Who was Sequoyah’s Father?
There Is a great deal written about just who was Sequoyah’s father. The two best known say his father was i.] A German Peddler named George Gist and ii.] Nathaniel Gist, son of Christopher Gist, a man that accompanied George Washington in the French and Indian War. I hope to cover both of these possibilities, then discuss a possible third candidate for his father; iii.] another Nathaniel Gist (jr.), son of Nathaniel Gist Sr., with Nathaniel Sr being a brother to Christopher.
i. George Gist, Son of German Immigrants
The first theory as to who Sequoyah’s father was, that became widely known, was found in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine (Phillips), dated September, 1870, p 542-548.
It says that in 1768, a German peddler named George Gist left the village of Ebenezer on the lower Savannah, crossed the mountains in Northern Georgia, and made his was to the Cherokee Nation.
Foster seems to take this account and embellish it in “ Sequoyah, The American Cadmus and Modern Moses: A Complete Biography of the Greatest of Redmen” (1885).
Foster speaks of a German/Salzberger/Moravian settlement in Georgia in the 1730’s that was founded at the same time Oglethorpe founded the colony of Georgia. He claims there was a Gist family in the settlement of Ebinezer. He says the family came from Swabia/Francona in Bavaria near the Austrian border. Foster says this family had a son they named George Gist. And a footnote says “by some authorities, GisB." There is a letter that looks something like an uppercase “B” in the German alphabet that is pronounced like a long “s”, or the s-s-s-s sound lasting maybe a full second. Throughout the book, Foster calls these Gist’s “Dutch”. Neither Phippips nor Foster ever give a name to Sequoyah’s mother, only that she was of a prominent Cherokee family. Foster says she is mostly Indian, but has a little White blood.
Unfortunately, these “Gist’s” leave no trace at all. There is no record of a George Gist, or his parents or children. There is no record of a Gist family emigrating to Georgia when it was founded, and they disappear, totally from all records. Where did Phillips and Foster find them? We do not know.
ii. Nathaniel Gist, son of Christopher Gist
Grant Foreman, in "Sequoyah" was a major voice in the theory that Sequoyah’s father was Nathaniel Gist, son of Christopher Gist. He speaks of one man, Jeremiah Evarts, who had met Sequoyah in Washington. He said many things, one being that (page 28) Sequoyah was about 50 years old. Sequoyah was in Washington in 1828, meaning from this description, Sequoyah would have been born about 1778. (page 36) Foeman mentions Captain John Stuart of the Seventh Infantry. Foreman says Stuart wrote a small book in the winder of 1837-1838 entitled “A Sketch of the Cherokee and Choctaw Indians”. In it he said Sequoyah was about 60 years of age. This account agrees with the first account, making Sequoyah’s birth about 1778. Quoting Stuart, Foreman says; “His connection in blood with the Whites, is in the side of his father. His mother was full-blood Cherokee . . .” (page 40) Foreman next mentions a merchant from Philadelphia named John Alexander. While on the military road between Fort Gibson and Fort Smith in 1940, he met with Sequoyah. Mr. Alexander wrote “he is apparently above 60 years of age.” He also wrote that Sequoyah had had five wives, of which ten were alive and ten dead. General Ethan Allen Hitchcock (pages 44-45) had spoken to Chief John Ross. He said “Mr. Ross told me last night that he is of mixed-blood. That General Taylor of Cincinnati had told him in Washington City some years ago that a Virginian, a Mr. Gist, had been sent among the Cherokee on some mission where he remained for some time and expressed his belief that the Cherokee Guess was the son of Mr. Gist . . .Mr. Ross seemed to have no doubt of this.” Both Ross and Hitchcock spent much of the Civil War in Washington D.C., and probably met there at that time.
On page 76 Foreman concludes “the father of Sequoyah could not have been the German clod whose existence is not established, but must have been Nathaniel Gist, progenitor of many other distinguished Americans”. Foreman also makes the same argument that I have made, that he was probably born neared the mid-1770s that 1760 as some have said. Why would a 53 year old man sign up for the Creek War? It is easier to believe a man in his mid to late 30s enlisted.
When speaking of Major Gist Blair (page 77), who was the son of Lincoln’s Postmaster General, and was the owner of the Blair House on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D. C. Foreman continued “He cherishes many authentic family traditions of kinship to Sequoyah, with which he has generously aided the author. So Foreman had met with these Gist’s personally.
Lastly, Foreman says; “In the Bureau of American Ethnology in Washington is a letter written by John Mason Brown of the Louisville bar, a descendant of Nathaniel Gist, who stated that Sequoyah had visited the Gist descendants in Kentucky, probably on his way too or from Washington in 1828; on this occasion he was looking up his white kin.”
So the primary evidence that Nathaniel Gist, son of Christopher, was Sequoyah’s father, comes from two sources. First, a General Taylor told John Ross that a Nathaniel Gist had lived with the Cherokee, and suspected that he was Sequoyah’s father. The second source being from John Mason Brown’s letter stating Sequoyah had come to his family’s home searching for his White kin. John Mason Brown was a descendant of Nathaniel Gist, son of Christopher. Major Blair, also a descendent of Nathaniel Gist, son of Christopher, cooberated Brown’s story, however both come from the same family stories, and thus from the same original sources, and are therefore not independent from one another.
Also in “The Cherokees” Grace Steele Woodward states that Sequoyah was not recognized by the blue-blooded Gist’s of Virginia until after he had won the acclaim of the world.” And it appears that Brown is implying that Sequoyah thought that his father was named Nathaniel Gist.
There was another Nathaniel Gist who lived the same time the “famous” Nathaniel lived, and they were first cousins of one another. Let us learn a little bit about this other Nathaniel. If Sequoyah had heard his father was named Nathaniel Gist, perhaps he descended from the other one.
iii. Nathaniel Gist, Son of Nathaniel Gist, Senior
Jean Muir and Maxwell Jay Dorsey researched and wrote “Chritopher Gist of Maryland and Some of His Descendants, 1679-1957.” It is the most thorough book on these Gist’s ever written. Everyone who researches this family of Gist’s, starts with this book, and branches out from it.
Nathaniel Gist, b. 1707, d. after 1787, had several children, one of whom was also named Nathaniel, b. 1736. Nathaniel b. 1707 had a brother Christopher who had a son also named Nathaniel, who was speculated above as being the father of Sequoyah. But let us look at Nathaniel, b. 1736, son of Nathaniel b. 1707. What do the Dorsey’s say of him? The Dorsey’s say of Nathaniel (b. 1707) and his descendants (page 55):
“. . .The births of two of his children were recorded in St. Paul’s Church Register, Baltimore, Maryland. The bnames of other children have been found on various records in Virginia and North Carolina . . .”
In 1731, he was given a gift of 284 acres of land by his father, Richard Gist. In Baltimore County, Maryland.. He was living in the same neighborhood as his 3 brothers, Thomas, Christopher, and William. Per the Dorsey’s, Nathaniel sold all his lands in Maryland and in 1752 is found in Halifax County, Virginia. It included all that is now Pittsylvania, Henry, Franklin and Patrick Counties. In 1754 he is in Rowan County, North Carolina serving as a Captain of Militia. Nathaniel is mentioned several times by the Moravians as living “beyond the Dan” or “from the Dan” River (per the Dorsey’s). In Jan 12, 1756 the Moravians wrote of him, “Capt. Guest, who is planning to move away from his present residence, came to see us and to say goodbye . . .” He is recorded back in Halifax County in March 1756. In March 1761 he purchased 2 lots in Bedford County, Virginia. The Dorsey’s account then casually mentions that some of his sons had already gone to Cumberland County, North Carolina.
Since we are interested in his son Nathaniel, b. 1736, let us se what became of him, per the Dorsey’s. They say he is first mentioned in Cumberland County, North Carolina in January 1759. In 1769 he purchased land from Robert Smith. Remember that name. Before the start of the Revolutionary War started however, he moved to Washington County, Virginia. An important footnote: when Nathaniel moved there, Washington County included Wise County. Early in 1786 much of what was northern Washington County was renamed Russell County. Wise County was created out of Russell County in the first half of 1856.
Some of our Gist’s are still found in Russell County into the first decade of the 19th century, after which the surname is no longer found in Russell County records.
There is a monument at the site of the Battle of Kings Mountain, during the Revolutionary War stating that Nathaniel Gist was killed there. The Dorsey’s say (page 61);
“Soon after they arrived” [Vance’s Note: meaning soon after Nathaniel Gist b. 1736 moved to Washington County, Virginia in the mid 1770s] "the Revolutionary War started, and he and his brothers Richard Gist and Thomas Gist enlisted in Colonel William Campbell’s regiment of Washington County, Virginia. It is thought that Nathaniel Gist was killed. The name of Nathaniel Gist appears on the monument of those killed during the encounter with the British forces at the Battle of Kings Mountain.”
There was a place called “Gist’s Station” in what is now Wise County, in southwestern Virginia. But in the past it was part of Washington County. The author of the article below didn’t know any Gist’s ever lived in the area – but ours did!
Guest Station and Guest Station's Camp
Of all the frontier stations along the Clinch this one presents the greatest enigma. The location is between Big and Little Tom’s Creek, on Guest River at the present site of Coeburn, Wise Co., VA.
Outside of deed references which mention this station frequently no other direct reference has been found pertaining to it, and no militia correspondence or pensions applications make mention of it. Charles B. Coale, in "Wilburn Waters" tells of the Indians going to this station in 1777, after their capture of Jane Whittaker and Polly Alley, and finding it well defended make no attack upon it. Coale gives no authority for this statement and search for it has proven fruitless. Who built the station and for what purpose is unknown. There are several opinions, but opinions unless backed by factual data should never become a part of written history. This writer does categorically deny that it has any relation with Christopher Gist as has been written, since Gist did not travel through the present bounds of Wise County.
Elder Morgan T. Lipps, who settled on Tom’s Creek in the spring of 1838, states in his diary: That the old settlers showed him some of the logs of the old fort and chimney rocks still lying upon the ground when he arrived there in 1838. Even if Christopher Gist did visit this spot in 1750, he could never, with the help of a small Negro boy, have built a structure whose remains would have lasted 88 years after his departure.
That some sort of fortification existed at Coeburn is unquestioned, since from the earliest times the place was called Guesses Station, and retained that name until the coming of the railroads when the name was changed.
Don Sticher, Gist researcher but not directly related to my branch of the Gist’s who claims NO Indian blood, found the following and forwarded it to me --
Early Times in Clinton County (Kentucky), Jack Ferguson, 1986, Page 8
Sometime in early 1775 Benjamin Price and a small company retraced the Maniker party’s path and established a camp in the “Great Meadows,” an open grassland near the present Mill Springs. Because in a few years after the opening of the nineteenth century there was considerable litigation involving land grants in that area, requiring the depositions of witnesses, quite a large amount of information involving land grants in this area has been preserved concerning Price’s settlement(15). One of those who gave their testimony was an erst-while companion of Price - Nathaniel Buchanan (16). He testified that sometime in 1775, he, Price and some others launched a canoe into the Cumberland above the mouth of “Meadow Creek” - later known as “Lick Branch” - and crossed the river to the south side. Because Price was in charge of the company of hunters the place was ever afterwards known as Price’s Landing. An old Indian trace led from the Landing to what later became known as the “Great Meadows” or “Price’s Meadows,” an open grassy glade or valley free of trees which extended in a northeasterly direction from where Price later established his camp. Initially the hunters camped in a large salt petre cave near the meadows. Buchanan testified that he marked out a new trace from the salt petre cave to Price’s Landing, which was a more direct route, intersecting the old trace some distance above the river cliff. He asserted that his party used the new trace from February until the following July. Apparently they then erected a log house near the meadows - Buchanan testified that he assisted in building “this cabin” - apparently, as far as the records indicate, the first settler’s dwelling erected in this part of the Cumberland valley. According to Buchanan, no one else was hunting in “these woods” at that time, but later Michael Stoner, a man name Green, and some others came to them at the “Great Meadow.”
Several miles upriver from Price’s camp a hunter named Gist, possibly Nathaniel, had a hunting camp called Gist’s Station Camp, in Pulaski County, on the southern side of the river nearly opposite the mouth of Pitman Creek. A trace led from Price’s Camp to Gist’s Station Camp, which was generally used by Buchanan’s companions - “It was our crossing place when we came to or returned from Price’s Meadows.”
John McClure testified that he and some others wanted to trap along the Cumberland in the fall of 1783. They were told that they could find Price’s landing by the noise made by the fall of the creek near its mouth. They followed Buchanan’s trace from the landing to the salt petre cave where they camped about seven or more months.
After a cabin was erected at Price’s Station, the camp was enlarged and a blockhouse built, in 1777 - “the year of the bloody sevens”- when all of Kentucky was aflame with Indian hostilities, only Price’s Station, Harrodsburg, and Fort Boonesboro survived.
The Dorsey's mention four of the children of Nathaniel II (b. 1736):
1. Nathaniel (found in 1791 on Holston River just to the south of the location of Guest’s Station/Coeburn.)
4. George (found near both Nathaniel III and Guest’s Station.)
For John and Aaron they say; “Thought to have gone to Tennessee”. Unfortunately,the Dorsey’s don’t say where, in Washington County, that Nathaniel Gist II lived, although they do give descriptions of the locations where George and Nathaniel III lived. So we have Nathaniel Gist II b. 1836, son of Nathaniel Gist I b. 1707, living near Gist’s Station known to have existed in 1777 and we have a “Gist’s Station’s Camp” in Wayne County, Kentucky in 1775. This is in Southern Kentucky next to the Tennessee border.
Next we need to find John and Aaron. They are difficult to find. I have only found one reference to them. It is found in “Land of the Lake”, by Dr. G. L. Ridenour. Unfortunately the book lists no sources. In the Preface his daughter, Crea Ridenhour says "Much detailed research and time went into the writing, and the information included in the book was painstaking historically correct. . . . much that he knew died with him." Crea Ridenhour, Nov. 11, 1991. Also an early tax list about 1800/1801 lists two Ridenours on the same list as John Gest, who is mentioned on pages 7 and 8 of the book. The book is a history of Campbell County, Tennessee. It says:
“In the summer of 1785 several parties of surveyors were running the metes and bounds of North Carolina land grants of the south side of Clinch River. At the same time the surveyors could not resist crossing the stream to select the choice locations for land grants with reference to Henderson and Company’s Great Survey. Thomas Hutchins, a brother-in-law and a Deputy Surveyor under Stockley Donelson during the fall and winter of 1785-86, surveyed tracts on both sides the river.
“Brooks and a number of woodsmen in company that year surveyed land “Including a Large Buffalo lick.” This party gave the name of Reed’s Creek to one of the streams. George Brooks, a brother of Castleton Brooks, a Long Hunter who settled in Hickory Cove and had been killed by the Indians in 1776 or 1777 at his cabin, and Andrew Reed were skilled woodsmen and famous hunters and were often directing parties of woodsmen for the protection of the surveyors.
“One 340 acre tract of land calls for a location on both sides Beaver dam Creek “including William Sharp’s improvement at Reed’s corner along a conditional line between William Sharp and John Brady on a cross fence down a small branch, thence along the fence twenty-nine poles striking the creek at a bent so up said creek to Miller’s line where John Guest (Gist) now lives.”
“This John Gist was the son of an Indian trader and a Cherokee woman. He was kinsman of Sikwayi, or Sequoya, whose English name was George Gist, the inventor of the Cherokee alphabet of syllables. Years later Aaron Guest of Kentucky acknowledge the receipt of his part of “the estate of my father Aaron Guest, Deceased, where Jason Cloud and John Guest (Gist) were executors.”
Here are our John and Aaron.
So we have a direct line from ANOTHER man named Nathaniel Gist, to Sequoyah. So Sequoyah’s father might not have abandoned his family as is so often stated. Maybe he died in 1780 at the Battle of Kings Mountain.
So we have three men who “might have been” Sequoyah’s father. One apparently leaves no offspring at all, the German peddler, George Gist. The second was a man named Nathaniel Gist. He was thought to have been Sequoyah’s father because their family said there was a family story that he came to them looking for his white family. Why would he have gone to the family of Nathaniel Gist unless he thought that was his father’s name?
This leads us to a third possible father, another man named Nathaniel Gist, and a first cousin to the other Nathaniel Gist. He apparently operated a hunting camp on the Tennessee/Kentucky border and a trading post/fort in Southwestern Virginia for a few years only, then died a few years afterwards.
Please know I am making no claims! I have no proof -- only evidence. I still need to review the records from the Bureau of American Ethnology, that document they are said to have written by John Mason Brown, a descendant of Nathaniel Gist, son of Christopher Gist. And there are probably other documents out there that would lend some light on this topic.
We have more evidence, but I don’t have enough time now. I’ll have to save that for next week end. I hope I'll have the time.