The Cherokee Phoenix

A Virtual Exploration of the Cherokee Nation

Cherokee Syllabary (2019) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

The Cherokee linguist Sequoyah is credited with developing a system for writing the Cherokee language, an accomplishment that had previously eluded more educated missionaries.

This system is called a syllabary because it uses symbols that represent syllables rather than letters.

Translation of the Cherokee Langauge (2019) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Although some of the symbols in Sequoyah's syllabary resemble letters in the English alphabet, they often do not share the same sounds.

For example, the English word "water" appears in this image at the middle of the bottom row. The Cherokee translation above seems to begin with the English letter "D." However, that symbol is actually pronounced like "ah."

Sequoyah Portrait by George Lehman; Peter S. Duval; Henry InmanGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Genius or Myth?

Sequoyah, also known as George Guess or Gist, was born around 1770 in Tennessee. He was the son of a Cherokee mother and a white father who was likely an officer in the Continental army. Sequoyah is best known for developing the Cherokee syllabary, a system of more than eighty symbols used for writing the Cherokee language. Sources claim Sequoyah is the only member of an illiterate group to single-handedly create a writing system. However, this narrative is contradicted by the 1971 book Tell Them They Lie, which argues that Sequoyah never existed and that a written Cherokee language predates contact with white settlers.  

Elias BoudinotGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Elias Boudinot is best known as the editor of the Cherokee Phoenix bilingual newspaper. Born in northwest Georgia around 1804, Boudinot was the eldest of nine children born to Cherokee parents. He was formally educated in missionary schools, including a Foreign Mission school in Connecticut.

Boudinot was especially gifted at raising funds for the development of the Cherokee Nation and was so successful that by the 1820s, the Cherokees were able to purchase a printing press for their newspaper.

An Address to the Whites (1826) by Elias BoudinotGeorgia Public Broadcasting

In May 1826, while touring the country to raise funds for a Cherokee printing office, Elias Boudinot addressed an audience at the First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

Boudinot highlighted "progress" made by the Cherokee Nation and emphasized the similarities between the Cherokees and the mainly white audience.

Touring the New Echota Print Shop (2016) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Outside the Cherokee Print Shop | New Echota VIRTUAL REALITYGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Cherokee Phoenix Print Shop Interior (2019)Georgia Public Broadcasting

The print shop at New Echota was the home of the Cherokee Phoenix, the first newspaper published by Native Americans in the United States, and the first newspaper to be printed in the Cherokee language.

Cherokee Phoenix DeskGeorgia Public Broadcasting

The Cherokee Phoenix was initially written in English then translated into Cherokee using the syllabary developed by Sequoyah.

Printed between 1828 and 1834, the paper featured news from the Cherokee Nation and the wider world as well as official documents, advertisements, and editorials about such topics as religion and temperance.

Inside the Cherokee Print Shop | New Echota VIRTUAL REALITYGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Cherokee Phoenix Printing Blocks (2019) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Converting script to print is a challenging process. Recent evidence suggests that the Cherokee National Council, along with support from Sequoyah, developed the actual print type used in the Cherokee Phoenix and only asked Samuel Worcester for help with ordering materials.

Cherokee Phoenix Printing Press (2019) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

The ability of the Cherokees to publish their own newspaper was touted as a mark of sophistication and progress in the "arts of civilized life."

However, the paper updated its name in 1829 to the Cherokee Phoenix and Indians' Advocate as focus shifted toward the forced removal of the Cherokee people from their homeland.

Cherokee Phoenix Printing Press (2019) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

In addition to the Cherokee Phoenix, publishers also printed Cherokee translations of the book Poor Sarah and the New Testament of the Bible.

Credits: Story

Amherst College Special Collections

Georgia Historical Society

New Echota Historic Site

New Georgia Encyclopedia

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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