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Travel Back in Time with the Cherokee Literacy Bicentennial

The Cherokee Fall Festival at the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum will take visitors back in time.


Tennessee’s only tribally owned museum will host its 30th annual Cherokee Fall Festival on September 11th & 12th, from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. each day.

Visitors will have the opportunity to step back in time to experience Native American food, Cherokee arts and crafts demonstrations, music and dance. In the museum, they will be demonstrating their 1800’s Acorn Printing Press, printing their special bicentennial Cherokee Syllabary. A blacksmith will be doing on-site demonstrations in the shop both days. Other demonstrations and displays will include Cherokee life in 1700’s and a Civil War encampment. There will be a Civil War battle re-enactment at 2:00 p.m.

This year’s theme will be Celebrating 200 years of Cherokee Literacy. Visitors will be able to meet and talk with Cherokees from the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina. Special entertainment will be provided by the Warrior Dancers of Ani-Kituhwa, who are the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians official ambassadors. Check out their reconstructed 1800’s dog-trot log cabin. Meet and chat with Miss Cherokee and have your name written in Cherokee. Also there will be Cherokee cooking demonstrations and Civil War gun display.

Other activities include posters from Cherokee Elementary school. Darts, beads, talking sticks, face painting and free Cherokee name cards will be available for children. They will also host a children’s blowgun competition and an adult blowgun competition on both days. Traditional Indian Fry bread, Indian tacos, and other food and drinks will be sold.

This event is funded in part by Tennessee Arts Commission Rural Arts Program Grant and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.

Tickets: adults are $10.00, children 13-18 years old are $5.00 and children 12 and under are free. A family rate for $25.00 is also available. For more information about the Festival, contact the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum at (423) 884-6246.

Did you know?!

2021 is the bicentennial of Sequoyah finishing the syllabary in 1821. Sequoyah had announced in 1809 in his blacksmith shop that the Cherokee could create a writing system to put their Cherokee words on paper. He spent 12 years of his life trying to create a writing system. We know he tried different types of writing systems, but these different systems would not work for him.


When Sequoyah discovered the sounds of the Cherokee language, he then realized that he could take each of the syllables and give it a symbol. He then could sound out the Cherokee word and using his symbols, and he could write any Cherokee word. The Cherokee speaker could spend some time learning the symbols and then could sound out and read or sound out and write their Cherokee words on paper.

February 21, 1828 was the first issue of the Cherokee Phoenix, 193 years ago.

The Cherokee press and type were shipped by water from Boston in November, 1827. They arrived at Augusta, Georgia, via Savannah, and finally reached the New Echota in January 1828 after an overland trip by wagon.

The Press, a small royal size, was like none I ever saw before or since. It was cast iron, with spiral springs to hold up the plates, at that time a new invention. We had to use balls of deerskin stuffed with wool for inking, as it was before the invention of the composition roller. . . John Candy, a native half-breed . . . could speak the Cherokee language, and was of great help to me in giving me the words where they were not plainly written.
The absence of newsprint caused a delay in the publication of Volume I, No. 1, of Tsalagi-tsi-le-hi-sani-hi, the Cherokee Phoenix. A supply finally was obtained from Tennessee and, on February 21, 1828, there appeared the inaugural issue of the father of America's aboriginal newspapers. It was a journal of four five-columned pages measuring 21 by 14 inches. The vignette included a representation of the fabulous phoenix, the Egyptian bird which lived for 500 years, was consumed by a cleansing fire, and arose from its own ashes in all its youthful freshness. That first issue announced the weekly Phoenix could be procured for $2.50 a year paid in advance, or $3.50 paid at the end of the year. Rates were reduced to $2 and $2.50 for non-English readers.

This was a description of the press by John Wheeler, the first printer. This is from an email Duane King, Ph.D. sent Lyn Henley, the museum exhibit designer, during the design phase.

It mentions "The absence of newsprint caused a delay..." due to the Press weighing so much and the newsprint was left behind. Then it mentions, "A supply finally was obtained from Tennessee...." Does anybody in Knoxville want to guess? The paper was obtained at Papermill, near present day McKay's right off of Papermill Drive.

With the guidance and expertise of Brian Baker, owner of Striped Light, the museum finally got started organizing their syllabary type.

This year Sequoyah Birthplace Museum will be celebrating Sequoyah's achievements throughout the years. Plan to visit Sequoyah Birthplace Museum and celebrate 200 years of Cherokee literacy with Sequoyah's creation of the syllabary in 1821. Keep checking their website and Facebook page for events.



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