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The Cherokee who Invented the Cherokee Alphabet

 Native American Nations | A Century of Dishonor                    


"Sequoyah, a Cherokee Indian, instead of joining the rude sports of Indian boys while a child, took great delight in exercising his ingenuity by various mechanical labors. He also assisted in the management of his mother's property, consisting of a farm and cattle and horses. In his intercourse with the whites he became aware that they possessed an art by which a name ha-pressed upon a hard substance might be understood at a glance by any one acquainted with the art. He requested an educated half-breed, named Charles Hicks, to write his name; which being done, he made a die containing a facsimile of the word, which he stamped upon all the articles fabricated by his mechanical ingenuity. From this he proceeded to the art of drawing, in which he made rapid progress before he had the opportunity of seeing a picture or engraving. These accomplishments made the young man very popular among his associates, and particularly among the red ladies; but it was long before incessant adulation produced any evil effect upon his character. At length, however, he was prevailed upon to join his companions, and share in the carouse, which had been supplied by his own industry. But he soon wearied of an idle and dissipated life, suddenly resolved to give up drinking, and learned the trade of a blacksmith by his own unaided efforts. In the year 1820, while on a visit to some friends in a Cherokee village, he listened to a conversation on the art of writing, which seems always to have been the subject of great curiosity among the Indians. Sequoyah remarked that he did not regard the art as so very extraordinary, and believed he could invent a plan by which the red man might do the same thing. The company was incredulous; but the matter had long been the subject of his reflections, and he had conic to the conclusion that letters represented words or ideas, and being always uniform, would always convey the same meaning. His first plan was to invent signs for words; but upon trial he was speedily satisfied that this would be too cumbrous and laborious, and he soon contrived the plan of an alphabet, which should represent sounds, each character standing for a syllable. He persevered in carrying out his intention, and attained his object by forming eighty-six characters.

"While thus employed he incurred the ridicule of his neighbors, and was entreated to desist by his friends. The invention, however, was completely successful, and the Cherokee dialect is now a written language; a result entirely due to the extraordinary genius of Sequoyah. After teaching many to read and write, he left the Cherokee nation in 1822 on a visit to Arkansas, and introduced the art among the Cherokees who had emigrated to that country; and, after his return home, a correspondence was opened in the Cherokee language between the two branches of the nation. In the autumn of 1823 the General Council bestowed upon him a silver medal in honor of his genius, and as an expression of gratitude for his eminent public services." North American Review.

"We may remark, with reference to the above, that as each letter of this alphabet represents one of eighty-six sounds, of which in various transpositions the language is composed, a Cherokee can read as soon as he has learned his alphabet. It is said that a clever boy may thus be taught to read in a single day."- The Saturday Magazine, London, April 1842.


This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

A Century of Dishonor, By Helen Hunt Jackson, New York, Harper & Brothers, Franklin Square, 1885

A Century of Dishonor


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