Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

February 19, 2013

Sequoyah’s writing system

Ben Morris
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — They called him Sequoya, and he gave his people a gift that will endure forever.

He gave them a writing system that allowed the greatness of the Cherokee to live as a part of history. Sequoya was born circa 1776 in a log cabin in the former village of Tuskeegee. He was the son of a Virginia fur trader and Wut-teh, daughter of a Cherokee chief.

Sequoya married a Cherokee woman and had a family. He and other Cherokee enlisted on the side of the United States under General Andrew Jackson to fight the British troops and the Creek Indians in the War of 1812.

During the war, Sequoya became convinced of the necessity of literacy for the Cherokee people. Unlike the white soldiers, he and other Cherokee were not able to write letters home, read military orders or record events as they occurred. When he returned home after the war, he began to make symbols that could make words. He finally reduced the thousands of Cherokee thoughts to 85 symbols representing sounds.

In 1821, after 12 years working on the new language, Sequoya introduced his syllabary to the Cherokee people. Within a few months, thousands of Cherokee became literate. By 1825, much of the Bible and numerous hymns had been translated into Cherokee. By 1828, they were publishing the “Cherokee Phoenix,” the first national bi-lingual newspaper, along with religious pamphlets, educational materials and legal documents.

In recognition of his contributions, the Cherokee Nation awarded Sequoya a silver medal struck in his honor and a lifetime literary pension. He continued to serve the Cherokee people until his death.

Travelers between Knoxville and Atlanta who are interested in the fascinating history of the Cherokee — their family life, customs, beliefs, and the sadness of the Trail of Tears, when they were forced to go to Oklahoma in the 1830s — the Cherokee museum along historic U.S. 411 is well-worth visiting.

On the same island as the museum is Fort Loudoun (1756-60), built by the British to protect the Cherokee frontier during the French and Indian War.

Across the river from the fort are the remains of the Tellico Blockhouse which garrisoned U.S. troops in the Cherokee area between 1794 and 1807. To the south are Red Clay State Park, near Cleveland, Tenn. The Van House near Chatsworth, Ga., and New Echota at Calhoun, Ga. The three sites are located near the U.S. Corridor.

Ben Morris, MA, RPA is an archaeological and historical consultant for the Daily News. He can be reached at 812-932-0298 or bjmorris1935@gmail.com.