Sequoyah was a Cherokee scholar from the nineteenth century who is famous for creating a Cherokee reading and writing system.
He completed this in 1821. This system made it possible to learn to read and write in the Cherokee language.
It was officially adopted in 1825.
Sequoyah was born in 1700 in Tuskegee, which was a Cherokee town. Sequoyah never went to school and worked on the land during his childhood.
Sequoyah became disabled, historians do not know why. In any case, this mean that he could not be a warrior nor a farmer.
He spent a lot of time learning many useful things.
Sequoyah was very skilled in lots of areas, he even learnt to make silver jewellery and coins for trappers and traders.
He also learnt to blacksmith and opened a shop.
Sequoyah traded with a lot of white settlers and learnt a lot about their writing. Sequoyah believed he could also invent a way to talk on paper for the Cherokee language.
Sequoyah had many failed attempts at creating the writing system, at first. One way he tried was to write down a character for each idea in the Cherokee language, but that got too complicated.
It is reported that his wife burnt his first attempts!
He decided upon creating a symbol (a letter) for each syllable in the language. There were 86 in total. He picked the letters from a spelling book.
Ayokeh (age six) learns the alphabet
No adults wanted to learn the alphabet so Sequoyah taught it to his six year old daughter. They travelled together to show different leaders how the alphabet worked.
Sequoyah asked each leader to say a word and his daughter would write it down. They would then read it back to them.
Sequoyah took students in classes to learn how to read and write in the new writing system. As a test at the end of their lessons, Sequoyah would get the students to write down a letter as he read it out.
Each student would also have to write a reply. This was how Sequoyah convinced the Cherokee he had invented a writing system.
The official writing system
In 1825, the Cherokee Nation began to use the writing system officially. The Cherokee National Council had the Cherokee Laws written down in 1826.
The first newspaper in the Cherokee language, the Cherokee Phoenix, was printed in 1834.
Other writing systems
This writing system inspired many more groups to create a writing system. This idea even spread as far as West Africa. A Cherokee who was literate in the language went to live in Sierra Leone.
When a local speaker of the Bassa language saw this, he was inspired to create his own. Many other people in West Africa recorded their languages too.
Sequoyah’s work was used worldwide for 21 scripts in over 65 languages.
What is Sequoyah famous for?
How many characters are in Sequoyah’s alphabet?
Who was the first person to learn Sequoyah’s alphabet?
What test did the students do to prove they had understood the alphabet?
How many languages have used Sequoyah’s alphabet?