‘Bury the Hatchet’: Definition, Meaning and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on July 12, 2023

Did someone use the phrase 'bury the hatchet', and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

‘Bury the hatchet’ is an idiom that means to agree to end a fight. The phrase comes from the Native American practice of literally or figuratively burying weapons when making peace.

What Does 'Bury the Hatchet' Mean?

The expression ‘bury the hatchet’ is an American English idiom.

  • It means to agree to end an argument or quarrel.

When you ‘bury the hatchet’ with someone, it means that you make peace with them.

Where Does 'Bury the Hatchet' Come From?

This idiom is an allusion to the practice of putting weapons away when hostilities came to an end among or by Eastern U.S. Native Americans.

In particular, the phrase relates to the time when the Iroquois Confederacy formed. The Iroquois Confederacy (also known as Haudenosaunee) was founded sometime between 1450 and 1660 (and, by some accounts, as early as 1142) that brought together five different nations into “The Great League of Peace.”

Use of the Idiom in Historical Texts

Europeans first learned about the ceremonial practice of putting weapons away in the mid-17th century. You find mention of it in a translation of Jesuit Relations:

"Proclaim that they wish to unite all the nations of the earth and to hurl the hatchet so far into the depths of the earth that it shall never again be seen in the future."

Another early reference to the practice of hatchet burying shows up in a 1680 work by Samuel Sewall. Here, we find mention of the Sachem coming to an agreement with an English group where they then buried two axes.

"of the Mischief the Mohawks did; which occasioned Major Pynchon's going to Albany, where meeting with the Sachem they came to an agreement and buried two Axes in the Ground; one for English another for themselves; which ceremony to them is more significant & binding than all Articles of Peace the hatchet being a principal weapon with them."

Another mention of this ceremony shows up in a document signed in Keowee, South Carolina, known as The Treaty of Hopewell. This treaty established the Cherokee Nation boundary and included the phrase in its text.

"The hatchet shall be forever buried, and the peace given by the United States, and friendship re-established between the said states on the one part, and all the Cherokees on the other, shall be universal; and the contracting parties shall use their utmost endeavors to maintain the peace given as aforesaid, and friendship re-established."

Historical and Ongoing Occurrences of the ‘Burying the Hatchet’ Ceremony

Here are some of the instances that have been historically documented of this ceremony occurring:

  • Texas: In 1749, in San Antonio, the first peace ceremony was recorded. This was between the Lipan Apache people and Captain Toribio de Urrutia, the Spanish commander of the presidio.
  • Nova Scotia: On June 25, 1761, the Burying the Hatchet ceremony took place and ended a war between the Mi’kmaq and the British that had gone on for more than seventy-five years.
  • Quebec: After each Election Day, a burying the hatchet ceremony also takes place in Georgetown, Delaware. The Sussex County chairs of both political parties perform the ceremony to symbolize making peace after the outcome of the election and moving forward.

Other Examples of ‘Bury the Hatchet’ In Text

Using the Google Books Ngram Viewer, we see that this phrase has been in use for at least several hundred years.

In the text Travels Through the States of North America by Isaac Weld, we find this description using the phrase:

“Another chief said, that trees were liable to be levelled by the storms; that at any rate they would decay; and that as they were desirous that a perpetual peace should be established between them and their late enemies, he conceived it would be better to bury the hatchet under the tall mountain which arose behind the wood.”

The phrase also appears in Volume 19 of The Missionary Herald from 1823:

The Circular was issued by direction of the President, and sent to each of the chiefs of the Cherokee and Osage nations, requiring them forthwith to bury the hatchet, and be at peace; and declaring that the government of the United States would permit them to spill the blood of each other no longer.”

For a third example, we find the phrase in the Records and Briefs of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1832:

“And Neal spoke about him at your request, Brickman decided to bury the hatchet, is that about it?”

“Yes, temporarily bury the hatchet, because Kelly is a sick man also and eventually he will want to give up half of the district and you can work harmoniously both of you.”

Quotes Using the Idiom

There are also a number of quotes from well-known writers and historical figures using the phrase ‘bury the hatchet.’

Here are some examples:

“Buried was the bloody hatchet; Buried was the dreadful war-club; Buried were all warlike weapons, And the war-cry was forgotten. Then was peace among the nations.”

-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“Nobody ever forgets where he buried the hatchet.”

Kin Hubbard

“There's no point in burying a hatchet if you're going to put up a marker on the site.”

Sydney J. Harris

“Those who say they will forgive but can't forget, simply bury the hatchet but leave the handle out for immediate use.”

Dwight L. Moody

Examples of 'Bury the Hatchet' In Sentences

How would 'bury the hatchet' be used in a sentence? Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • “I know we’ve had our differences, but it’s time for us to bury the hatchet and move on. I can’t run this business alone, and I know you can’t, either.”
  • “We need to stop wasting time arguing. We know what needs to be done, so let's just bury the hatchet and get to work.”
  • He and I finally buried the hatchet. We’ve been fighting ever since we were kids. I guess we’re both finally mature enough to make amends.”
  • “I used to think we would never bury the hatchet. Now it’s hard to believe we ever didn’t get along.”
  • “They’ve been fighting a lot recently. When I saw them this morning, though, they were laughing and having a great time. I guess they must have buried the hatchet.”
  • “Suzy has been having a terrible time at work. One of her co-workers just refuses to bury the hatchet after they had a disagreement. I know it’s hard on her.”

Other Ways to Say 'Bury the Hatchet'

What other words and phrases have a similar meaning to 'bury the hatchet'? Here are some options:

  • Extend an olive branch
  • Call a truce
  • Make amends
  • Make peace

Final Thoughts About 'Bury the Hatchet'

‘Bury the hatchet’ is an idiom that means to make peace. It comes from the ceremonial burying of weapons that the Native Americans practiced when a conflict was coming to an end.

This is a common phrase that you can use to describe the act of no longer being in conflict.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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