Sequoyah, or Se-quo-ya as written today, was also known as George Guess or Gist, the first of three generations with the George name. While GIST is the original spelling of the name, later generations most often used GUESS as the spelling. He had at least 5 wives/partners, as poligamy was a common practice for Cherokees of that era. He was called "Pigfoot" due to lameness, possibly from a birth defect, or from a later injury. Although he was possibly lame, he was also a Cherokee warrior, fighting at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1813. He is best known for developing a syllabary for the Cherokee language, making reading and writing in Cherokee possible.
Sequoyah George Gist was the son of Werteh Watts and Nathaniel Gist, a commissioned officer in the Continental army. Estimates of his birth year range from 1760 to 1776. His place of birth is given as either Tuskeegee, Tennessee or Great Tellico, Tennessee. His mother, a member of the Red Paint Clan Cherokee, was the daughter of Oousta White Owl Carpenter and John Watts. His father was the son of Christopher Gist..
At some point before 1809, Sequoyah moved to Willstown, in present-day northeast Alabama. There he established his trade as a silversmith. As a silversmith, Sequoyah dealt regularly with whites who had settled in the area. The Cherokee were impressed by their writing, referring to their correspondence as "talking leaves."
Cherokee oral tradition suggests that Sequoyah first became fascinated with the ability of whites to communicate by making marks on paper while recuperating from a hunting accident in 1809. During this period of contemplation and study, he became convinced that these "talking leaves," as they were called by many Native Americans, were the key to the power of whites and must become a critical component in the future progress and success of the Cherokees.
About this time, Sequoyah began work to create a system of writing for the Cherokee language. At first he sought to create a character for each word in the language. He spent a year on this effort, leaving his fields unplanted, so that his friends and neighbors thought he had lost his mind. His wife is said to have burned his initial work, believing it to be witchcraft.
Sequoyah did not succeed until he gave up trying to represent entire words and developed a symbol for each syllable in the language. After approximately a month, he had a system of 86 characters, some of which were Roman letters which he obtained from a spelling book. Unable to find adults willing to learn the syllabary, he taught it to his daughter, Ayokeh (also spelled Ayoka).
He traveled to the Indian Reserves in the Arkansaw Territory where some Cherokee had settled. When he tried to convince the local leaders of the syllabary's usefulness, they doubted him, believing that the symbols were merely ad hoc reminders. Sequoyah asked each to say a word, which he wrote down, and then called his daughter in to read the words back. This demonstration convinced the leaders to let him teach the syllabary to a few more people. This took several months, during which it was rumored that he might be using the students for sorcery. After completing the lessons, Sequoyah wrote a dictated letter to each student, and read a dictated response. This test convinced the western Cherokee that he had created a practical writing system.
When Sequoyah returned east, he brought a sealed envelope containing a written speech from one of the Arkansas Cherokee leaders. By reading this speech, he convinced the eastern Cherokee also to learn the system, after which it spread rapidly. In 1825 the Cherokee Nation officially adopted the writing system.
While this brilliant linguistic achievement was rapidly recognized throughout the western world, Samuel Austin Worcester (1798-1859), a missionary to the Cherokees from the Congregational Church, was instrumental in making the new Cherokee syllabary suitable for printing. Serving from 1825 to 1826 in the Brainerd Mission in Tennessee, Worcester was convinced that the use of native languages was a significant way to propagate the gospel. At his urging, a hand printing press and Cherokee syllabary characters in type were prepared in 1827 by the Missionary Board and shipped from Boston to Cherokee leaders in New Echota, Georgia. On February 21, 1828, the inaugural issue of the first Native American newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, was printed in parallel columns in Cherokee and English. Using Sequoyah's syllabary, the Cherokee Nation and missionaries published newspapers, almanacs, government documents, religious tracts, hymn books, and the Christian Bible in this new written language. By 1843, the year of Sequoyah's death, more than four million pages of books, articles, and newspapers had been published in Cherokee..
After the Nation accepted his syllabary in 1825, Sequoyah walked to the Cherokee lands in the Arkansas Territory. There he set up a blacksmith shop and a salt works. He continued to teach the syllabary to anyone who wished to learn. In 1828, Sequoyah journeyed to Washington, D.C. as part of a delegation to negotiate a treaty for land in the planned Indian Territory. During his trip, he met representatives of other Native American tribes. Inspired by these meetings, he decided to create a syllabary for universal use among Native American tribes.
Sequoyah began to journey into areas of present-day Arizona and New Mexico, to meet with tribes there. He was in Oklahoma in 1829. The cabin where he lived has been preserved as a national monument. Sequoyah set off on a journey to Mexico, accompanied by his son Ti-Si or Teesey Gist, Standing Man Bowles, Martin Utana Tail Benge, Chief Bench Benge and other Cherokee, to locate Shawnee-Cherokee tribes living there. He died in August, 1843, near the village of San Fernando, believed to be near the border of Texas and Mexico.
Polygamy was a common practice among the Cherokee of this time. Sequoyah married several times and may have had liaisons with other women at the same time. having children with them all. In addition, his wives had relationships or marriages with other men, giving his own children many half-siblings. When determining the parenthood of Cherokee of this era, it is important to know both the father and the mother. To the best that I can sort out the relationships, I have listed Sequoyah's wives/partners and children below.
Sequoyah first married TSI-YO-SA about 1790. She was born about 1770. Their children were
- TI-SI Gist, b. Abt. 1790; d. September 17, 1867.
- George Gist, Jr. b. Abt. 1795.
- Polly Gist, b. Abt. 1800.
He next married Lucy Campbell Abt. 1802, daughter of unk. Campbell and Elizabeth Watts. She was born about 1782, and died between 1818 - 1838. Their child was:
- Richard Gist, b. Abt. 1802; d. Abt. 1837; m. Eliza Lee, Bef. 1837; b. 1809; d. Aft. 1837. He is listed In the 1836 Valuations of Cherokee Co, AL, #20. Eliza Lee was the sister of Edward Lee and the heir of Thomas Rising Fawn Lee. She appears in the Register of Payments for 1837.
Sequoyah married A-GA-DI-YA about 1820. She was the daughter of TSO-I-YU-KA. She was born about 1800, and died after 1851, when she appears on the Drennan roll: Skin Bayou, as a full-blood Cherokee. The children of Sequoyah and A-GA-DI-YA:
- Rachel A-YU-QUI Guess, b. Abt. 1822; d. Bef. 1895. Also spelled Ayokeh or Ayoka, this is the daughter who was his first pupil in learning the syllabary.
- Andrew Guess, b. Abt. 1824. He appears on the 1851 Old Settler roll: Skin Bayou, 8 (1896 page 145)
Sequoyah married Sallie Waters before 1832, daughter of unk. Waters and Daughter Wolf. She was born about 1790, and died Abt. 1862. Sallie appears in the following records:
- 1842 Claims: Tahlequah, pg 147, estate of Woyeh-hutileh, as Sallie Guess "wife of George Guess"
- 1851 Old Settler roll: Skin Bayou, 7 as Sarah Guess (1896 pg 145), Clan: Ani'-Tsi'skwa = Bird Clan (Sallie Waters)
- RG15, BLW Files: May 08, 1860, BLW# # 92949 [widow of George Guess; witnesses: John Ross, John Drew & Archibald Campbell]
- Starr's Notes: D573; Sallie of the Bird Clan
The children of Sequoyah and Sallie Waters:
- Joseph Guess, b. 1832. Clan: Ani'-Tsi'skwa = Bird Clan (Sallie Waters)
- Lucinda Guess. b. Abt. 1833; d. Bef. 1895; 1851 Old Settler roll: Skin Bayou, 7 (1896 page 145); Clan: Ani'-Tsi'skwa = Bird Clan (Sallie Waters)
- Susie Guess, b. Abt. 1835; d. Bef. 1895. 1851 Old Settler roll: Skin Bayou, 7 (1896 page 145); Clan: Ani'-Tsi'skwa = Bird Clan (Sallie Waters)
- Child Guess, b. Abt. 1837.; Clan: Ani'-Tsi'skwa = Bird Clan (Sallie Waters) and believed to be a child of Sequoyah.
- Child Guess, b. 1838. Clan: Ani'-Tsi'skwa = Bird Clan (Sallie Waters) and believed to be a child of Sequoyah
Many researchers believe that there was an additional wife or partner at the same time as A-GA-DI-YA or between A-GA-DI-YA and Sallie Waters. She could have been the mother of these children.
- U-LU-TSA Guess, b. Abt. 1826. Blood: 3/4 Cherokee
- Patsy Guess, b. Abt. 1828, CNE; d. Abt. 1867.
- Nerchatelaquah Nancy Guess (1827-1879), married Westley Dennis
- Peter Guess (1828-1890), married Rachel Cunningham
Links to additional material:
This book gives a list of Sequoyah's extended family -- siblings, half-siblings, step-siblings, children, etc.
- http://pdfhost.focus.nps.gov/docs/NHLS/Photos/66000634.pdf -- photos of Sequoyah's home in Oklahoma.
Sequoyah (George Gist)'s Timeline
Tuskeegee, Monroe, Tennessee
September 14, 1816
Turkeytown, Alabama, United States
May 30, 1818