from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A chief of a Native American tribe or confederation, especially an Algonquian chief.
  • noun A member of the ruling council of the Iroquois confederacy.
  • noun A high official of the Tammany Society, a political organization in New York City.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun An American hesperiid butterfly, Hylephila campestris, which occurs throughout the eastern two thirds of the United States. Its larvæ feed on grasses. It was formerly known under the specific name of huron, which probably gave rise to the popular name of sachem.
  • noun A chief among some tribes of American Indians; a sagamore.
  • noun One of a body of high officials in the Tammany Society of New York city. The sachems proper number twelve, and the head of the society is styled grand sachem.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun A chief of a tribe of the American Indians; a sagamore.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A chief of a tribe of the American Natives; a sagamore.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun a chief of a North American tribe or confederation (especially an Algonquian chief)
  • noun a political leader (especially of Tammany Hall)


from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Of Massachusett origin.]

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

First attested in the 1620s. From Narragansett sachem; compare Lenape sakima ("chief"), Mi'kmaq saqamaw ("chief").


Help support Wordnik (and make this page ad-free) by adopting the word sachem.


  • The civil head of a clan was a "sachem"; the military heads were "chiefs."

    A Brief History of the United States John Bach McMaster 1892

  • Its official head was the "sachem," whose functions were of a civil nature.

    The Discovery of America Vol. 1 (of 2) with some account of Ancient America and the Spanish Conquest John Fiske 1871

  • Mr. Morgan (in his "League of the Iroquois," page 68,) states that to the last-named chief, or "sachem," the duty of watching the door was assigned, and that "they gave him a sub-sachem, or assistant, to enable him to execute this trust."

    The Iroquois Book of Rites Horatio Hale 1856

  • All the while, the Wampanoag, including their "sachem," or leader, Massasoit, were observing these sickly looking visitors, frail from hunger and disease, knowing they could wipe them out with one fell swoop. Top Stories 2009

  • "Ah! Yuagh!" called the sachem, and two young men stepped forward, toe on the line, glanced each at a framed picture, drew up an arm, and, "Whut-t-t t-e-e-p," whined two knives that flittered through the light and struck quivering, one with its cool kiss on McElroy's cheek, the other just in the edge of the slab at De Courtenay's shoulder.

    The Maid of the Whispering Hills

  • That Algonquin word "sachem," so seldom used, so difficult of pronunciation by the Iroquois, was never employed to designate a councilor in council; there they used the title, Roy-a-neh, and to that title had I answered the belt of the Iroquois, in the name of Kayanehenh-Kowa, the Great Peace.

    The Reckoning 1899

  • Finally, this celebrated sachem, Longboard, held a secret council among the captives, and instructed them all to take arms and advance with the British Indians, and use their influence to lead them to a place where they might be captured, and they with the rest, which they successfully effected, and were re-captured by the Americans.

    Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Six Nations, and History of the Tuscarora Indians Elias Johnson

  • Some sachem would sadly sketch the smiling scenes of health and happiness in the days before the pale-face came to wrest from the Indians their land, the gift of the Great Spirit.

    Tecumseh A Chronicle of the Last Great Leader of His People; Vol. 17 of Chronicles of Canada Ethel T. Raymond

  • As the little squadron from Communipaw drew near to the shores of Manna-hata, a sachem at the head of a band of warriors appeared to oppose their landing.

    Journeys Through Bookland, Vol. 8 Charles Herbert Sylvester

  • A Seneca sachem of the highest class, he was born at the Indian village of Ga-no-wau-ges, near Avon, about the year 1735, and died at Onondaga in 1815, where he happened to be on one of his pastoral visits.

    Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Six Nations, and History of the Tuscarora Indians Elias Johnson


Log in or sign up to get involved in the conversation. It's quick and easy.

  • The sachem blowing the smoke first toward the sun and then toward the earth,

    The drama of the scalp-dance enacted with painted faces and guttural exclamations,

    The setting out of the war-party—the long and stealthy march,

    The single-file—the swinging hatchets—the surprise and slaughter of enemies;

    Walt Whitman - American Feuillage

    September 22, 2018