Sequoyah in Retrospect

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Sequoyah and his Syllabary

In the years following the relocation of the Cherokee Nation, Sequoyah set out on a last mission, aimed at reuniting his scattered people.

Sequoyah has been called the sage of the west, the elder statesman of the Cherokee Nation. In his life, he was a man of many talents — a silversmith, an inventor, an educator, and a diplomat. To the Cherokee people, he represented a cultural renaissance. Despite the relocation and subsequent diaspora of the Cherokee Nation, Sequoyah’s influence remained prominent.

In 1843, he set out on what would be his final mission, finding those Cherokee who had immigrated to Texas in the years prior to the Trail of Tears. Despite his advanced age, Sequoyah made the journey with the same spirit that powered his drive to complete the syllabary. Sadly, time caught up with the sage of the west and he died in the midst of his endeavor. This is perhaps a fitting denouement to the story of a man whose life was lived in service to his community. Elevated to iconic status in his life, Sequoyah became a powerful cultural figure among the Cherokee in the years following his death.

Sequoyah in Retrospect

There may be a great deal of mystery surrounding his early life, but there is no doubt about Sequoyah’s cultural significance. His death on a well publicized yet highly personal journey to Texas added to his mystique and elevated him to almost mythic proportions among the Cherokee. The district of Indian Territory where Sequoyah lived was named in his honor in 1851. When Indian Territory became the state of Oklahoma in 1907, this district was renamed Sequoyah County.

In 1980, the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp depicting Sequoyah, honoring him for his contribution. In 1925, a private contractor designed a yacht which he named Sequoia. This vessel served the United States government in a variety of capacities, even serving briefly as the Presidential yacht. A statue of the great inventor stands in the rotunda of the U.S. Capital building. When Tahlequah became the capital seat of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, government leaders displayed his portrait over the speaker’s desk in the legislative building.

Legacy

Taking the tones of the ancient Cherokee language and giving them new and far-reaching expression, Sequoyah did more for his people than can be attributed to any other individual. Respected both within his community and among white academics, his invention allowed for a cultural revival and helped bring the scattered Cherokee together amid the devastation caused by relocation and internal political divisions. Within the first decade following the introduction of the syllabary, the Cherokee boasted a 90% literacy rate, higher than most white communities of the same era. Additionally, the Cherokee exiles were effectively bilingual. As they rebuilt their society in the years that followed the Trail of Tears, the common language bound the exiles together.