Realizing a key to development of the Cherokee Nation was a written language, Sequoyah began work on a graphic representation of the Cherokee language. The syllabary, officially listed as being completed in 1821,
took 12 years to create. Sequoyah came up with the idea of "Talking Leaves" when
he visited Chief Charles Hicks, who showed him how to write his name so he could
sign his work like American silversmiths had begun to do.
Initially, Sequoyah tried pictographs, but soon discovered that the number of symbols in the Cherokee language would be in the thousands. Then he began to create symbols for each syllable the Cherokees use. This was the essential step in creating the syllabary.
Sequoyah's written language was not the first example of the concept. A Japanese syllabary was developed from 5th century A. D. Chinese ideographic writing. The concept of an alphabet, which denotes sounds instead of syllables, originated in Phoenicia.
His work was interupted by the Creek War of 1813-1814, when he joined a Cherokee force under the leadership of The Ridge. After the war, Major Ridge would be called on as leader of the Lighthorse Patrol to punish to Sequoyah for trying to create the syllabary. The leaders of the tribe felt that this written language was the work of the devil, and to force him to stop they ordered Ridge to remove the tops of his fingers.
Although he lacked a formal education he spoke several languages fluently. Returning to the Lower Towns, he continued his work while he was caught up in the Creek Path Conspiracy. His syllabary originally contained 115 characters, but he reduced this number to 83 before its first publication. Later, three additional sounds were added bringing the number up to 86.
Disenchanted with the movement towards nationalism, Sequoyah left Georgia in 1821 and moved to Arkansas, arriving in 1822. He was living here when the syllabary was introduced to the Cherokee Nation. In a few short years one man had achieved a means of communication that had taken other civilizations thousands of years to accomplish.
Use of the language spread quickly through the Cherokee Nation. Anyone who could speak the Cherokee language could learn to read or write in two weeks. Thousands of Cherokee began to use Sequoyah's invention on a daily basis and the syllabary gave the nation the ability to create the first American Indian newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix
The name "Talking Leaves" was satirical of whites. The
Cherokee felt that white man's words dried up and blew away like leaves when
the words no longer suited the whites.
Cherokee in North Georgia
Cherokee history links
North Georgia History