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The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee

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 museum.

Charlie Rhodarmer explaining Cherokee Alphabet

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 Museum

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 silversmith.

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 syllabary.

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 Museum

Currently the museum is being updated to make it even better.

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