its inventor, he certainly popularized the syllabary, which led to the founding of the Cherokee Phoenix, a Cherokee language newspaper, on Feb. 21, 1828.

In 1822, Sequoyah visited the Cherokee in Arkansas, and soon he taught thousands of the Native Americans to read and write.

In 1823 he settled in Arkansas (present-day Oklahoma) with the Western Cherokee and became a political leader of his people.

Parts of the Bible were soon printed in Cherokee, and in 1828 a weekly newspaper was begun.

He visited Washington, D.C. in 1828 where King painted his portrait.

He died in Mexico while searching for a branch of the Western Cherokee.

His name was given to some of the oldest and largest trees in the world - the Sequoia.

His remarkable achievement helped to unite the Cherokee and make them leaders among other Native Americans.