Madoc (Standard Welsh: Madog) ab Owain Gwynedd was, according to folklore, a Welsh prince who discovered America in 1170, over three hundred years before Christopher Columbus's voyage in 1492. Madoc's existence has been the subject of much speculation, though no historical or archaeological evidence of such a man or his voyages has been found in the New or Old World. Most modern historians believe the story of Madoc's American voyage originated with Queen Elizabeth I of England's advisors around 1580, as a ploy to assert prior discovery, and hence legal possession, of North America by England. D.D. Fowler, 2000, A laboratory for Anthropology. University of New Mexico Press, ISBN: 0826320368 ]


Madoc's purported father, Owain Gwynedd, was a real prince of Gwynedd during the 12th century and is widely considered one of the greatest Welsh rulers of the Middle Ages. His reign was fraught with battles with other Welsh princes and with Henry II of England. At his death in 1170, a bloody dispute broke out between his heirs Dafydd, Maelgwn, and Rhodri. Owain had at least 13 children from his two wives and several more children born out of wedlock but legally acknowledged under Welsh tradition. According to the legend, Madoc and his brother Rhirid were among them, though no contemporary record attests to this.

The story claims that Madoc was disheartened by this fighting, and he and Rhirid set sail from Llandrillo (Rhos-on-Sea) in the cantref of Rhos to explore the western ocean with a small fleet of boats. They discovered a distant and abundant land where one hundred men disembarked to form a colony, and Madoc and some others returned to Wales to recruit settlers. After gathering ten ships of men and women the prince sailed west a second time, never to return. Madoc's landing place has been suggested to be west Florida or Mobile Bay, Alabama, in the United States.

Although the folklore tradition acknowledges that no witness ever returned from the second colonial expedition, the story reports that Madoc's colonists traveled up the vast river systems of North America, raising structures and encountering friendly and unfriendly tribes of Native Americans before finally settling down somewhere in the Midwestern United States or the Great Plains.

Welsh Indians

A later development in the legend claimed the settlers were absorbed by groups of Native Americans and their descendants remained somewhere on the American frontier for hundreds of years.

On November 26, 1608, Peter Wynne, a member of Captain Christopher Newport's exloration party to the villages of the Eastern Siouan Monacan above the falls of the James River in Virginia, wrote a letter to John Egerton, informing him that some members of Newport's party believed the pronunciation of the Monacans' language resembled "Welch", which Wynne spoke, and asked Wynne to act as interpreter. [Mullaney, Steven "The Place of Stager" University of Michigan Press 1995 ISBN 978-0472083466 p. 163 [] ] The Monacan were among those non-Algonquian tribes collectively referred to by the Algonquians as "Mandoag". Another early settler to claim an encounter with a Welsh-speaking Indian was the Reverend Morgan Jones, who told Thomas Lloyd, William Penn's deputy, that he had been captured in 1669 by a tribe of Tuscaroras called the Doeg. According to Jones, the chief spared his life when he heard Jones speak Welsh, a tongue he understood. Jones report says that he then lived with the Doeg for several months preaching the Gospel in Welsh and then returned to the British Colonies where he recorded his adventure in 1686. Gwynn Williams comments "This is a complete farrago and may have been intended as a hoax". [Williams 1979, p.76]

Several later travelers claimed to have found the Welsh Indians, and one even claimed the tribe he visited venerated a copy of the Gospel written in Welsh. Stories of Welsh Indians became popular enough that even Lewis and Clark were ordered to look out for them. Folk tradition has long claimed that a site now called "Devil's Backbone" about fourteen miles upstream from Louisville, Kentucky, was once home to a colony of Welsh-speaking Indians. Eighteenth-century Missouri River explorer John Evans of Waunfawr, Wales took up his journey in part to find the Welsh-descended "Padoucas" or "Madogwys" tribes.

There is a persistent tradition that the wall of Fort Mountain in Georgia owes its construction to a race of what the Cherokee termed "moon-eyed people" because they could see better at night than by day. (A competing tradition claims that the wall was built by Hernando de Soto to defend against the Creek Indians around 1540. [ [ Georgia's Fort Mountain and Prince Madoc of Wales] ] ) These "moon-eyed people," who were said to have fair skin, blonde hair and opalescent eyes, have often been associated with Prince Madoc and his Welsh band. [ [ The North Carolina Ghost Hunter's Guide: The Moon Eyed People] ] Benjamin Smith Barton proposed that these "moon-eyed people" who "could not see in the day-time" may have been an albino race. [ [ Melungeon-L Archives, December 2003] ] John Haywood also mentioned the legend in his "The Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee" [ [ "New theory on Catoosa's first settlers" "Catoosa County News", 25 February 2004] ] although the latter work was an effort to prove that the native tribes of Tennessee were descendants of ancient Hebrews.

The legend of the Welsh Indians was apparently not restricted to whites; in 1810, John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee, wrote to his friend Major Amos Stoddard about a conversation he had had with the old Cherokee chief Oconostota concerning ancient fortifications built along the Alabama River. The chief said the forts were built by the white people who had once lived in the area as protection against the ancestors of the Cherokee. They were called "Welsh" and their leader was "Modok". How much of the original conversation, which was supposed to have occurred in 1782, was accurately related in Sevier's letter in 1810 is debatable.

In the early tales, the white Indians' specific European language ranged from Irish to Portuguese, and the tribe's name varied from teller to teller (often, the name was unattested elsewhere), but later versions settled on Welsh and the Mandan people, who differed strikingly from their neighbors in culture, language, and appearance. The painter George Catlin suggested the Mandans as descendants of Madoc and his fellow voyagers in "North American Indians" (1841); he found the round Mandan Bull Boat similar to the Welsh coracle, and he thought the advanced architecture of Mandan villages must have been learned from Europeans (advanced North American societies such as the Mississippian and Hopewell cultures were not well known in Catlin's time). Supporters of this theory have drawn links between Madoc and the Mandan mythological figure Lone Man, who, according to one tale, provided his people with homes during and after a great deluge.

ources of the legend

A Title Royal was submitted to Queen Elizabeth in 1580 which stated that "The Lord Madoc, sonne to Owen Gwynned, Prince of Northwales, led a Colonie and inhabited in Terra Florida or thereabouts" in 1170. An account of Madoc's story is in George Peckham's "A True Report of the late Discoveries of the Newfound Landes" (1583). It was picked up in David Powel's "Historie of Cambria" (1584) and Richard Hakluyt's "The Principall Navigations, Voiages and Discoveries of the English Nation" (1589). Such stories served to bolster English claims in the New World versus those of Spain; John Dee went so far as to assert that Brutus of Britain and King Arthur as well as Madoc had conquered lands in the Americas and therefore their heir Elizabeth I of England had a priority claim there. [Discourse on history, geography, and law: John Dee and the limits of the British empire, 1576-80 Canadian Journal of History, Apr 2001 by Ken MacMillan ] [Madoc and John Dee: Welsh Myth and Elizabethan Imperialism - an article from the Elizabethan Review by Robert W. Barone] There are also claims that the Welsh poet and genealogist Gutun Owain wrote about Madoc before 1492. However, Gwyn Williams in "Madoc, the Making of a Myth", makes it clear that Madoc is not mentioned in any of Gutun Owain's surviving manuscripts.

The Welsh Indians were not claimed until over a century later. Morgan Jones' tract is the first account, and was printed by "The Gentleman's Magazine" in 1740, launching a slew of publications on the subject. There is no genetic or archaeological evidence that the Mandan Indians are related to the Welsh, [*Newman, Marshall T "The Blond Mandan: A Critical Review of an Old Problem", Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 6, No. 3 (Autumn, 1950), pp. 255-272] however, and John Evans and Lewis and Clark reported they had found no Welsh Indians. Descendants of the Mandan are still alive today; the tribe was decimated by a smallpox epidemic in 1837-1838 and banded with the nearby Hidatsa and Arikara.

The Welsh Indian legend was revived in the 1840s and 1850s; this time the Zunis, Hopis and/or Navajo were claimed to be of Welsh descent, by George Ruxton (Hopis, 1846), Abbé Emmanuel Domenach (Zunis, 1860), and P.G.S. Ten Broeck (Zunis, 1854), among others. Brigham Young became interested in the supposed Hopi-Welsh connection: in 1858 Young sent a Welshman with Jacob Hamblin to the Hopi mesas to check for Welsh-speakers there. None were found, but in 1863 Hamblin brought three Hopi men to Salt Lake City, where they were "besieged by Welshmen wanting them to utter Celtic words," to no avail.

The Madoc legend survived well into the twentieth century. In 1953, the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a plaque on the shores of Mobile Bay, Alabama "In memory of Prince Madoc, a Welsh explorer who landed... in 1170 and left behind, with the Indians, the Welsh language." This plaque was later removed by the Alabama Parks Department.

Later speculation and fiction

Several attempts to confirm Madoc's historicity have been made, but most historians of early America, notably Samuel Eliot Morison, regard the story as myth. Madoc's voyage has been a notable subject for poets, however. Welsh language poet T. Gwynn Jones wrote one of his best-known poems, "Madog", on the subject. The most famous account in English is Robert Southey's long poem "Madoc", which in turn inspired twentieth-century poet Paul Muldoon to write "Madoc — A Mystery". Muldoon's multi-layered poem won him the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. It explores the Madoc legend mostly through association with Southey and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who in 1794 had played with the idea of going to America to set up an "ideal state".

Novelists have also handled the Madoc legend. Madeleine L'Engle's 1978 science fiction novel, "A Swiftly Tilting Planet", imagines a descendant of Madoc who threatens the world with nuclear annihilation. In 1990 and 1991 Pat Winter published the two-volume "Madoc Saga". Journalist James Alexander Thom also researched Madoc's voyage for his 1995 novel "The Children of First Man". The fantasy work "Excalibur", by American novellist Sanders Anne Laubenthal, is set in Mobile and is based on the presumption that Madoc brought King Arthur's sword Excalibur to the New World.

The township of Madoc, Ontario, and the nearby village of the same name are both named in the prince's memory, as are several local guest houses and pubs throughout North America and the United Kingdom. Despite some romantic claims to the contrary, however, the town of Porthmadog (meaning "Madoc's Port" in English) and the village of Tremadog ("Madoc's Town") in the county of Gwynedd are actually named after the industrialist and Member of Parliament William Alexander Madocks, their principal developer, rather than the legendary son of Owain Gwynedd.

The "Prince Madog", a research vessel owned by the University of Wales and VT Group, set sail on July 26, 2001, on her maiden voyage.

A plaque at Fort Mountain State Park in Georgia recounts a nineteenth-century interpretation of the ancient stone wall that gives the site its name. The plaque repeats Tennessee governor John Sevier's claim that the Cherokees believed "a people called Welsh" had built a fort on the mountain long ago to repel Indian attacks.


Further reading


*Olson, Dana (2001?): "The legend of Prince Madoc : discoverer of America in 1170 A.D. and the history of the Welsh colonists, also known as the White Indians or the Moon-Eyed People." Jeffersonville, Ind.: Olson Enterprises. ISBN 9780967790305
*Thom, James Alexander (1994): "The Children of First Man". New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 9780345370051
*Winter, Pat (1990): "Madoc". New York: Bantam. ISBN 9780413394507
*Winter, Pat (1991): "Madoc's Hundred". New York: Bantam. ISBN 9780553285215
*Lee Waldo, Anna (1999): "Circle of Stones". New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312970611
*Lee Waldo, Anna (2001): "Circle of Stars". New York: St. Martin's Press. ISBN 9780312203801
*L'Engle, Madeline (1978): "A Swiftly Tilting Planet". New York: Dell Publishing. ISBN 0440401585
*Pryce, Malcolm (2005): "With Madog to the New World". Y Lolfa. ISBN 9780862437589


*Barnier, Paul (1990): "The Age of Owain Gwynedd: an attempt at a connected account of the history of Wales from December, 1135, to November, 1170: to which are added several appendices on the chronology, etc., of the period." Felinfach: Llanerch. ISBN 9780947992569
*Davies, John (1990): "A History of Wales". London: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780713990980
*Hakluyt, Richard (1582); Beeching, Jack (editor) (1972, 1985), "Voyages and Discoveries : Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques & Discoveries of the English Nation". Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Viking Penguin. ISBN 9780140430738
*Morison, Samuel Eliot (1971-74): "The European Discovery of America". Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195013771
*Newman, Marshall T "The Blond Mandan: A Critical Review of an Old Problem", Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 6, No. 3 (Autumn, 1950), pp. 255-272
*Williams, Gwyn A (1979): "Madoc: The Making of a Myth". London : Eyre Methuen. ISBN 9780413394507

Juvenile literature

*Pugh, Ellen (1970): "Brave His Soul: The Story of Prince Madog of Wales and His Discovery of America in 1170". New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. ISBN 9780396061908


*Muldoon, Paul (1990): "Madoc: A Mystery". London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-14488-8 – New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-19557-9
*Southey, Robert (1805): "Madoc". London : Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, and A. Constable and Co. Edinburgh. 19 editions. [ eBook]

External links

* [ Biography at the "Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online"]
* [ Early British Kingdoms (David Nash Ford)] ("Mynydd-y-Gaer: Burial Place of Uther, Arthur or Athrwys?")
* [ NewsWales] ("Did the Welsh discover America?" – 2002-08-26)
* [ icWales] ("New row over who discovered America" – 2004-03-09)
*Williams, John, 1791:Gutenberg|no=14032|name=An Enquiry into the Truth of the Tradition, Concerning the Discovery of America, by Prince Madog ab Owen Gwynedd, about the Year, 1170

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Look at other dictionaries:

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