Lunch & Learn Series
Author Terry Foody to speak
at Oldham History Center luncheon
She plans to present a program
on the Cherokee Sequoyah
LA GRANGE, Ky. – To the Cherokee Nation, Sequoyah is looked up to as the person who brought reading and writing into their lives. His invention of the Cherokee syllabary preserved their history, culture and spiritual practices for future generations.
Sequoyah, whose white name was George Gist, was born in 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was signed. His home was a log cabin in the Cherokee village of Tuskeegee.
His father is believed to be Col. Nathaniel Gist (1733-1796), a trapper and trader who lived for a time among the Overhill Cherokees. Gist, who had a distinguished military career, formed a liaison of marriage with Wut-teh, a member of the Paint Clan. It is thought that Gist left before Sequoyah was born and later married and had a family with Judith Bell Cary.
Sequoyah was raised by his mother who had a dairy operation and a trading business. He suffered from a lower limb disability caused by either a hunting accident or a birth defect. Sequoyah’s mother died around 1800 and he continued her business.
Sequoyah was also a gifted blacksmith and silver maker. He was well-known for his work in silver, cutlery, coins, ornaments, spurs and bridle bits for the British, French and Cherokee. But all of these outstanding qualities could not compare for what he would do for the Cherokees by inventing a syllabary.
“Sequoyah, believing Cherokees equal to the whites, wanted a written language for communication and cultural preservation,” said author and speaker Terry Foody. “He never learned English, nor did he ever dress like white men.”
Foody will present a program about her latest book, “The Cherokee and the Newsman: Kinsmen in Words,” from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m.Thursday, Aug. 16. The program is part of the History Lunch & Learn Series presented by the Oldham County History Center and will take place in the Rob Morris Educational Building, 207 W. Jefferson St. in La Grange.
Foody has written not only about Sequoyah in this book but also about his half-nephew, Howard Gratz, who was editor of the Kentucky Gazette. Even though they were not close in age or lived in close proximity of each other, Foody felt compelled to write about both men due to their impact on literacy.
In 1828, as part of a Cherokee Delegation to Washington City, Sequoyah stopped in Kentucky to search for his father, Nathaniel Gist. It was there that he met his 4-year-old half-nephew, Gratz, for the first time.
Seven years earlier, in 1821, Sequoyah accomplished a feat unparalleled in linguistic history when he completed a yearlong effort to create a system that made writing and reading in the Cherokee language possible with his syllabary. Along the way, many thought he was crazy, including members of his family who did not understand or appreciate his foresight.
While researching her first book, “The Pie Seller, the Drunk and the Lady,” Foody made an interesting connection. James Burchfield of the University of Kentucky Special Collections “placed a portrait of Sequoyah (that is in the Gratz Collection) before me saying, ‘This is Maria’s brother.’ ” Maria Gist Gratz was a half-sister to Sequoyah and the mother of his nephew, Howard Gratz.
“I was intrigued by the connection. Although Sequoyah’s invention stands alone in its greatness, I saw a literacy parallel with Howard Gratz’s publication of the Kentucky Gazette. I tucked the idea away while I finished my first book,” said Foody.
She said it took her about three years of travel, research and interviews to complete “The Cherokee and the Newsman: Kinsmen in Words.” Foody relied on special collections, which contained dozens of letters, scrapbooks and notes, relating to the Gratz family found at the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University.
“Sequoyah and Howard had a few similarities that may be Gist characteristics,” Foody said. “Both were determined, staunch in their views, devoted to their mothers, from mixed parentage (Howards’ was religious) and followed their ideals.”
In addition to authoring two books, Foody is a certified clinical research coordinator. She is a registered nurse with a master's degree in nursing, having graduated from Niagara University in New York and the University of Kentucky.
Foody has worked in community health in New York State and Kentucky, taught nursing at Kentucky State University and coordinated research projects on new medicines for high blood pressure, cholesterol, osteoporosis, organ transplant and lung cancer at the University of Kentucky Medical Center. She currently has her own speaking and consulting business, incorporating information with inspiration for healthy living.
• For more information or to make reservations for Foody’s presentation, contact the Oldham County History Center at (502) 222-0826. The cost is $12 for society members or $15 for non-members. Light lunch is provided.
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