In the history of humanity only one man
ever created an alphabet single handedly. He was a poor
silversmith who went by the American name of George Gist or
Guest. Today, he is known to the world as Sequoyah.
There are a lot of unknown facts about
Sequoyah. The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee is
trying to piece the puzzle together accurately. It is owned and
operated by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians based in
Cherokee North Carolina.
|Sequoya Birthplace Museum
It opened in 1986 as a direct result of the
flooding of Tellico Lake. The lake covered the towns of the
Cherokee. When the Cherokee protested the loss of their sacred
lands they were offered a lease on some of the land allowing
them to have a resort and museum as compensation. This funds the
|Charlie Rhodarmer explaining
Charlie Rhodarmer, museum director, gave us
some background on the museum and Sequoya. Charlie explained
that so much of Sequoya’s early life is known only from oral
history passed down in the Cherokee traditions of storytelling.
“You have the Cherokee tradition of storytelling. I think that
is one of the reasons we end up with all these stories. Someone
tells a good story with a little grain of truth but it’s such a
good story they just keep telling it. I think that is why no one
has done a film about Sequoya. They hear all these different
stories and just walk away from it.”
|Exhibit at Sequoya Birthplace
Sequoyah was raised by his mother, Wuteh,
who ran a trading post in the Overhill area of the Cherokees on
the Little Tennessee River in what is now Monroe County,
Tennessee around 1776. He never attended school and spoke only
Cherokee growing up. He either was born lame or suffered an
accident as a youngster causing him to have a limp. In fact the
name Sequoya translated to “Pig Foot” referring to the way he
walked. He was noted as a good artist.
As a young man he
developed a fondness for alcohol and would work at the trading
post or his blacksmith shop only enough to buy a keg and then
remain drunk until he ran out of money. At some point he
realized this was not a good way to go and not only stopped
drink but no longer sold alcohol at the trading post. He worked
in his blacksmith shop and also taught himself to be a
In the process of handling his account he
realized what a boon the white man had with a written language.
He devised a numbering
system first so he can remember who owes him what. He began
devising a way to put Cherokee into some form of written
language and over the course of a dozen years or so, he
succeeded in creating what is known today as the Cherokee
|Exhibit of Sequoyah and daughter
at Sequoya Birthplace Museum
The museum is filled with exhibits related
to the Cherokee people. One of my favorites is the diorama of
Sequoyah and his daughter Ayoka. One of the most informative
exhibits is a video that tells the correct pronunciation of each
symbol in the syllabary.
|Exhibit of Sequoyah explaining
alphabet at Sequoya Birthplace Museum
Outside there is an amphitheater, a dog
trot log cabin, a blacksmith shop and framework for a replica of
the Choata Council house.
|Grounds at Sequoya Birthplace
Currently the museum is being updated to
make it even better.
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