Paramount chief of certain North American tribes
Statue of Daniel Nimham, a sachem of the Wappinger.

Sachems /ˈsəmz/ and sagamores /ˈsæɡəmɔːrz/ are paramount chiefs among the Algonquians or other Native American tribes of northeastern North America, including the Iroquois. The two words are anglicizations of cognate terms (c. 1622) from different Eastern Algonquian languages. Some sources indicate the sagamore was a lesser chief elected by a single band, while the sachem was the head or representative elected by a tribe or group of bands;[1][2][3][4] others suggest the two terms were interchangeable.[5] The positions are elective, not hereditary.[6] Although not strictly hereditary the title of Sachem is often passed through the equivalent of tanistry.


The Oxford English Dictionary found a use from 1613. The term "Sagamore" appears in Noah Webster's first An American Dictionary of the English Language published in 1828, as well as the 1917 Webster's New International Dictionary.[7]

One modern source explains:

According to Captain John Smith, who explored New England in 1614, the Massachusett tribes called their kings "sachems" while the Penobscots (of present-day Maine) used the term "sagamos" (anglicized as "sagamore"). Conversely, Deputy Governor Thomas Dudley of Roxbury wrote in 1631 that the kings in the bay area were called sagamores, but were called sachems southward (in Plymouth). The two terms apparently came from the same root. Although "sagamore" has sometimes been defined by colonists and historians as a subordinate lord (or subordinate chief[8]), modern opinion is that "sachem" and "sagamore" are dialectical variations of the same word.[9]

Cognate words

Family Language Word Notes
Eastern Algonquian Proto-Eastern Algonquian *sākimāw theoretical reconstruction
Narragansett sâchim anglicized as sachem[10]
Lenape sakima derived from earlier form sakimaw[11]
Eastern Abnaki sakəma anglicized as sagamore[10]
Mi'kmaq saqamaw Ninigret
Malecite-Passamaquoddy sakom [12]
Western Abnaki sôgmô [13]
Wangunk sequin [14]
Central Algonquian Proto-Central Algonquian *okimāwa theoretical reconstruction
Anishinaabe ogimaa [15]
Algonquin ogimà [16]
Ottawa gimaa [17]
Potawatomi wgema anglicised as Ogema
Eastern Swampy Cree okimâw [18]
Northern East Cree uchimaa [19]
Southern East Cree uchimaa [20]
Naskapi iiyuuchimaaw [21]


The "great chief" (Southern New England Algonquian: massasoit sachem) whose aid was such a boon to the Plymouth Colony—although his motives were complex[22]—is remembered today as simply Massasoit.[23]

Another sachem, Mahomet Weyonomon of the Mohegan tribe, travelled to London in 1735, to petition King George II for fairer treatment of his people. He complained that their lands were becoming overrun by encroachment from white settlers. Other sachems included Uncas, Wonalancet, Madockawando, and Samoset.[citation needed]

In popular culture


  • James Fenimore Cooper featured a character called "The Sagamore" or Uncas in his novel The Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826.
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville (published in 1851), includes a passage: " [...] where the loose hairy fibres waved to and fro like the topknot on some old Pottowattamie Sachem's head".
  • The 1838 poem "Sachem's-Wood"[24] by James Abraham Hillhouse (son of United States Senator James Hillhouse) describes the demise of the free sachem and his people.
  • Rick, the protagonist of Simon Spurrier's novel, The Culled (2006, book 1 of The Afterblight Chronicles), belongs to the Haudenosaunee people and is guided through crises by the sachem. Another character, named Hiawatha, saves Rick's life and advises him the Tadodaho have said Rick and Hiawatha's courses are "aligned".[25]
  • In the book "To Shape a Dragon's Breath" by Moniquill Blackgoose, the leader of the fictional Masquisit people is referred to as a "sachem".[26]
  • Sachem is the name of a Indian elder/leader in the Outlander series book "Go Tell The Bees That I Am Gone" by Diana Gabaldon 2021.

Comic books


  • One of the oldest weekly newspapers in Canada is called The Grand River Sachem. It has been publishing since 1856 and is located in Caledonia, Ontario.[27]

Government and politics




  1. ^ "sachem". American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.). Houghton Mifflin. 2000.
  2. ^ "sagamore". American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.). Houghton Mifflin. 2000.
  3. ^ "sachem". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
  4. ^ "sagamore". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Online. Retrieved 2009-11-09.
  5. ^ Life & Times: Squaw Sachem" Archived 2008-10-10 at the Wayback Machine, Hawthorne in Salem, The Daily Times Chronicle, Winchester Edition (MA), December 1999, accessed 27 Jan 2010
  6. ^ Kehoe, Alice. North American Indians, A Comprehensive Account. Third Edition. 2006
  7. ^ "Jeffrey Graf, "Sangamore of the Wabash" from Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington" (PDF).
  8. ^ Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Co. 1973. p. 1018. ISBN 0-87779-308-5.
  9. ^ Life & Times: Squaw Sachem" Archived 2008-10-10 at the Wayback Machine, Hawthorne in Salem, The Daily Times Chronicle, Winchester Edition (MA), December 1999, accessed 27 Jan 2010
  10. ^ a b Goddard, Ives (1978). "Eastern Algonquian languages", in "Northeast", ed. Bruce G. Trigger. Vol. 15 of Handbook of North American Indians, ed. William C. Sturtevant. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, pg. 75
  11. ^ "sakima". Lenape Talking Dictionary. Archived from the original on 2011-07-28. Retrieved 2011-02-19.
  12. ^ Francis, David A., Sr. et al. Maliseet - Passamaquoddy Dictionary. Mi'kmaq - Maliseet Institute
  13. ^ Laurent, Joseph (1884). New familiar Abenakis and English dialogues the first ever published on the grammatical system.
  14. ^ Forest, John William De (1853). History of the Indians of Connecticut from the Earliest Known Period to 1850. Archon Books. pp. 54.
  15. ^ Nichols, John, and Earl Nyholm. (1995). A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
  16. ^ Mcgregor, Ernest. (1994). Algonquin Lexicon. Maniwaki, QC: Kitigan Zibi Education Council.
  17. ^ Rhodes, Richard A. (1985). Eastern Ojibwa-Chippewa-Ottawa Dictionary. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  18. ^ MacKenzie, Marguerite (editor). (c2007). Wasaho Ininîwimowin Dictionary (Fort Severn Cree). Kwayaciiwin Education Resource Centre.
  19. ^ Bobbish-Salt, Luci et al. (2004–06). Northern EastCree Dictionary. Cree School Board.
  20. ^ Neeposh, Ella et al. (2004–07). Southern EastCree Dictionary. Cree School Board.
  21. ^ MacKenzie, Marguerite and Bill Jancewicz. (1994). Naskapi lexicon Archived 2008-05-27 at the Wayback Machine. Kawawachikamach, Quebec: Naskapi Development Corp.
  22. ^ Mann, Charles C. (2005). 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. Borsoi Book. Knopf Doubleday. ISBN 978-1-4000-4006-3.
  23. ^ Note that this massa- element meaning "great" in the Massachusett language also appears in the name of the Massachusett (i.e. "Great Hills people") and subsequently in the name of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
  24. ^ Hillhouse, James Abraham (23 May 2018). "The judgement. Sachem's-wood. Discourses: I. On the choice of an era in epic and tragic writing. II. On the relations of literature to a republican government. III. On the life and services of Lafayette. The hermit of Warkworth, by Bishop Percy". C. Little and J. Brown – via Google Books.
  25. ^ Spurrier, Simon (2006). The Culled. Abaddon Books. p. 198. ISBN 9781849970136.
  26. ^ Blackgoose, Moniquill (2023). To shape a dragon's breath. New York: Del Rey. ISBN 978-0-593-49828-6.
  27. ^ "Sachem About Us". The Hamilton Spectator.
  28. ^ "The Improved Order of Red Men".
  29. ^ Jankowski, Jane; Rateike, Brad (13 March 2007). "Governor presents Sachem to Jane Blaffer Owen" (Press release). Indianapolis, Indiana: Office of Governor Mitch Daniels. Retrieved 14 June 2023.
  30. ^ "LA04/2018/1298/F | Two storey rear extension to dwelling to allow extended kitchen, dinning & utility areas, 1st floor master bedroom with en-suite. Side elevation window and door changes. | 38 Sagimor Gardens Belfast BT5 5LW".
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