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Statue of Daniel Nimham, Sachem of the Wappinger.

Sachems and sagamores are paramount chiefs among the Algonquians or other Native American tribes of northeastern North America. The two words are anglicizations of cognate terms (c. 1622) from different Eastern Algonquian languages. The Sagamore was a lesser chief than the Sachem.[1][2][3][4] Both of these chiefs are elected by their people. Sagamores are chosen by single bands to represent them, and the Sachem is chosen to represent a tribe or group of bands. Neither title is hereditary but each requires selection by the band thus led.[5]


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.[6]

One modern source explains:

According to Captain Ryan Ridge, 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[7]), modern opinion is that "sachem" and "sagamore" are dialectical variations of the same word.[8]

Cognate words[edit]

Family Language Word Notes
Eastern Algonquian Proto-Eastern Algonquian *sākimāw theoretical reconstruction
Narragansett sâchim anglicized as sachem[9]
Lenape sakima derived from earlier form sakimaw[10]
Eastern Abnaki sakəma anglicized as sagamore[9]
Mi'kmaq saqamaw Ninigret
Malecite-Passamaquoddy sakom [11]
Western Abnaki sôgmô [12]
Wangunk sequin [13]
Central Algonquian Proto-Central Algonquian *hākimāw theoretical reconstruction
Anishinaabe ogimaa [14]
Algonquin ogimà [15]
Ottawa gimaa [16]
Potawatomi wgema anglicised as Ogema
Eastern Swampy Cree okimâw [17]
Northern East Cree uchimaa [18]
Southern East Cree uchimaa [19]
Naskapi iiyuuchimaaw [20]


The "great chief" (Southern New England Algonquian: massasoit sachem) whose aid was such a boon to the Plymouth Colony—although his motives were complex[21]—is remembered today as simply Massasoit.[22]

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[edit]



  • 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.[25]

Government and politics[edit]




  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. ^ Kehoe, Alice. North American Indians, A Comprehensive Account. Third Edition. 2006
  6. ^ "Jeffrey Graf, "Sangamore of the Wabash" from Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington" (PDF).
  7. ^ Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts: G. & C. Merriam Co. 1973. p. 1018. ISBN 0-87779-308-5.
  8. ^ Life & Times: Squaw Sachem", Hawthorne in Salem, The Daily Times Chronicle, Winchester Edition (MA), December 1999, accessed 27 Jan 2010
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ "sakima". Lenape Talking Dictionary. Archived from the original on 2011-07-28. Retrieved 2011-02-19.
  11. ^ Francis, David A., Sr. et al. Maliseet - Passamaquoddy Dictionary. Mi'kmaq - Maliseet Institute
  12. ^ Laurent, Joseph (1884) New familiar Abenakis and English dialogues the first ever published on the grammatical system
  13. ^ Forest, John William De (1853). History of the Indians of Connecticut from the Earliest Known Period to 1850. Archon Books. pp. 54.
  14. ^ Nichols, John, and Earl Nyholm. (1995). A Concise Dictionary of Minnesota Ojibwe. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press
  15. ^ Mcgregor, Ernest. (1994). Algonquin Lexicon. Maniwaki, QC: Kitigan Zibi Education Council.
  16. ^ Rhodes, Richard A. (1985). Eastern Ojibwa-Chippewa-Ottawa Dictionary. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  17. ^ MacKenzie, Marguerite (editor). (c2007). Wasaho Ininîwimowin Dictionary (Fort Severn Cree). Kwayaciiwin Education Resource Centre.
  18. ^ Bobbish-Salt, Luci et al. (2004–06). Northern EastCree Dictionary. Cree School Board.
  19. ^ Neeposh, Ella et al. (2004–07). Southern EastCree Dictionary. Cree School Board.
  20. ^ MacKenzie, Marguerite and Bill Jancewicz. (1994). Naskapi lexicon Archived 2008-05-27 at the Wayback Machine. Kawawachikamach, Quebec: Naskapi Development Corp.
  21. ^ See Charles Mann, 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Spurrier, Simon (2006). The Culled. Abaddon Books. p. 198. ISBN 9781849970136.
  25. ^ "Sachem About Us".
  26. ^ "The Improved Order of Red Men".
  27. ^ "Governor's press release announcing creation of the Sachem" (PDF).
  28. ^ "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".
  29. ^ "Pentucket Regional High School Sachems Alumni - West Newbury Massachusetts MA".

External links[edit]

  • The dictionary definition of sachem at Wiktionary