A compelling story told in the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum.

A little to the south of Knoxville the Overhill Cherokee had established a number of villages; among them, Tanasi, from which the state name would be derived, and Toskegee, where George Gist was born to Wur-teh, a Cherokee woman of the Paint Clan.

Trained as a silversmith and blacksmith, Sequoyah, so named as a result of a hunting accident that left him crippled and his foot resembling a “pig club” began experimenting around 1809 with pictographs but found them difficult. Though he could not speak, read or write English, he adapted some English symbols and  eventually arrived at a method of assigning one character or symbol to each syllable of sound to create the Cherokee syllabary.

In 1813 Sequoyah joined the U.S. Army, serving as warrior with a Cherokee regiment in the Creek War (or Red Sticks War), a conflict that resulted in U.S. victory over Creek Indians, who were allied with the Brits during the War of 1812.

Around 1821 Sequoyah showed markings on a stone to a group of Cherokees, demonstrating the new writing system. He was resoundingly mocked.

The Cherokee set up a printing press in New Echota, Georgia, the capital of the Southeast Territory, 1824.


By the time Georgia stole and destroyed the press, the Cherokees had printed more than 225,000 pages, including their Constitution.

Sequoyah pushed West toward Oklahoma to share the syllabary, and with a desire to see the Cherokee Nation reunited. In the spring of 1842, Sequoyah began a trip to locate other bands who were believed to have fled to Mexico  to persuade them to return to the Cherokee Nation.

“Talking Leaves,” the Cherokee Syllabary.

Image courtesy of the Internet

Some of the ways in which Sequoyah’s legacy has been marked.

  1. In 1847, the giant Sierra redwood, Sequoia gigantean, was named in his honor.
  2. In 1907, the State of Oklahoma chose the likeness of Sequoyah to represent its citizenry in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, the first Native American statue in the Hall.
  3. Sequoyah’s Oklahoma cabin was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1965.
  4. In 1980 the U.S. Post Office honored Sequoyah as the initial 19¢ stamp in its new Great American Series.