Inventor of the
This is a
story about a poor, handicapped, uneducated and ridiculed half-breed
Indian who triumphed over insurmountable odds to bring a gift to his
people that was so great that it is unrivaled in all human
born sometime between 1760 and 1776 in Overhills country near the
Cherokee village of Tushkeegee on the Tennessee River near old Fort
Loudoun in Tennessee.
His mother, Wu-teh, was a member
of the Paint Clan and his father, Nathanial Gist (Guess or Guest)
was an English fur trader.
Sequoyah was raised in the
old ways of the Cherokee and became a trapper and fur trader.
He was given the name George Gist by his
As a result of an early hunting accident, he was given
the name Sequoyah which means "pig's foot" in Cherokee.
being permanently disabled, he developed a talent for craftsmanship,
making silver ornaments and blacksmithing.
His handicap became
the source of both ridicule and a blessing in his life.
Sequoyah never learned to read or write
He became captivated by the white man's "talking leaves" and began work on developing a Cherokee writing
system in 1809.
endured constant ridicule by friends and even family members, who
said he was insane or practicing witchcraft.
twelve years of labor, ridicule and abuse he finally reduced the
complex language into 86 symbols, each representing a unique sound
of Cherokee speech.
In 1821, after a demonstration of the
system to amazed tribal elders, the Cherokee Nation adopted his
alphabet, now called a 'syllabary'.
Thousands of Cherokees
learned to read and write within a few years.
This extraordinary achievement marks the only known instance of an individual creating a totally new system of writing.
In 1824 the Cherokee National Council at New Echota, Georgia, honored him with a silver medal, which he proudly
wore for the rest of his life, and later with an annuity of $300,
which his widow continued to receive after his death.
By 1825, the Bible and numerous religious hymns
and pamphlets, educational materials and legal documents and books
of every description were translated into the Cherokee
In 1827, the Cherokee council appropriated funding for the establishment of a national newspaper
The inaugural issue of the newspaper, "Tsa la gi Tsu lehisanunhi" or "Cherokee Phoenix", printed in parallel columns in Cherokee and English appeared on February 21, 1828.
It was the first Indian newspaper published in the United States.
Ancient lore asserts there was a written
Cherokee language thousands of years ago.
the primeval Cherokee written language was lost as the tribe
migrated across the continent and their numbers dwindled
to living conditions and influences of more numerous
comprises the southern branch of the Iroquoian language family.
northern branch Onodaga, Oneida, Seneca-Cayuga, and Mohawk.
linguistic split occurred about 3000 years ago, when the Cherokee
migrated south from the Great Lakes region in east central North
America to what is now Tennessee, Georgia, and North
In the 1800's,
historian Mooney found three dialects of the language as his studied
the Cherokee culture.
The middle dialect, Kituwah, is the only
one spoken by the Cherokee today.
Cherokee language split into two main dialects after the Cherokee
began voluntary migration west to Arkansas prior to theRevolutionary War and continuing up to the Removals (Trail of Tears)
A small number of Cherokee hid in the
mountains of North Carolina and later became the Eastern Band of
Today, the United Keetoowah (Kituwah) Band of
Cherokees in Oklahoma comprise the largest concentration of
traditional-speaking western-dialect Cherokees.
Today, Cherokee is the second most widely used Native
American language, spoken by an estimated 20,000 Cherokee in
northeastern Oklahoma and another 5,000 near the Qualla Reservation
in North Carolina.
One of the few American
Indian languages to be growing is Cherokee.
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