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Each week on the Junior Curators blog, we travel back in time to a different place in Tennessee history. Stories may be about a famous person, place or event from Tennessee’s past. They will include things like priceless artifacts, pictures, videos, and even some games. Be sure to better understand the story by answering the questions at the end of each post.
After learning the story, be sure to share what you've learned with your parents, family, or friends. Try making your own exhibit about it, shooting a movie, or writing a story about it. Let your creativity run wild!
By Emilee Dehmer
East Tennessee: Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, Vonore
There are so many cool and exciting places in Tennessee. So many, that you might not know about them all. That’s what Go See Tennessee is all about. We’re here to tell you about places we think are neat and that you might want to visit too. It might be helpful to make a “Go and See” list, and whenever you read about a place that sounds cool, write it down, to help you remember it for the future. Ready for this week’s place? Let’s go!
Sequoyah. This name may sound familiar to you because you probably learned about him in school. If you didn’t, that’s okay too! Either way, you can learn more about Sequoyah and the enduring gift he gave the Cherokee at his birthplace museum. He’s such an important figure in history, which is why you need to go and see.
Sequoyah was born in 1776 to a Virginian fur trader and Wut-teh, the daughter of a Cherokee Chief. He saw people reading and writing in English growing up, but never learned himself. When he fought in the War of 1812, he realized that he and his fellow Cherokee could not write home or write in journals like the other soldiers. This was because there was no alphabet for the Cherokee language. It was a spoken, or oral language.
Sequoyah spent the next twelve years working on creating a syllabary for the Cherokee. A syllabary is like an alphabet. It was very easy to learn and was soon after adopted by the Cherokee Nation as their official written language. In just five years, thousands of Cherokees could read and write.
Tennessee State Museum Collection - This is a painting depicting Sequoyah in 1821, just after completing the syllabary.
The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum dives much deeper into the story of who Sequoyah was and how he created his syllabary. Step back in time as you follow his quest to solve the mystery of the “talking leaves.” Learn about tribal suspicion, family rebellion, and the isolation he experienced during this time. Follow his eventual triumph in helping the Cherokee be able to read and write. The grounds also feature an 1800’s dog-trot log cabin and an operational blacksmith shop!
After you have learned more about Sequoyah and his life, you can walk the shores of Tellico Lake that the museum is located on. There is over a mile of walking trails that you can follow. There are even bridges and boardwalks over the marshy areas. Also located at the Museum is the Cherokee Memorial. It is the common burial site of Cherokee remains that were recovered at former 18th century Cherokee towns before the Tellico Reservoir was filled.
Tennessee State Museum Collection - This is the Cherokee Phoenix Newspaper. It used English and the Cherokee syllabary to print articles.
Have you ever wondered where the name Tennessee came from? Well, right down the road from the Museum you can visit the Tanasi Memorial. This is the site of a former Cherokee Village that may have served as inspiration for the name Tennessee. It is important to note though that historians still debate where exactly the name comes from and what it might mean. Just down the road from the Tanasi Memorial is the Chota Memorial. This marks the site of the original council house at the Chota Town site.
As you can see there is so much to “go and see” when you travel to the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum. Not only will you get to explore the history of Sequoyah and how he created the Cherokee syllabary, but you can also take a walk along Tellico Lake, and visit other important Cherokee sites too. The Museum is owned and operated by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. This makes it Tennessee’s only tribally operated historical attraction.
To read more about Sequoyah and his syllabary, check out our other blog here.
Here is a link to a video on the Cherokee Fall Festival that happens at the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum.
Cherokee Fall Festival Final 9202018 on Vimeo
Emilee Dehmer is and Educator at the Tennessee State Museum.