Sequoyah, or Sequoia

Sequoyah, or Sequoia

(?1770–1843) Native American leader, inventor of Cherokee writing system; born in eastern Tennessee. He was born into a Cherokee family respected for its knowledge; he became a silversmith and trader. By 1821, after 12 years of work, he perfected his system of writing to record the Cherokee language; drawing on English, Greek, and Hebrew letters, he came up with 85 or 86 new characters. He traveled about teaching his syllabary to other Cherokee; within a few years it was used to print newspapers and books, including parts of the Bible, in Cherokee. He went to Washington, D.C., in 1828 to negotiate a treaty governing the exchange of the Cherokees' land in Arkansas for land in territory that became Oklahoma; he then worked to improve relations among the Indians forcibly relocated there. The giant trees and then a national park, in California, were named after him. Although Sequoyah was a name given him by Christian missionaries—his Cherokee name was Sogwali—he was usually known to his white contemporaries as George Guess, or Gist (because, it is claimed, he was fathered by a white explorer-soldier, Nathaniel Gist).
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.