Location: Vonore, Tennessee
General Description: Sequoyah was born around 1776 at the village of Tuskeegee very near the location of the Museum. Since the Cherokee were a matriarchal society, which means they traced their lineage their the mother, Sequoyah was accepted as a Cherokee even though his father was a Virginia fur trader. After serving with Andrew Jackson to fight the British troops and Creek in the War of 1812, he was determined to create a written language for the Cherokee after seeing the advantages of writing letters during the war. He reduced the Cherokee sounds to a system of 85 symbols and in 1821 he demonstrated the written language to the Cherokee people and within a few months thousand of Cherokee were literate. By 1825 the Bible and many hymns had been translated into Cherokee. The museum includes printed examples of newspapers, textbooks, and even comic books printed in the Cherokee language. In addition, the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum includes exhibits tracing the history of the Cherokee people from pre-history to the Trail of Tears when most of the Cherokee were forced to move to Oklahoma. Outside the museum is a full size frame reproduction of a council house and a monument to Sequoyah.
1) The museum itself has an interesting layout. You can either look at the exhibits that trace the Cherokee history and Sequoyah’s life or you can borrow a detailed booklet from the front desk that provides a lot more detail about each of the exhibits. Even though I like to read and look at nearly everything in a museum, the booklet provided more information then I could take in and my sister, niece, and wife were ready to go long before I was ready to go.
2) The full size frame reproduction of a council house was an interesting find, especially since there was an expert on the grounds giving a short talk for the grade school children on a field trip from school. We had a chance to talk with him after the presentation and found out quite a bit more about the construction and uses made of the council house. Let it be known that it is a lot bigger than I would have thought since it held representatives of each of the 8 societies on tired seating around the central fire.
3) The most interesting information I learned about was the matriarchal structure of the society. Every member of the tribe belonged to both a society and a village, the society being more important. This created cohesion in the Cherokee nation since the geographical location of the villages was not as important as the leadership of each society. The different societies tended to focus on different aspects of daily life, whether it be hunting, medicine, or religious ceremonies. A young male would marry into his wife’s family and his wife would have to be from a different society. Often his wife would be from a different village as well but this was not required. This inter-marrying between the societies should lessen centralization of influence in the community. Consequently, the Cherokee Nation did not a primary village that would be considered their “Capitol”, making it difficult for the early Americans to conduct diplomatic negotiations such as treaties.