Sequoyah, the son of a Cherokee chief’s daughter and a fur trader from Virginia, was a warrior and hunter and, some say, a silversmith. For twelve years he worked to devise a method of writing for the Cherokee language. His syllabary of eighty-five symbols representing vowel and consonant sounds was approved by the Cherokee chiefs in 1821. The simple utilitarian system made possible a rapid spread of literacy throughout the Cherokee nation. Medicine men set down ceremonies for healing, divination, war, and traditional ball games; missionaries translated hymns and the New Testament into the native language; and in 1828 the Cherokee Phoenix, a weekly bilingual newspaper, began publication at New Echota, Georgia.
The original portrait of Sequoyah, commissioned by Thomas McKenney and painted by Charles Bird King, was destroyed by the fire that swept through the Smithsonian Castle building in January 1865.
Geoffrey B. Churchill, Wilbraham, Mass.; purchased 1979 NPG