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The Legend of Prince Madoc
Roman coins that were found early on in
Tennessee River. Ramsey or one of the other early
historians had written about the discovery of Roman coins in the state.
Donald Davidson writes about them in _The Tennessee_, suggesting they were
left by Welshmen who came to the Alabama coast and took off north for
Tennessee. This is evidently connected to the Welsh accounts of Madoc, son
of Gwynneth, who took off for the west with ten ships in the twelfth
century. At Old Stone Fort in Coffee County, an interpretive marker
indicates Madoc was a bishop. Oconostota, the Cherokee war chief, told
Governor Sevier that the Cherokee had encountered white men several
centuries before, and drove them down the Tennessee River.
The legend of Prince Madoc
Many of our American visitors will be familiar with the story of Madoc, a prince of Wales who, in the twelfth century, is supposed to have discovered America. The story first appears in A True Reporte, written by Sir George Peckham in 1583. This document supported the first Queen Elizabeth's claim to the New World. It was repeated in Humphrey Llwyd's Historie of Cambria the next year. In 1810, John Sevier, one of the founders of Tennessee wrote about a belief among the Cherokee Indians that there had been a Welsh-speaking Indian tribe. Their chieftain was supposed to have told Sevier that he had heard his father and grandfather speak of a people called the Welsh, and that they had crossed the seas and landed at Mobile in Alabama.
Welsh scholars have been long been sceptical, especially since the Madoc story was promoted in the 19th century by the bard Iolo Morganwg, someone not renowned for his devotion to accuracy in the sphere of history. For many Welshmen, however, the story has long had a certain resonance and Professor Hartmann tells us that "On January 13th 1804, an American President of Welsh ancestry, Thomas Jefferson, despatched a letter to another Welsh-American, Meriwether Lewis, containing a map of the Upper Missouri valley. The map had been prepared by a third Welsh-American, John Evans."
John Evans left his home in rural North Wales in 1792. He travelled to London and then across to remote parts of the USA in search of Madocs Welsh Indians. Fuelled by the revival of Madoc fever and the strong support of his London-Welsh contemporaries, the young weaver set out to rediscover the "Welsh Indians". He appears to have worked for a Spanish company in America and became a surveyor. Despite his best efforts, Welsh speaking Native Americans were not found but the legend lives on.
John Sevier, Tennessees first governor, in response to a request written to him in 1810 by a researcher into the history of Louisiana, wrote the following.
Copy of letter to Major Amos Stoddard, 2nd Corps, U.S. Army
from John Sevier, Governor of Tennessee.
Knoxville, 9 October, 1810
Your letter of Aug.30 ult.,is before me. With respect to the information you have requested, I shall with pleasure give you so far as my own memory will now serve me; and also aided by a memorandum taken on the subject, of a nation of people called the Welsh Indians. In the year 1782 I was on a campaign against some part of the Cherokees; during the route I had discovered trace of very ancient tho regular fortifications. Some short time after the expedition I had an occasion to enter into a negotiation with the Cherokee Chiefs for the purpose of exchanging prisoners. Mter the exchange had been settled, I took an opportunity of enquiring of a venerable old chief called Oconostota, who then and had been for nearly sixty years the niling chief of the Cherokee Nation, if he could inform me what people it had been which had left such signs of Fortifications in their Country and in PreColumbian Explorer Sites in the Southeast particular the one on the bank of Highwassee River. The old chief immediately informed me: "It was handed down by the Forefathers that the works had been made by the white people who had formerly inhabited the Country, and at the same time the Cherokees resided low down in the country now called South Carolina; that a war had existed between the two nations for several years. At length it was discovered that the whites were making a number of large Boats which induced the Cherokees to suppose they were about to Descend the Tennessee River. They then assembled their whole band of warriors and took the shortest and most convenient route to the Muscle Shoals in order to intercept them on thek passage down the river. In a few days the Boats hove in sight. A warm combat ensued with various success for several days. At length the whites proposed to the Indians that they would exchange prisoners and cease hostilities, they would leave the Country and never more return, which was acceded to; and after the exchange parted friendly. That the whites then Descended the Tennessee down to the Ohio, thence down to the big river (the Mississippi) then they ascended it up to the Muddy River (the Missouri) and thence up that river for a great distance. That they were then on some of its branches, but, says he, they are no more a white people; they are now all become Indians, and look like the other red people or the Country."
I then asked him if he had ever heard any of his ancestors saying what nation of people these whites belonged to. He answered: "He had heard his Grandfather and Father say they were a people called Welsh; that they had crossed the Great Water and landed first near the mouth of the Alabama River near Mobile and had been drove up to the heads of the waters until they bad arrived at Highwassee River by the Mexican Indians who bad been drove out of their own Country by the Spaniards."
Many years ago I happened in company with a French-man, who had lived with the Cherokees and said he had formerly been high up the Missouri. He informed me he had traded with the Welsh tribe; that they certainly spoke much of the Welsh dialect, and tho their customs was savage and wild yet many of them, particularly the females, were very fair and white, and frequently told him that they had sprung from a white nation of people. He also stated that some small scraps of old books remained among them, but in such tattered and destructive order that nothing intelligent remained in the pieces or scraps left. He observed, their settlement was in an obscure quarter on a branch of the Missouri running through a bed of lofty mountains. His name has escaped my memory.
The chief Oconostota informed me: "An old woman in his nation called Peg had some part of an old book given her by an Indian who had lived high up the Missouri, and thought it was one of the Welsh tribe." Before I had an opportunity of seeing it, her house and all the contents burnt. I have seen persons who had seen parts of a very old and disfigured book with this old Indian woman, but neither of them could make any discovery of what language it was printed in (neither of them understood languages, but a small smattering of English).
I have thus, Sir, communicated and detailed the particulars of your request, so far as I have any information on the subject, and wish it were more comprehensive than you will find it written.
Georgia's Ft. Mountain and Prince Madoc of Wales
Fort Mountain State Park is located on 3428 acres of Chattahoochee National Forest close to the Cohutta Wilderness area, in North Georgia. In addition to its mysterious rock wall, the park offers a variety of outdoor activities for all to enjoy. Hikers will find some of the most beautiful trails in Georgia. Most wind through hardwood forest and blueberry thickets, occasionally crossing streams and providing spectacular vistas. During the summer, children enjoy the sand beach located on a clear mountain lake.
THE STORY OF THE WALL AT FORT MOUNTAIN
Fort Mountain derives its name from an ancient rock wall which protects the highest point of the mountain. The wall, extending 885 feet, is seven feet in height at its tallest point and shows evidence of being much higher when first built. Up to 12 feet wide, with 29 pits scattered at regular intervals along its length, the wall is without peer in southeastern archaeology. Archaeological findings indicate that the ancient fortification long predates the Cherokees who were living there in the 1700s.
The Cherokee's called the wall-builders "moon-eyed people," because they could see better at night than by day. These moon-eyed people were said to have fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes. Some theorists believe that these moon-eyed people built the wall as a part of sun worship, while others believe it was used in athletic games. Some of the other thoughts pushed from time to time are that Hernando de Soto, who spent two peaceful weeks here in 1540 built it or that the Cherokees created the wall to defend themselves against Creek attackers.
Currently, most scholars believe that the wall originated about 1100A.D. and has a religious purpose. Many early cultures built structures related to astronomical events. In this case the wall runs east to west around a precipice. The effect is that the sun illuminates one side of the wall at sunrise and on the other side at sunset. Native American cultures worshipped the sun and all things in nature. The absence of religious artifacts supports this theory since it was common practice for Native Americans to take ceremonial objects with them when they moved.
The state of Georgia erected a monument at the base of the summit several years ago describing the various legends associated with Fort Mountain. The most important story revolves around the Welsh prince Madoc who is said to have arrived in Mobile Bay around 1170 and moved north from there. The mysterious wall is said to have been built by Welsh Explorers as a fortification against hostile Indians and for ancient ceremonies. Several petroglyphs support the existence of this legend. Following is a paper which could very well explain and clarify the story.
A CONSIDERATION: WAS AMERICA DISCOVERED IN 1170 by PRINCE MADOC AB OWAIN GWYNEDD OF WALES?
By: Jayne Wanner
History, not unnaturally, tends to be written by historians, but seldom by geographers, or seamen, or interpreters of legend, and much of the early history of the world has suffered in consequence.
In 1170 A.D., a certain Welsh prince, Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd, sailed away from his homeland, which was filled with war and strife and battles between his brothers. Yearning to be away from the feuds and quarrels, he took his ships and headed west, seeking a better place. He returned to Wales brimming with tales of the new land he found--warm and golden and fair. His tales convinced more than a few of his fellow countrymen, and many left with him to return to this wondrous new land, far across the sea.
This wondrous new land is believed to be what is now Mobile Bay, Alabama. Time has left several blank pages between the legend of Madoc and the "history" of America, with its reports of white Indians who speak Welsh, and these blank pages have been the subject of much controversy in certain circles over the five centuries since Columbus discovered the New World.
Although in 1500 it may have made a significant difference exactly who first discovered--and therefore lay claim to--the North American Continent, that time has passed. In 1999, the relevance of the subject rests in the area of its interest to a student of history, rather than its significance to the world. This admission made, the story of Madoc, and the chronicle of the "Welsh Indians" will be explored, and the connection between the two will be considered for its place in that blank chapter of history.
Owain Gwynedd, succeeded his father, Gruffydd ap Cynan as ruler of the Gwynedd province of Wales in 1138. His thirty-two-year reign was a bloody and turbulent time of constant warfare between the Norman barons and the Welsh chieftans. Though he strived during his rule for both the prosperity of his people and the unity of all Welsh kingdoms against the English. His aims were hindered by the treacherous feuding within his own ranks. Although well known for his ". . .fierce and brutal penalties for disloyalty. .", he was nevertheless remembered as a mighty soldier and a great leader by his own people, and considered the "King of Wales" by those in England and other lands.
Owain was said to have had seventeen sons, including Madoc, and at least two daughters, although few were considered legitimate by the churchmen of the time. This confused situation led to bitter dispute as to who among his sons would succeed him and his death in 1169 plunged his country into civil war.
It was this civil war from which Madoc fled. His story was repeated by bards and recorded throughout the next four centuries by various historians, but concise and detailed accounts would not be found until after the introduction of printing. Perhaps the earliest printed account of Madoc's story is from Dr. David Powel's The Historie of Cambria published in 1584:
Madoc. . .left the land in contention betwixt his brethern and prepared certain shipps with men and munitions and sought adventures by seas, sailing west. . .he came to a land unknown where he saw manie strange things. . . . Of the viage and returne of this Madoc there be manie fables faimed, as the common people do use in distance of place and length of time, rather to augment than diminish; but sure it is that there he was. . . .And after he had returned home, and declared the pleasant and fruitfulle countries that he had seen without inhabitants, and upon the contrarie part, for what barren and wilde ground his brethern and nepheues did murther one another, he prepared a number of shipps, and got with him such men and women as were desirous to live in quietnesse, and taking leave of his freends tooke his journie thitherward againe. . . This Madoc arriving in the countrie, into which he came in the yeare 1170, left most of his people there, and returning back for more of his own nation, acquaintance, and friends, to inhabit that fayre and large countrie, went thither againe.
Madoc's story was related in A Brief Discription of the Whole World (1620); a version was told by Sir Thomas Herbert in the last section of his Relation of Some Years Travaile (1626), based on what Sir Thomas said were records of "200 years agoe and more" The Dutch writer Hornius tells of Madoc in De Originibus Americanis (1652); and Richard Hakluyt's Principall Navigations (1600) establishes the fact that the story of Madoc existed before the time of Columbus.
Hakluyt, a geographer as well as an historian, had a reputation for being a perfectionist. His work is thoroughly researched and supported by foreign as well as British sources.
Gutyn Owen was a renowned Welsh historian and geneologist with a well documented career and a number of famous works of Welsh literature to his credit. His writings are cited as sources of Madoc's story by a number of authors, and the fact that his account of Madoc was written before 1492 ". . .refutes the criticism that the Madoc story was brought forward after 1492 in order that Great Britain could claim prior rights to the new world."
Among the writings of Madoc's story are found suppositions of his landing in the West Indies, in Mexico, and in the Alabama-Florida region of North America. The scope of this paper dictates pursuit of the latter theory--more specifically, Mobile Bay, Alabama.
The choice of Mobile Bay as Madoc's landfall and the starting point for his colonists is grounded in two main areas. One is the logical assumption that the ocean currents would have carried him into the Gulf of Mexico. Once there and seeking a landing site, he would have been attracted to the perfect harbor offered in Mobile Bay, as were later explorers Ponce de Leon, Alonzo de Pineda, Hernando de Soto, and Amerigo Vespucci.
The second, and more convincing reason, is a series of pre-Columbian forts built up the Alabama River, and the tradition handed down by the Cherokee Indians of the "White People" who built them. Testimony includes a letter dated 1810 from Governor John Seiver of Tennessee in response to an inquiry by Major Amos Stoddard. The letter, a copy of which is on file at the Georgia Historical Commission, recounts a 1782 conversation Sevier had with then 90-year-old Oconosoto, a Cherokee, who had been the ruling chief of the Cherokee Nation for nearly sixty years. Seiver had asked the Chief about the people who had left the "fortifications" in his country. The chief told him: "they were a people called Welsh and they had crossed the Great Water." He called their leader "Modok." If true, this fits with the known history of 12th century Welsh Prince Madoc. He further related: "It is handed down by the Forefathers that the works had been made by the White people who had formerly inhabited the country. . ." and gave him a brief history of the "Whites." When asked if he had ever heard what nation these Whites had belonged to, Oconostota told Seiver that he ". . .had heard his grandfather and father say they were a people called Welsh, and that they had crossed the Great Water and landed first near the mouth of the Alabama River near Mobile. . .."
Three major forts, completely unlike any known Indian structure, were constructed along the route settlers arriving at Mobile Bay would have taken up the Alabama and Coosa rivers to the Chattanooga area. Archaeologists have testified that the forts are of pre-Columbian origin, and most agree they date several hundred years before 1492. All are believed to have been built by the same group of people within the period of a single generation, and all bear striking similarities to the ancient fortifications of Wales.
The first fort, erected on top of Lookout Mountain, near DeSoto Falls, Alabama, was found to be nearly identical in setting, layout, and method of construction, to Dolwyddelan Castle in Gwynedd, the birthplace of Madoc.
The situation of the forts, blended with the accounts given by the Indians of the area, has led to a plausible reconstruction of the trail of Madoc's colonists. The settlers would have traveled up the Alabama River and secured themselves at the Lookout Mountain site, which took months, maybe even years to complete. It is presumed the hostility of the Indians forced them to move on up the Coosa River, where the next stronghold was established at Fort Mountain, Georgia. Situated atop a 3,000 foot mountain, this structure had a main defensive wall 855 feet long, and appears to be more hastily constructed than the previous fort. Having retreated from Fort Mountain, the settlers then built a series of minor fortifications in the Chatanooga area, before moving north to the forks of the Duck River (near what is now Manchester, Tennessee), and their final fortress, Old Stone Fort. Formed by high bluffs and twenty-foot walls of stone, Old Stone Fort's fifty acres was also protected by a moat twelve hundred feet long. Like the other two major defense works, Old Stone Fort exhibits engineering proficiency well beyond the skills of the Indians.
The trail of the settlers becomes more speculative with the desertion of Old Stone Fort. Chief Oconostota, in relating his tribal history, tells of the war that had existed for years between the White people who had built the forts and the Cherokee. Eventually a treaty was reached in which the Whites agreed to leave the area and never return. According to Oconostota, the Whites followed the Tennessee River down to the Ohio, up the Ohio to the Missouri, then up the Missouri ". . .for a great distance. . .but they are no more White people; they are now all become Indians...."
Chief Oconostota's testimony has been very thoroughly followed up by later historians, and several points have been corroborated with other reports of "bearded Indians" and their trek upriver in retreat from hostile natives. Throughout the years ". . .there was abundant evidence. . .that travelers and administrators had met Indians who not only claimed ancestry with the Welsh, but spoke a language remarkably like it."
It must be assumed that the remaining settlers were eventually assimilated by Indians, and that by the early eighteenth century very few traces of their Welsh ancestry remained. Although several tribes have been considered as possible descendants of the Welsh settlers, the most likely is the Mandan tribe, who once inhabited villages along tributaries of the Missouri River.
These Mandan villages were visited in 1738 by a French explorer, The Sieur de la Verendrye, and he kept a detailed journal describing the people and their villages. At the time of Verendrye's visit, the tribe numbered about 15,000 and occupied eight permanent villages. The Mandan chief told him that the tribe's ancestors had formerly lived much farther south but had been driven north and west by their enemies. Verendrye described the Mandans as "white men with forts, towns and permanent villages laid out in streets and squares." He indicated that their customs and lifestyle were totally different from other tribes he had encountered, and was the first of many to remark about the beards of their men, the grey hair of their older people, and the magnificent beauty of their women! The Mandans had several visitors throughout the next century, (including Louis and Clark in 1804), each one reiterating the striking differences in their culture and appearance.
The Mandans had been repeatedly driven out of their villages and forced upriver by their continual conflicts with the Sioux. By the 1830s, when George Catlin made his memorable visit, their numbers had decreased by two thirds. Catlin spent several years living with, studying, and painting various Indian tribes, and in 1841 published his classic work: Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and Condition of the North American Indians.
He devoted sixteen of his fifty-eight chapters to the Mandans, explaining:
I have dwelt longer on the history and customs of these people than I have or shall on any other tribe. . .because I have found them a very peculiar people. From the striking peculiarities in their personal appearance, in their customs, traditions, and language, I have been led conclusively to believe that they are a people of a decidedly different origin from that of any other tribe in these regions.
Catlin was so impressed by these differences that he speculated that the Mandan tribe could very well be the remains of the lost colony of Madoc. Although he had no Welsh ancestry himself, and no particular motivation for pursuing this theory, he went to great effort to investigate their origin and traced their migration up the Missouri and Ohio Rivers.
His book contains several pages, including a vocabulary comparing numerous Mandan and Welsh words, in support of his theory. He reflects, "If my reasons do not support me, they will at least be worth knowing, and may be the means of eliciting further and more successful enquiry."
When Catlin left the Mandans in August, 1833, he did not know his would be the last, and probably most important, account of the Mandan tribe. They had survived a trans-Atlantic voyage; they had survived the Cherokee; they had survived an eighteen-hundred mile migration; they had even managed to survive the Sioux. Like so many other Indian tribes, they did not survive the smallpox epidemic introduced to them by traders in 1837. Now considered extinct, the Mandans do however, lay claim to the distinction of being the only Indian tribe never to have been at war with the United States.
Throughout the centuries, scholars and historians have argued for and against the Madoc story. The classic work denying the entire idea was written in 1858 by the distinguished Welsh scholar, Thomas Stephens. So thorough and detailed was his essay, it was considered the best work submitted for a competition held on the subject. Ironically, his prize was denied as his article refuted the theme rather than proved it.
Current naysayers include Samuel Eliot Morison, who emphatically dismisses the entire subject as nothing more than a fable. He accepts no connections between the White Settlers and the Chattanooga area forts. He renounces all associations linking the tales of the Welsh Indians to the Mandans, acknowledging only the report of John Evans indicating that he met no Welsh speaking Indians when he spent one winter with the Mandans in the 1790s.
Although Evans' character itself and motives for the report are questionable, Morison embraces his brief findings, while only mentioning George Catlin in his bibliography, stating that his Notes and Letters "....gave the legend a new lease on life. . .with phony comparative vocabulary." Where Richard Deacon devotes an entire book to detailed research on the subject, Morison only mentions it in his notes, indicating that Deacon ". . .pulls all the travelers tales together. . .he feels there must be something in it, but cannot say what."
He attributes the claim of discovery to the eagerness of the Tudor court historians (of Welsh descent) ". . .to claim priority over Spain in the New World."
His basic attitude may be summarized with the following line: "As Bernard De Voto well observed, the insubstantial world of fairies and folklore is as real as the visable world to Celtic peoples."
Not everyone shares Morison's view, for in November, 1953 a memorial tablet was erected at Fort Morgan, Mobile Bay, Alabama by the Virginia Cavalier Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which reads:
In memory of Prince Madoc, a Welsh explorer, who landed on the shores of Mobile Bay in 1170 and left behind, with the Indians, the Welsh language.
PRINCE MADOC AND THE WELSH INDIANS
from articles by Dr. Islyn Thomas O.B.E. published in his book "Our Welsh Heritage" (National Welsh-American Foundation, 1972)
In the year 1170 A.D. a medieval Welsh prince by the name of Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd, became tired of the constant warfare and petty quarreling then current in his homeland. He decided to sail with a body of followers out into the Atlantic Ocean in his ship, the Gwennan Gorn, to find a more satisfactory environment.
Prince Madoc according to the legend, discovered a new land across the seas to the west which he found very satisfactory for settlement. He returned to Wales to spread the good news of his discovery and induced more Welsh to accompany him on a return voyage to the new land. They never returned and nothing was heard of the Prince or his followers.
There are numerous tantalizing historical tidbits that give this legend some credibility. Humphrey Lloyd, one of the leading geographers of Elizabethan times identifies the land that Madoc had supposedly discovered on his first voyage as Florida. On his second voyage to America, Prince Madoc is believed to have landed in Mobile Bay, Alabama more than three centuries before Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World.
Compelling evidence in support of Lloyds finding lies in the frequent reports of English and French explorers of the late seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries, saying that they met with Indians who were light-skinned, had beards, and spoke the Welsh language. They were possibly descendants of Prince Madoc and his followers. Hearing these accounts, one Welshman John Thomas Evans, came to America, from North Wales, in 1792, just to search for his kinsmen, the Welsh Indians. He said he did not find them, but he may have lied, perhaps bribed by the Spanish who desperately wanted to limit the Westward expansion of British colonists.
George Catlin, arguably the greatest painter of native American culture lived for extended periods with the Mandan tribe in the upper Missouri River, documenting their soon-to-vanish way of life. Although not looking for Welsh Indians, he said he found them, and left us detailed pictorial-and other-testimony of the Mandan tribe.
Over the years many books have been written and setting forth the evidence, pro and con, for Madoc's voyage and the existence of the Welsh Indians, was it all just myth or legend? Prince Madoc did exist; a voyage was possible. But did it really take place?
It was President Thomas Jefferson on the night of January 13, 1804 who dispatched a letter to another Welsh American Meriwether Lewis containing a map of the upper Missouri river valley. The map had been prepared by one John Thomas Evans an immigrant from Wales, who had explored the upper reaches of the Missouri River Valley some nine years before in search of the Welsh Indians. The map proved to be accurate and was unquestionably of aid to the Lewis and Clark expedition.
BRAVE HIS SOUL
Author Ellen Pugh in her most recent book Brave His Soul published by Dodd Mead & Company, New York, 1970 has written the story of Prince Madoc of Wales and his alleged discovery of America in 1170; and of the many reports throughout the late seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries of the existence of a tribe (or tribes) of Welsh-speaking Indians. It is the story of the searches made for this unique nation, and an examination of the clues to the route the Welsh settlers may have taken, from their landing in Mobile Bay to their extinction, many centuries later, on the upper reaches of the Missouri River.
That it all happened just as set forth is unlikely; that none of it occurred seems equally unlikely. Too many people witnessed something. The fact that no official expedition ever proved the Welsh Indians' existence does not, on the other hand, disprove it. And tomorrow-or the day after, sorneone, somewhere, may happen upon an old manuscript, a piece of armor, an inscription or ancient port records. Perhaps then we will know for sure whether or not Madoc landed in America and left behind him, with the Indians, the Welsh language.
Additional detailed information concerning Prince Madoc and The Welsh Indians can be found in Dr. Edward G. Hartmann's book "Americans From Wales" published by the Christopher Publishing House and reprinted by Octagon Books, New York, 1978,1983.
Link to a detailed scholarly paper on Prince Madoc written by a student from the University of California at Barstow.
Welsh Commemorate Americas Explorer
A village in North Wales has commerated the life of John Evans, the man who believed that the Welsh discovered America before Christopher Columbus. A memorial and a museum are being unveiled by the villagers of Waenfawr, near Caernarfon, in celebration of his work. John Evans travelled to America in 1792 in search of a tribe of Welsh-speaking Indians who, according to legend, settled there after its discovery by a 12th century Welsh Prince, Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd. Evans was unsucessful in his attempt, but his exploration led to the Missouri valley being mapped for the first time.
Chapter 19: The New World From Pennsylvania to Patagonia
Welsh interest in the New World had been kindled by the writings of John Dee in the reign of Elizabeth I. A key figure in the expansion of Britain overseas, Dee (1527-1608), was a London Welshman and a scholar of note. He claimed descent from Rhodri Mawr, the great Medieval Welsh ruler. More important, however, was his interest in the Arthurian legends and the traditions involving Prince Madoc's supposed discovery of the New World long before Columbus. Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd was a 12th century prince who was supposed to have sailed westwards with a group of followers seeking lands to settled away from the constant warfare of his native Wales. According to the legend, landfall was made at what is now called Mobile Bay, Alabama in 1169. Liking what he found, Madoc then returned to Wales for additional settlers, but was never heard from again. In Robert Southey's long poem Madoc (1805), the poet develops the theme, garnered from sketchy Spanish evidence through Cortez from Montezuma, that Madoc may have been the white leader from the east who brought an American tribe south into Mexico.
Some sources describe the Welsh explorers as moving northwards through Alabama and battling the Iroquois in Ohio, with a remnant moving westwards where they were discovered at the time of the Revolutionary War as the Mandan Indians of North Dakota. The Mandans were decimated by smallpox in 1838, but many scholars have supposedly found many of their customs (including use of a coracle) and much of their language similar to those of Wales. During the reign of Elizabeth I, English attempts to find the Northwest passage to India were eagerly seized by court officials as justification for their war against the empire of Spain and proof of their legitimacy of their involvement in the Americas. Dee claimed that King Arthur had ruled over large territories in the Atlantic and that Madoc's voyage had confirmed the Welsh title to this empire. The argument went that Queen Elizabeth as successor to the Welsh princes, including Madoc was the rightful sovereign of the Atlantic Empire!!
Who Really Discovered America?
The Maddox Family site assembled the following information. Go to their site for more.
"Tremadoc is a Welsh village whose shape suggests that several centuries ago, it hoped, as actually it is, to grow someday into a town. The main street leads to Port Madoc, a mile away. Madoc ap Owen Gwynnedd, a prince, was a member of a family of great wealth. He grew tired of the wrangling of his brothers over their father's domain and determined to seek some new country where peace would rule. Madoc was evidently as great a navigator as he was a colonist, and sailed westward in search of a new world, about the 11th century. He was very much pleased with his new home and returned to Wales and carried another party to his new home in the West. He was never heard of again.
The International Encyclopedia (page 659) gives an interesting account of this Welsh prince. The land he found was America from reports of a tribe of fair-haired, light-skinned Indians living there. He may be assumed an ancestor of the Madogs of Llanfydnach, according to Catlin's North American Indians' Stephen's Literature of Kymyr (2nd Edition, page150) and Lincoln's Library of Essential Information (page 298).
Robert Southey, the English poet, chose the name Madoc for his epic poem, written in 1805.
There is an old Welsh Ode which translates:
Madoc am I,
the son of Owain Gwynedd
with stature large and comply grace adorned
No land at home, nor store of wealth
My mind was whole to search the Sea.
Young Prince Madoc of Wales may have discovered America in 1170 or 322 years before Columbus arrived, according to Richard Deacon. He's a British historian who has written a book, Madoc and the Discovery of America, which states:
"Prince Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd son of a king of Wales, was born in 1150 the story goes. He sailed from Wales and landed hear the present site of Mobile, Alabama. He returned home, then made another voyage to the continent. This time he went up the Alabama River and other streams, then disappeared in the wilds of what is now Tennessee. But a traveler's account of the 1800's tells of fair-skinned Indians in that area who spoke some Welsh words and put sentences together in the way Welsh people do.
A Welsh poem of the 15th century tells how Prince Madoc sailed away in 10 ships, and his countrymen long supposed that he discovered America.
In his very interesting book, Mr. Deacon gives facts for and against his conclusions, but h seems to believe the evidence is in the Prince's favor. Mr. Deacon himself served in the British Royal Navy in World War II, and sailed a small flat-bottomed boat from Norfolk, Virginia to North Africa. He concluded "that if we could cross the Atlantic in a keeless craft, such a voyage was perfectly possible in Madoc's day."
Another account of the claim, in James G. Perry's Kinfolk, puts it this way:
Prince Madoc (son of Owain ab Gwynedd) it is said, sailed to America 300 years before Columbus in 1170 with one ship. He returned and equipped ten ships and with colonists sailed again for the new world. It is presumed that he landed at Mobile Bay, Alabama. Early explorers and pioneers have found evidences of the Welsh influence along the Tennessee and Missouri Rivers, among certain tribes of Indians.
There is no record that the Prince ever returned to the land of his birth. Peculiar things have been found in America. It is there are Welsh speaking Indians up the Missouri River called the White Indians. Also, they fish with coracles, and pull the little skin covered boats with one oar, like a spade. These boats are used in Wales today.
For Further Research
"Madoc & The Discovery Of America", by Richard Deacon (Some New Light on an Old Controversy), George Brazziler, New York. Can be found in the Mobile Public Library, Mobile, AL. [Published in 1966, Library of Congress number 67-23398]
"They All Discovered America", Prince Madoc of Wales, (A.D. 1171) In which a peaceable prince, wishing to avoid family unpleasantness, sails to America to find a new home. Pleased with what he find here, he returns to Wales and solicites colonists. In ten ships, his followers come back to America with him and profoundly influence a certain tribe of Indians. (Mandan Indians). Book can be found in the Pensacola Library, Reference/Genealogy Room, Pensacola, FL.
"Brave His Soul", by Ellen Pugh. The Story of Prince Madog of Wales and His Discovery of America in 1170. A memorial was erected at Fort Morgan, on Mobile Bay, Alabama, by the Virginia Cavalier Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1953. It says in part: "In memory of Prince Madoc, a Welsh explorer, who landed on the shores of Mobile Bay in 1170 and left behind, with the Indians, the Welsh language." Book can be found in the Baton Rouge Public Library, Baton Rouge, LA.
"Madoc, an Essay on the Discovery of America by Madoc AP Owen Gwynedd in the Twelth Century", by Thomas Stephens, 1898. Book can be found in the Mobile Public Library, Mobile, AL.
"Of Men & Ships" Prince Madox - Discoverer of Mobile Bay? and "Madoc, Mobile and the Mandans", by Hugh N. Starnes, with Hank Black can be found in the Madoc file at the Mobile Public Library, Mobile, AL.
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