Sequoya, or Sequoyah, (1770?–1843), a Cherokee Indian leader and scholar. In 12 years of work, 1809–21, he devised a syllabary (a system of writing in which characters represent the sound of syllables) for the Cherokee language, providing his tribe with a means to read and write what had been only a spoken language.
Sequoya was born near what is now Vonore, Tennessee, the son of a Cherokee mother and a white trader father. He was for a time known by the name of George Guess (also spelled Gist and Guest), which Sequoya believed to be that of his father. He worked as a trader and later as a silver craftsman. After his system of writing was adopted by the tribal council in 1821, Sequoya went to teach the Cherokee living west of the Mississippi River. In 1828 he represented the western Cherokee in Washington, D.C. He died in Mexico while searching for a missing Cherokee tribe.
A bust of Sequoya was placed in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol by the state of Oklahoma. The sequoia tree was named in his memory.