Henry Inman, 28 Oct 1801 - 17 Jan 1846
Charles Bird King, 26 Sep 1785 - 18 Mar 1862
Sequoyah, c. 1770 - Aug 1843
Oil on canvas
Stretcher: 76.8 x 64.1 x 2.5cm (30 1/4 x 25 1/4 x 1")
Frame: 89.5 x 77.5 x 8.9cm (35 1/4 x 30 1/2 x 3 1/2")
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Restrictions & Rights
Born Cherokee town of Tuskegee, eastern Tennessee
Sequoyah, the son of a Cherokee woman and a fur trader from Virginia, was a warrior, a hunter, and a silversmith. For twelve years, he worked to devise a method of writing for the Cherokee language. His syllabary, which ultimately included eighty-six symbols representing each of the language’s syllables, was approved by the Cherokee chiefs in 1825. The straightforward system made possible a rapid spread of literacy throughout the Cherokee nation and the creation of written documents, including a constitution in 1827. The following year, the Cherokee Phoenix, a weekly bilingual newspaper, began publication in New Echota, Georgia.
This portrait of Sequoyah is based on a painting by Charles Bird King, who is best known for his portrayals of Native Americans. The original work, which was commissioned by Superintendent of Indian Affairs Thomas McKenney, was destroyed by the fire that swept through the Smithsonian Castle building in January 1865.
Geoffrey B. Churchill, Wilbraham, Mass.; purchased 1979 NPG