Sequoyah/Sequeyra Three-Quarters Jewish, One-Quarter Gypsy?


Sequoyah/Sequeyra Three-Quarters Jewish, One-Quarter Gypsy?

Stamp is based on a full-color portrait of Sequoyah, painted in 1965 by Charles Banks Wilson

The first issue in the Great Americans series, the Sequoyah stamp is based on a full-color portrait of Sequoyah, painted in 1965 by Charles Banks Wilson, that hangs in the Oklahoma state capital. It was issued in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, December 27, 1980.

We have said repeatedly that the famous personage known as Sequoyah was not Cherokee, despite being so claimed by the state of Oklahoma, U.S. government and three federal Cherokee Indian nations, among thousands of history books, biographies, encyclopedia articles and school texts.[1] He was known as the son of a white man when alive.[2]

According to Jonathan Rex, a Dragging Canoe descendant, “Anybody looking for evidence of Jews among the Cherokee need look no further than Sequoyah.” Rex preserves the family tradition that his name in English was George Gist because his father was Nathaniel Gist and grandfather was Christopher Gist, personal mentor to George Washington.[3]

Of course, there are those who do not want to believe that Sequoyah’s father was Nathaniel Gist, or that Sequoyah had any Jewish ancestry at all, but we will not argue with them here beyond to comment that not only is Christopher Gist (1705-1759) well documented as George Washington’s land agent, spy and military guide, but a relative, the Virginian Samuel Gist, was a prominent partner of the first U.S. president in the Dismal Swamp Company.

Samuel Gist helped start a shipping insurance company in London, owned the first stud racehorse to be brought to America and lived to be nearly a hundred years old. In letters of the day, an in-law specifically calls him “an old Jew.” The surname is Turkic and the variants in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ukraine, Poland, the Lowlands, Ragusa and the British Isles all go back to medieval Khazar nobles who embraced Judaism.[4]

Another Jew connected with George Washington was Dr. John de Sequeyra (1712-1795), who treated his stepdaughter Patsy’s epileptic seizures and became the first attending physician at the oldest insane asylum in the Colonies.  Thomas Jefferson credited John de Sequeyra with introducing the tomato as a food. Before, it was considered poisonous. According to Rex, Dr. Sequeyra was the father of Sequoyah’s mother, hence Sequoyah’s other grandfather. “Sequoyah’s mother was called Wuteh Sequoyah by Cherokee, but her name was Verde Sequeyra. They couldn’t pronounce the V and R of “Verde” so it became Wuteh the same way Charlie became Tsali (Chali).”

Rex continues: “Sequoyah is actually ‘Sequeyra’ because his mother Verde (Green in Spanish) was the daughter of Dr. John Sequeyra.”

Since Sequoyah’s Gist grandfather married a Jewess (Mary Howard), that made him three-quarters Jewish.

What about the remaining grandparent, the mother of Verde (Wuteh)? Although Verde is often accorded Paint Clan or Hawk Band status, Rex believes the strict maternal line was Rom, Gypsy or Gitanos (from the word for Egyptian). Possibly, his mother was also Jewish. Others have regarded her as a Mustee (half black, half Indian). Verde is more common as a surname than a first name and there are many records of marriages between the Spanish/Portuguese de Sequeyra (Siqueiro etc.) and Verde families.

Dr. John de Sequeyra came from an illustrious line of Sephardic Jewish physicians, one that has been traced back at least to the fourteenth century in Spain. He was born in Lisbon in 1710. His grandee Portuguese family had previously lived in Rio de Janeiro, where his father had been arrested by the Inquisition and deported to Lisbon. Francisco Machado de Sequeira escaped to London in the early 1730s. There, the father was circumcised and took a Jewish name, Abraham de Sequeira Machado, becoming a founding member of Bevis Marks Synagogue.[5]

Sequoyah’s grandfather was a literate man and it’s hard to imagine his learned proclivities and business talents did not pass to his daughter, who became a factor (manager) at a South Carolina trading post. He served as one of the principal physicians in colonial Williamsburg and at one time constituted the town’s only Jewish resident. He received his medical training at the University of Leiden, where he probably studied under the famous Dutch botanist and physician Hermann Boerhaave. He was the first physician to write on the diseases of Virginia, including outbreaks of smallpox.[6]

If the genealogy of Sequoyah sketched here is true (and we believe it is), Sequoyah’s surname, as we would say, was Sequeyra, after his grandfather. His mother’s surname was a Brazilian-style double name combining her mother’s paternal line and father’s paternal line, Verde Sequeyra. Thus, as far as we know, Sequoyah, or Sequeyra, is the only person of Jewish descent besides Barry Goldwater to be honored in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

 

[1] See Richard Thornton and Donald N. Yates, “Debunking the Myth of Sequoyah: Responses to a Recent Article,” Pre-Columbiana: A Journal of Long-Distance Contacts 7/1-4 & 8/1 (2018-2021):  42-50. The article critiqued was Jan F. Simek et al. , “The Red Bird River Shelter (15CY52) Revisited: The Archaeology of the Cherokee Syllabary and of Sequoyah in Kentucky,” American Antiquity 84/2:302-16. The numerous conflicting biographical accounts (except the contributions of Thornton and Yates) are covered in a Wikipedia article. Was Sequoyah perhaps Creek more than Cherokee? In 1821, when he demonstrated to his neighbor George Lowrey the usefulness of his syllabary by having his six year-old daughter read the characters aloud, Lowry exclaimed at first, “It sounds like the Creek language.” An existing Creek syllabary (depicted in Thornton and Yates, p. 47) could have served as Sequoyah’s model. The Payne-Butrick Papers, Volumes 1, 2, 3, ed. and annotated by William L. Anderson, Jane L. Brown and Anne F. Rogers (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2010), pp. 137-38.

[2] Anderson et al., pp. 132-39.

[3] Personal communication, May 29, 2022.

[4] See Judith K. Jarvis et al., Book of Jewish and Crypto-Jewish Surnames (Longmont: Panther’s Lodge, 2018), pp. 108f. Elizabeth Caldwell Hirschman and Donald N. Yates, Jews and Muslims in British Colonial America: A Genealogical History (Jefferson: McFarland, 2012), pp. 137-39. Jean Muir Dorsey and Maxwell Jay Dorsey, Christopher Gist of Maryland and Some of His Descendants, 1679-1957 (Chicago: Swift). Norman Golb and Omeljan Pritsak, Khazarian Hebrew Documents of the Tenth Century (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1982). See also Charles Royster, The Fabulous History of the Dismal Swamp Company (New York:  Knopf, 1999).

[5] “John de Sequeyra” article in Wikipedia.

[6] Loeb Jewish Portraits, “John de Sequeyra.”

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  Comments: 5


  1. If his Grandmother was Jewish then his father would have been 1/2 making Sequoya 1/4 not 3/4.
    Also, this is the 1st time I have heard of an earlier Creek Sylabry. Who invented it?
    I didn’t already say this because I have just joined & read that.


    • His grandfathers, Christopher Gist and John de Sequeira were both Jewish. One grandmother, Christopher Gist’s wife, Mary Howard, was Jewish. We don’t know about the other grandmother.


    • Hello,

      I think where people become puzzled with some of these articles is when the term ‘Jewish’ is used. At what point can anyone prove the percentage of a specific denomination, unless it’s been documented from the very beginning? How do we prove 75% Jewish? Unless every single person in a person’s pedigree is documented as practicing Judaism, we can’t assume anyone is one denomination or another. Yes, a person’s ancestors may have lived in a highly populated area where there was a strong or isolated group of practicing Jews, but it’s not a 100% guarantee their ancestors were Jewish unless it is documented because being Jewish is not a race. Judaism is ethnic – not racial.

      It’s not to mean that ‘Jewish’ is irrelevant but my goodness, there was a lot of admixing back in the day just as there is today. “Rex believes the strict maternal line was Rom, Gypsy or Gitanos (from the word for Egyptian)”, so if we simplify this, your article is indicating Chief Sequoyah was of Latin and Eastern European lineage. It’s certainly possible that Jewish customs were appealing to Indigenous Native Americans and so they mixed and adopted some things.
      My 7th great Grandfather was adopted by Chief Catfish and therefore would have been considered Shawnee, by adoption, and had the oral and written records not been kept straight, his descendants would be claiming Shawnee heritage by blood. I won’t go into the lengthy details of his own ancestors practicing Judaism, but they did. Had he accepted the adoption he would have been a Shawnee with European ancestors who practiced Judaism and Christian descendants down the line,.. But thankfully the records were kept straight so there was no confusion or speculation by his descendants.

      It could very well be that Sequoyah was adopted and appointed as chief due to his skills and qualities. There’s always that word ‘adoption’, but at the conclusion of it all, it doesn’t matter if he or his ancestors were Jewish, Christian, or of any denomination as he was appointed as a chief and done so for a reason of which none of us will know as we were not there. I understand this would not fit the traditional matrilineal custom, but it’s totally possible.

      Let’s not forget Kennewick Man and Aznik-1 as reference points for Native Americans – Did either belong to a specific tribe? Are their descendants specific to any one tribe? At what point did their descendants develop into tribes, and what specifically separates them genetically where they are designated and distinguished as Cherokee, Sioux, Creek, or any tribe for that matter? Migration, location, and survival created the distinguishing factors as is the case for all of mankind.


  2. I’m not sure but is there a thread where folks can discuss rankings? I am just curious about my results. – shalom


    • Yes, you can share and discuss rankings on our free companion site, DNA Communities: http://dnacommunities.com/. There are several different forums, including Melungeon, World and Cherokee. You can be notified of activity in threads of interest or just drop in and out.

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