Background to the legend (Top)
• Madoc was one of the many illegitimate sons of Owain Gwynedd, the powerful leader of the then most powerful of the Welsh princedoms. His mother was said to be one of Owain’s favorite mistresses, Lady Brenda, a daughter of Lord Howell of Carno, though another source claims that his mother was Irish.
• He was born about 1140-50 at Dolwyddelan Castle on the edge of Snowdonia. The present ruined castle is later than this, though there is another older fort half-a-mile away at Castell-y-Tomen, still visible as knoll with remnants of stonework, probably a Norman fort, not Welsh.
• When Owain died at the end of 1170, there was violent dissension amongst his many sons over the inheritance of the kingdom.
• Madoc was both in danger from this family feuding and sickened by the unstable conditions in Gwynedd, so he sought an escape.
• He was an experienced sailor, having been exiled for a time in the Norse city of Dublin, famed for seafaring and ship-building and a frequent haven for fugitive Welshmen. His brother Rhiryd was Lord of Clochran near Dublin. They had Viking blood through their grandmother, Ragnhilde, wife of Gruffydd ap Cynan and grand-daughter of the Norse king of Dublin, Sitric Silkenbeard.
• Madoc built a ship he called the Gwennan Gorn at Abergele on the North Wales coast and together with his brother Rhiryd in his own ship the Pedr Sant, left from a little creek then called the Afon Ganol, later known as Aber Cerrig Gwynion, at Rhos-on-Sea, and sailed out into the Western Ocean.
• Today there is still an 'old stone quay', now in the garden of ‘Odstone', a bungalow at Rhos, as the creek has long silted up and is now part of a golf-course.. This wall now bears a modern plaque reading;-
Prince Madoc sailed from here Aber Kerrick Gwynan 1170 a.d. and
landed at Mobile Alabama with his ships Gorn Gwynant and Pedr Sant
• On the shore at Point Morgan, Mobile, Alabama, USA, a plaque was erected in 1953 by The Daughters of the American Revolution.
It 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
(This plaque was later removed, but has recently (2008) been replaced
nearby after a petition by Welsh residents in Alabama)
• Madoc is then supposed to have left some of his party on shore, whilst he and his brother returned to Wales. Here they collected a much larger group of colonists and sailed from Lundy Island at the mouth of the Bristol Channel, intending to reinforce the landing party they had left in Mobile Bay, with the object of settling in the new land, far from the troubles in Gwynedd.
• There is no further news of either Madoc or anyone else. They may have reached Mobile again or perished on the way.
• The second part of the story is based in North America, as the remnants of Madoc’s expedition were said to have pushed deep inland up the rivers, including the Alabama, Coosa and Ohio, at first fighting the native Indian tribes and eventually becoming assimilated by them. High up along the Missouri River, a small tribe called the Mandans are claimed to be partly descended from the Welsh settlers, differing from the usual Indians in physical appearance and the construction of their villages and coracle-like boats. Their appearance and life-style were recorded in detail in the 19th century by the artist George Catlin. Another group penetrated far up the Ohio to merge with the Shawnees to form a group called the White Madoc.
• The Mandans were almost annihilated in the 19th century by small-pox introduced by European traders, but a few still survive today.
• Several expeditions were sent to investigate the rumors of ‘Welsh Indians’, both by the Spanish and by the explorers Lewis and Clark, as well as by John Evans, a young Welshman sent by the London Welsh establishment in 1792. There is considerable debate as to the reliability of their negative reports on the existence of Welsh Indians.
• In summary, though there is a complete absence of hard fact to show that Madoc (whose very existence is denied by most historians) reached America, the legend has such resilience in the face of centuries of skepticism, that on the principle that “where there is so much smoke, surely there must be a fire”. It certainly cannot be totally dismissed, though positive evidence is almost completely lacking in a form acceptable to historians The way forward must depend upon the faint possibility of archaeological evidence being found in North America and the use of new DNA techniques to seek genetic links between medieval Celts and native Americans, though increasing evidence of other pre-Columbian influx from across the oceans makes any prospect of ethnic identification less likely.
• Tudor political scheming and the later often outrageous claims about ‘Welsh Indians’ has set the historical ‘Establishment’ scathingly contemptuous of the Madoc story.
(There are several different spellings of Madoc, a common name in medieval Wales – Madoc, Madog, Madauc, Madawch, Madawg etc)
EFFORTS TO VALIDATE THE LEGEND(Top)
One of the major factors in doubting the truth of the Madoc legend is popular reliance on a book published in 1963 by the late Richard Deacon, called Madoc and the Discovery of America . A well-written and persuasive account, it has now been shown to be full of deliberate fabrications, amounting to outright untruths. In fact, without cross-checking all of his claims against reputable historical records, nothing he says in his book can be accepted as being true, rather than mischievous fabrications.
Deacon, a senior journalist on the Sunday Times, is now known to have perpetrated many such lies in his other writings. A book is now in print cataloguing his misdeeds in other literary fields, such as on Jack the Ripper and books on espionage history. Thus much of what has been accepted in recent years as support for the Madoc legend, must be discarded, leaving very little remaining.
Very scanty and ambiguous evidence of Madoc or his voyages, exists in medieval documents.
Richard Deacon’s alleged search of the records traced ten Madocs in the time of Owain Gwynedd, but even he admitted that none were Madoc the seaman.
Owain died on 27 November 1170, so there would have been no time for Madoc become disillusioned by subsequent fraternal violence and then to sail before the winter of the same year, as the deep-sea sailing season was April to November (but admittedly the internecine trouble started in 1169, so he could have left before his father’s death. Richard Deacon says that Owain died in December 1169, but this presumably one of his many errors).
The first authenticated claims of Madoc the Sailor’s voyage appeared over four hundred years later, in Tudor times – orally by Dr John Dee to Queen Elizabeth and the Royal Council on October 3rd in 1580, then in print in 1583 by Sir George Peckham, long after Columbus claimed the Americas for Spain in 1492.
Dee was an extraordinary scholar, astrologer, mathematician and mystic of Welsh parentage and a powerful figure behind the scenes in Elizabethian times. He told the queen “The Lord Madoc, sonne to Owain Gwynedd, Prince of North Wales, led a colonie and inhabited in Terra Florida or thereabowts’ ( In those days, any part of Spanish America was called 'Florida')
A proposal to solve the problem of English Catholics by 'evacuating' them across the Atlantic was prepared by Sir George Peckham and addressed to Queen Elizabeth, his ‘True Reporte’ carried a preface dated 12 November, 1583, which stated: - 'And it is very evident that the planting there shall in time right amplie enlarge her Majesties Territories and Dominions (or I might rather say) restore to her Highnesse ancient right and interest in those Countries, into the which a noble and worthy personage, lyneally descended from the blood royall, borne in Wales, named Madock ap Owen Gwyneth, departing from the coast of England, about the yeere of our Lord God 1170 arrived and there planted himselfe, and his Colonies, and afterward appeareth in an auncient Welch Chronicle, where he then gave to certaine Llandes, Beastes, and Fowles, sundrie Welch names, as the Lland of Pengwyn, which yet to this day beareth the same.'
Dee’s elder contemporary, historian Humphrey Llwyd. had translated the old Welsh Chronicles (said to be by Caradoc of Llancarfan ?) in 1559, but they were not published until 1584 by Dr David Powell as the ‘Historie of Cambria’ with his fuller account of the Madoc story. (Caradoc died in 1156, but his chronicles were continued by his monks).These well-known 'Chronicles of the Princes' (Brut y Twysogion) are a yearly calender of noteworthy events from the 7th century to 1282, with a continuation to 1332, but they contain not a single word about Madoc or voyages of discovery across the ocean. Surely such a remarkable event would have merited some notice for the years around 1170?
Powell wrote “Madoc, another of Owain Gwyneth his sonnes left the land in contention betwixt his brethren and prepared certain ships with men and munition, and sought adventures by seas, sailing west and leaving the coast of Ireland so far north that he came to a land unknowen, where he saw manie strange things. This land must needs be some part of that countrie of which the Spaniards affirm themselves to be the first finders. And after he had returned home and declared the pleasant and fruitful countries that he has seen without inhabitants and upon the contrairie part, for what barren and wild ground his brethren and nephews did murther one another, he prepared a number of ships and got with him such men and women as were desirous to live in quiteness and taking leave of his friends, tooke his journie westwards againe….”
Then followed repetitive elaborations of this basic Tudor account, all designed to counter the Spanish claim to the New World. These included Sir Richard Hakluyt’s Principall Navigationes published in 1600 and Sir Thomas Herbert’s 1638 book about his travels.
Even the famous Sir Walter Raleigh got in on the act. Sir Walter, in a letter to Elizabeth from the “Island of Trinidada” dated “20th of Maye, 1595” stated:
“I, Sir Walter Raleigh, commander in chief by land and sea etc. etc. etc. – for the most high and Puisiant Princess Elizabeth Queen of England, Wales, France and Irland – and of the Dominions and seas there unto belonging and all the lands, continents, islands and seas and beyond the Atlantic ocean round the great continent called America and into the South Seas – in and over All Lands and Estates heretofore had and discovered for and on behalf of the most Excellent, high and renowned Prince Owen Guyeneth or Guyneth prince and Sovereign of North Wales, next unto the Nation of the Scotch or Northern Britons, discoveries and conquests first made in the year of our Redemption and Salvation 1164 (or their about) by the great and valiant Prince Madock ap Owen Guyneth the youngest son of the said Prince Owen Guyneth, he being provided with a powerfull fleete and Men of War, and arms famous for valour by Lande and Sea takeing with him Many Noble Brittons both of Wales and of the Northern race besides Valiant Men from Irland and other adventurers for new and great discoveries, did first come into these seas in the year of Salvation aforesaid named and set down 1164 and the second time in 1170 and did Make notable discovery conquests and settlements of all the parts of the said great Continent of America and of all the Islands round that Mighty tract of Land and in all the seas ......”
He obviously relied on his contemporaries for his information, though curiously gave the date as '1164 or their about' and made 11870 the year of the second voyage. Any hope of validating the Madoc story requires reputable mentions of it prior to 1493 when Columbus returned to Spain.
Modern books on the legend(Top)
Madoc and the Discovery of America by Richard Deacon
Frederick Muller, London, 1967 ( pre-ISBN)
The late Richard Deacon (real name Donald McCormick) was a well-known writer and journalist on the Sunday Times. His book is very pro-Madoc in nature and it is now apparent that his desire to confirm the legend led him to manufacture evidence that suited his purpose.He wrote many books on controversial topics where hard fact was hard to obtain and invented what he could not verify. He was successfully sued for libel over one such instance.
Madoc – the Legend of the Welsh Discovery of America
By Professor Gwyn A Williams, 1979 Eyre Methuen Ltd
paperback 1987, Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19285178-0
Gwyn Williams, Professor of Welsh History at the University of Wales, Cardiff, and his book is a masterly piece of academic thoroughness. He,like Thomas Stevens a century earlier, dismisses the story as a legend, showing that most of the so-called 'evidence' is flawed. However, even his acerbic pessimism is broken here and there by shafts of belief, especially in regard to Willem the Minstrel- where he was misled by Deacon.
Did Prince Madoc Discover America? by Michael Senior
2004, Gwasg Carreg Gwallt, Llanwrst, ISBN 086381 899-4
This is a recent small paperback directed mainly at the Welsh tourist trade, but is an excellent and impartial summary of the major points of the legend, again concluduing that there is no positive proof.
Madoc –an essay on the discovery of America by Madoc ap Owain Gwynedd by Thomas Stephens, Longmans, London 1983
(full text available on the Internet at :- http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=Madoc%20AND%20collection%3Aamericana)
Thomas Stephens was the author of the (in)famous essay for the 1858 Llangollen National Eisteddfod. The essay won the competition, but the judges refused to award the prize on the grounds that, as Stephens utterly destroyed the legend in his writing, it did not fulfill the aim of the subject, which was to confirm the legend! His essay has been used repeatedly to refute the Madoc story.
Pre-Colombian transatlantic crossings(Top)
• It is now universally accepted that Columbus was not the first European to reach the New World – and that he almost certainly had prior knowledge of its existence and probably had crude charts before he left.
• Richard Deacon alleges that in 1959, Professor Isypernick, a historian at the Uzbec Academy, discovered a secret letter from Columbus to Queen Isabella, revealing that he had a map of new islands made by previous explorers. Deacon says that the Map Curator of the UK Royal Academy confirmed that there had been other such letters; some were in the US Library of Congress and another was found in Turkey half a century ago. I can find no reference to Ispernyk or his claims, he is even unknown to Google!
• A Bristol merchant, John Day, wrote to Columbus in 1497 and said that Bristol sailors had ‘reached Brasil as long ago as 1477’. ‘Brasil’ then meant a legendary western island or later, any part of America.
• Diodorus Siculus, a Greek historian, wrote about 100BC that Phoenicians had discovered ‘a large, sweet, fertile land’ 10000 furlongs (1200 miles) opposite Africa.
• The Irish legend of St Brendan’s 6th century voyage possibly indicates early penetration to Iceland or possibly the Canaries and Azores.
• The Viking voyages of around 1000 AD are proven in the Newfoundland settlements found at L’Anse aux Meadows.
• John Scolvus is claimed as the steersman of a Danish expedition in 1476 which was said to have reached North America by the Viking Iceland-Greenland route.
• The voyage of the Earl of Orkney, Sir Henry Sinclair to Labrador and Rhode Island in 1398 with the Zeno brothers from Venice is much-disputed, as are claims of carvings of North American plants such as maize in his pre-Colombian Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland. Both this and the Scolvus claim are generally dismissed by historians.
• Basque and Breton fishermen have long fished the Newfoundland grounds almost certainly before the time of Columbus.
• Claims that such small vessels could not make such a voyage across the Atlantic are now totally disproven by many such crossings in modern times, such as the 1977 voyage in a leather boat to replicate St Brendan’s venture. This ocean has been repeatedly crossed by canoes and other tiny craft.
• Importantly, the close similarity of the 13,000 BP Clovis culture stone tools, including spearpoints found in the central and western USA, to Solutrean artefacts in France from around 19-17,000 BP, has suggested Ice-Age contacts, perhaps by skin-boat along the southern edge of the Atlantic ice-field at a time when the last Ice Age was at its maximum and the Atlantic froze much further south. This possibility was proposed by Stanford and Bradley of the Smithsonian Institute and University of Exeter respectively. Recently, further support has been gained by the discovery of Solutrean/Clovis tools of about 16,000 BP in Virginia and Pennsylvania and in the dredging by scallop fishermen of another (together with mastodon bones 22,000 years old) from the continental shelf off Chesapeake Bay, which would have been dry land at the time of low sea levels during the last Ice Age.
• DNA studies have recently suggested a European contribution to what was previously assumed to be the Siberian-Asian origin of Amerinds. Claims that mitochrondrial DNA Haplogroup X traits support this theory, have more recently been challenged but the probability of other transatlantic contacts in the past makes such findings irrelevant in the case of the Madoc story. This a very specialised field which is changing rapidly and although there are genetic markers more common in 'Celts', the almost certain admixture of European visitors over the ages would appear to make identifying any 'Welsh Indians' through DNA studies impossible.
Pre-Columbian References to Madoc(Top)
An initial problem is that even with the few possible pre-Columbian Welsh sources, they were not put forward until Tudor times or later, when the Madoc cult was well under way and therefore suspect of the self-potentiating fervour to believe in the legend, fostered particularly by Welsh expatriates in London and North America.
Llywarch’s ‘Ode to the Hot Iron’ –
Llywarch Prydydd y Moch was a Welsh bard who wrote praises of Owain Gwynedd and his family and in one poem in 1169, protests that he was not the assassin who slew Madoc – but there is no evidence at all to show that this was ‘our’ Madoc, it being such a common name.
Willem the Minstrel – a Flemish author of the 12-13th century, who may have lived in the Welsh Marches, provides one the most tantalisingly-definite references to Madoc. He wrote a book ‘Reynard the Fox’ which survives, and in it he says he is also the author of a book on Madoc - “Willem, die Madocke makede” (Willem, the author of Madoc)… “Willem who laboured to indite, Madoc in many a wakeful night”
Another Flemish author, Jacob von Maerlant ,writing about 1270, refers to Willem’s book and says that in his own book ‘there would be no Madoc’s dream, neither Reynard's nor Arthur’s pranks”
Willem’s book has been lost, but Deacon claimed that part of a French translation of a précis of the book was said to have been found in Poitiers in the 17th century, apparently written not later than the end of the 14th century. Deacon claims that a personal letter ( never produced as evidence) from a M. Edouard Duvivier of Poitiers gave this information, but neither M Duvivier nor the précis is known to the academics of Poitiers -nor to any database, apart from one quotation by an author who got his knowedge from Deacon's book!
This alleged précis stated that Madoc undertook his voyage as a penance laid on him by a bard. It gives considerable detail of Madoc and his activities and if proved to be genuine, would be a most potent support for the legend. Even the great cynic, Professor Gwyn Alf Williams, unusually for him, was taken in by Deacon's fabrications about the 'Poitiers translation'. Unfortunately, he seems to have accepted Deacon' s fables about Willem and the lost précis in Poitiers, without checking its veracity - and allowed it to impress him as the best plank in a shaky tale.
Willem says he travelled to Wales, Lundy and probably Herefordshire where he knew the writer-priest Walter Map, who was dead by 1210 and who says knew Willem.
The Poitiers copy "says" that Madoc was from a noble Welsh family ( Owain is not mentioned) whose grandfather was half a Viking. He went on a mission to the court of France disguised as a monk (Owain did send emissaries to Paris, possibly via Lundy). He went on a voyage to find the Fountain of Youth ( a persistent Celtic theme) and landed on an island called Ely ( an alternative name for Lundy after its patron saint Elen) to look for the magnetic lodestone, which he could safely use on his ship, as it was nailed together with stag horn (Gwennan Gorn, another persistent Welsh legend, as Arthur's ship 'Gwennan' was variously called 'Prydwen' and was also a stag-horned vessel which was lost in Ffrydiau Caswennan, a dangerous current off Bardsey, a story which seems to have been borrowed into the Madoc story)
Sailing out from Ely, he came to a paradise bathed in sun and a treacherous garden in the sea, suggestive of the Atlantic’s Sargasso Sea - perhaps ‘the warme sea where plants do grow’ of Cynric ap Gronow.
Lundy, the island in the Bristol Channel known as Ynys Wair or Ely, was identified in early Welsh literature with the Fountain of Youth.
Unfortunately, modern researches in Poitiers fail to unearth support for any of this fabrication.
Cynric ap Gronow, mid-15th C. poet, is said to have written a poem -
Horn Gwennan, brought to the Gele,
To be given a square mast,
Was turned back to Afon Ganol’s quay
For Madog’s famous voyage
However, we only have this as a 1674 translation by Evan Williams and it cannot be definitely proven to be pre-Columbian. Cynric is alleged later by Sir Thomas Herbert also to have mentioned this ‘ a wondrous new lande of strange and delectable fruites, surrounded by a warm sea in which plantes do grow.’
Marededd ap Rhys - 1430-50, priest and bard of Ruabon, makes two references to a Madoc, a sea-farer and ‘true whelp of Owain Gwynedd’, but the poems were not cited until 1600.
He said Madoc was ‘tall of comely face, mild manners, pleasing countenance and fond of sea-roaming' which seems an impossibly detailed description of a man who lived over two centuries earlier.
Deio ap Ieuan Du, a Cardiganshire poet of a slightly earlier date than Mareddud made a similar reference to a Madoc son of Owain, but again the written version is post-Columbian.
Ieuan Brechfa, a Carmathenshire bard who flourished about 1450, is said to have written a poem including the words -
Madoc, alive in truth, but slain in name
A name that could be whispered on the waves, but never on the land
However, Professor Gwyn Williams claims this is an 18th century forgery.
According to Deacon, G.D.Burtchaell , an Irish antiquarian, mentions Gaelic verses from an old Irish song which claim that Madoc was a Welsh sailor-prince and friend of Dermot MucMurrough, King of Leinster (1110-1171) The words say ‘He was learned in the ways of the sea, creator of a ship harder than a curragh ( Celtic skin boat), and who praised the beauty of the sea as he sang to the music of his harp.’
Burthchael was certainly an Irish antiquarian, but Deacon gives no reference for this claim and was never willing to disclose his sources.
Gutyn Owain – 1468-1498
Reference is made by Dr David Powell in 1584 to Gutyn’s mention of second voyage ‘with ten sailes’. Powell writes ‘1170 was the year Madoc went thither…with ten sailes, as I find noted by Gutyn Owen’ and he also says that Madoc left most of his followers in America on his first trip. Again the problem is that Gutyn’s dates slightly overlap Columbus in 1493.
The Lundy stone – Richard Deacon claims in his book that in a load of granite that arrived in Barnstaple in 1865, there was a partly-defaced tablet with a carving in old-style Welsh which read ‘It is an established fact, known far and wide, that Madoc ventured out into the western ocean, never to return.’
Allegedly, experts who examined it said that script could not have been later than 1300. As the language used was Welsh, it must have pre-dated 1242, when William de Marisco was taken prisoner by Henry II, ending the alliance with the Welsh against the king.
Unfortunately, this vital piece of evidence cannot be authenticated and has to be added to Deacon's fabrications..There was a short-lived Lundy Granite Company in the 1860’s. Deacon claimed that he had been informed of the discovery in a letter from Mr D G Evans of Bristol, but extensive enquiries failed to find this person, and a member of the Lundy Association with that name denied all knowledge of the stone. At the time, The Lundy Society contacted Deacon for more information, but he said that all his papers were in America and not available for authentication. The present author and another member of MIRA spent a considerable time and effort in trying to trace this stone, and even the major West Country newspaper put out a feature asking for infomation on it, without result.
Richard Deacon is dead and his papers are untraced. The Barnstaple Museum and Devon records have no knowledge of such a find. On 24 July 1967, the Bristol Evening Post published an article on the story and asked for any information about the identity of D G Evans or any trace of the inscribed stone. No response was forthcoming and the truth of the claim must be rejected.
A Lundy poem, said to be not later than 15th C, was alleged by Deacon to have been found by amongst papers by the 19th century owners of the island, the Heaven family. No such papers of medieval origin exist and this poem has never been seen, other than in Deacon's claims. It was said to have been in Welsh and stated that the infant Madoc was cast adrift in a coracle (a common fable in many cultures, such as the story of Moses). It went on to say that he became a skilled handler of ships, learning from exile in Ireland. It called him the sailor-magician of Bardsey ( an island off the Lleyn peninsula in North Wales) and builder of a magic ship that could not sink.
Again, Deacon’s account of this is not validated by any references, apart from saying that it is cited in the Gwydir Papers, an archive from North Wales. The Gwydir Papers came from the Wynne family, descended from Owain Gwynedd’s second marriage to Christina, but generally the documents relate to the 16th century and later - nothing in them is remotely to be associated with Madoc. Deacon says that the author must have lived not later than the fifteenth century, but gives no reason for this claim.
The actual part of the poem he quoted was;-
Y twls lle caed Madwg
Bola croen ar waith bual crwn
Blwch byrflu (byrflew) tondew tindwn
Nofiwr o groen anifail
Noe serchiog foliog o fail
Llestr rhwyth fal crwth fola croen
Coflaid o Ledryn cyflo
Myn Pedr, mae yn lledryn
Rywigoaeth wyll a dwyll dyn
The Freeman of Wales
Under the years 1139-48 , the Icelandic Orkneyinga Saga records frequent attacks by a ‘Freeman of Wales’ on their settlements in the ’southern isles’ including Tyree and the Isle of Man. In retaliation, they attacked Wales and the freeman ran for refuge to Lundy, which he used as a base.
This seems too early for Madoc, but it proves that Welsh sailors were making frequent voyages around the Irish Sea area at that time –and Lundy crops up once again. Professor Gwyn Williams points out that there seemed tome a medieval story of a Welsh seafarer of considerable renown, but that is a long way from linking him to Madoc and a voyage to Ameruca,
Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr – a bard in Owain’s court, around 1150-1200, mentions a Madoc in rather vague terms relating to the sea, the translation of which has various forms. He call Madoc one of Owain’s ‘teulu’, rather than a son; this could mean either a retainer or a relative. However, Cynddew's patron was Madog ap Maredudd of Powys, which allows possible confusion as to whom he was alluding.
Rev E F Synott – Richard Deacon, whose veracity is now so much in question, claims that at an auction in Rye (Sussex) ‘several years’ before Deacon’s book was published in 1966, the Rev E.F.Synott, rector of Iden in Kent, purchased some old manuscripts, mouldy and damaged. They appeared to be port records from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, partly in Latin and partly in English. They appeared to be a fragmentary list of ships which had been lost or gone missing. One fragment said ;
Aber Kerrick Guignon, non sunt, Guignon Gorm, Maduac. Pedr Sant, Riryd, Filius Oueni Gueneti an.1171
There was a cross alongside the Pedr Sant, Rhiryd’s ship, suggesting it was lost, but not against Madoc’s. Aber Cerrick Gwynion was another name for the Afon Ganol, meaning the ‘river mouth of white stones’.
Efforts by members of MIRA to trace this alleged document have failed, though the Rev Synott was real enough, being a most colourful character. Enquiries amongst antique dealers in Rye produced no recollection of any such sale. No such mouldy books can be identified and in any case, no such port books existed in the twelfth century, the Black Book of Admiralty being a much later compendium of maritime law, not a register of ships.
Cynric ap Gronow is said to have mentioned Afon Ganol’s quay for Madoc’s ‘famous voyage’.
Afon Ganol (Aber Cerrig Gwynion) is now known to be the silted-up river at Rhos- on -Sea (Llandrillo-yn-Rhos) near Colwyn Bay. According to Deacon, details in a law-suit in Stuart times shows it could then take vessels of 30 tons.
The little river has been diverted across the Rhos golf course and the original course lies in the garden of ‘Odstone’, a bungalow just behind the modern sea wall. In this garden is a line of stonework used as a rockery, which according to experts is probably not earlier than the 17-18th century, not Roman or medieval as stated by Deacon. During sea-defence works in 1955, it was found to project out to sea beyond the road across the sea-wall, dividing into two walls, reaching nine feet apart before vanishing. Deacon claims that the then owner in 1960, Mrs Victor Wilde, wrote to him saying that she had lived there for fifty years and that her father had told her that there was a legend that prince Madoc sailed from there to America.
It now has a small plaque upon it -
Prince Madoc sailed from here Aber Kerrick Gwynan 1170 AD and landed at Mobile, Alabama with his ships Gorn Gwynant and Pedr Sant
On the shore at Fort Morgan, Mobile Bay, Alabama, the Daughters of the American Revolution erected in 1953, a plaque;
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
The site of the landing was claimed in 1782 to be a tribal legend by Chief Oconostota to the Governor of Tennesee, John Sevier,.
The American side of the story(Top)
The aspect of the legend which has captured most public interest – but also ridicule – is the claim about ‘Welsh Indians’, i.e. Native Americans who are ethnically related to medieval intruders from Wales. Primarily, the Mandan tribe became the focus of attention.
The story of these claims is fragmented and disjointed, and as with the Tudor version, heavily biased according to the sympathies of the claimants, such as Spanish explorers and those with American or Welsh sympathies. Some were patently nonsensical, such as claims that ‘Welsh Bibles’ had been seen – when there was no Welsh translation until centuries after Madoc’s time - nor, of course, any printed books!
In 1686 the Rev Morgan Jones, a Puritan chaplain to a Major-General in Virginia, wrote to a friend claiming that twenty years earlier, he had been captured in Tuscarora country by the Doegs, an Indian tribe with fair features and was about to be killed. But he prayed loudly to God in Welsh for deliverance, and was suddenly spared, treated as an honoured guest and found he was able to converse freely in Welsh with the natives for the four months of his captivity.
In 1739, a Frenchman, La Verendrye, encountered a tribe of Indians on the Upper Missouri 'Whose Fortifications are not characteristic of the Indians... Most of the women do not have Indian features... The tribe is mixed white and black. The women are fairly good looking, especially the light coloured ones; many have blonde or fair hair.' He called them Mantannes, presumably a corruption of ‘Mandans’.
There were many such tales of a so-called Welsh tribe; one of interest was a Maurice Griffith who was taken prisoner by the Shawnee Indians in 1764. The Indians eventually befriended him and took him on a hunting expedition to seek the source of the Missouri. High in the mountains they came across 'three white men in Indian dress' with whom they travelled for several days until they arrived at a village where there were others of the same tribe, all having the same European complexion.
A council of this white Indian tribe decided to put the strangers to death and Griffith decided it was time to speak. He addressed them in the Welsh language explaining that they had no hostile intentions but merely sought the source of the Missouri and that they would return to their own lands satisfied with their discoveries. The Chief of the Tribe greeted them in Welsh and they were thereafter treated as guests, staying with the nation some eight months.
In October 1792, a French fur trader, Jacques d’Eglise, travelled over 800 leagues from St Louis up the river and had found a tribe of Indians, the Mandans. There had been earlier rumours of this remarkable tribe, but no one had ever reached them from St Louis. He said that they were 5,000 strong, living in eight, great fortified villages
One story came from Washington in 1801, where Lieutenant Joseph Roberts reprimanded a servant, instinctively using Welsh. An Indian secondary chief was present who was amazed to hear the words and began speaking ‘better Welsh’ than Roberts himself. He told the officer that he came from the Asguawa tribe, 800 miles southwest of Philadelphia and that by custom, their children were made to use this language until they were twelve years of age. He said the tribe had a tradition that they came from very far in the east, over great waters.
John Sevier, Governor of Tennessee, wrote to a Major Stoddard of the U.S. Army about a discussion Sevier had had with the Major Chief of the Cherokee, Oconostota, in 1792. The venerable old chief informed him that, according to his forefathers, the white people who had formerly inhabited the country had made ancient fortifications on the Highwassee River now called Carolina. A battle took place between the Whites and the Cherokees at the Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River. After a truce and exchange of prisoners, the Whites agreed to leave the area, never to return, eventually settling 'a great distance' up the Missouri.
The Chief's ancestors claimed 'they were a people called Welsh and they had crossed the Great Water'. Governor Sevier also claimed to have been in the company of a Frenchman who informed him that he had been high up the Missouri and 'he had traded with the Welsh tribe; that they certainly spoke much of the Welsh dialect, and though their customs were savage and wild, yet many of them, particularly the females, were very fair and white.'
However, it was not until thirty years later before Stoddard revealed this correspondence in a book.
George Catlin, a Pennsylvania lawyer, spent six years travelling extensively amongst the native peoples of North America. He wintered with the Mandans in 1832. He was most taken by 'so many peculiarities in looks and customs.' He ascertained that one in ten or twelve of the whole tribe had light hair and that it was a hereditary characteristic, which ran in families. He produced numerous paintings of the tribe and wrote prolifically about them. He compared their canoes to Welsh coracles and eventually, after further research, firmly believed the Madoc story.
Dana Olson, author of yet another book about Madoc, places great emphasis on the stone forts located along the Tennessee and its tributaries and near Chattanooga, and claims that the White Indians were ambushed at Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee River, but also writes of a great battle on Sand Island at the Falls on the Ohio, where Louisville now stands. He also tells many tales of finds of skulls, coins, armour, breastplates and helmets, but none of these can be traced for examination, in spite of repeated enquiries amongst museums in the USA. One account is of brass armour with 'the Welsh coat of arms', obviously impossible as armour was not used in the 12th century, other than chain mail - and there was no 'Welsh coat of arms'.
The forts are considered by many to the work of Europeans. One Kentucky surveyor came to Wales and found similarities between the layout of the stonework at Lookout Mountain and Dolwyddelan Castle in North Wales - but unfortunately, the latter would not have been built at the time of Madoc's voyage!
There is mass of description and supposition about these stone forts, which everyone agrees are pre-Columbian – but unfortunately, they are also pre-Madoc, as carbon dating has established that organic material associated with them dates from between AD 30-430. Established archeologists see no problem in assigning them to the Middle Woodland Indians and think they are not defensive structures, but boundaries around ritual sites.
The best-known attempts to find the ’Welsh Indians’ was the quest of John Evans, a young Welsh Methodist from Waunfawr in Snowdonia, who went at the behest of the London Welsh community in 1792, within twenty pounds donated towards his sea passage. Iolo Morgannwg (Edward Williams) was supposed to have gone with him, but for some obscure reason, Evans went alone.
The story is long and complex, but with virtually no funds except the charity of Welsh nonconformists along the way, he travelled hundreds of miles through wild country and along the great rivers, down the Ohio and up the Mississppi and Missouri, making useful maps of this unknown country. After several misfortunes, he linked up with a Scotsman, James Mackay, who was a Spanish agent and travelled with him. He reached the Mandans and lived with them for a winter. Then in failing health, exacerbated by drinking, he died at the age of 29. He wrote a letter to Dr Samuel Jones in Philadelphia, saying that he had found no sign of any Welsh Indians, though this has been contested as by then he was in the pay of the Spaniards, who had earlier captured him as a spy and it was in their interests for him to deny that Spain might have any prior claim to the land.
His words were – ‘Thus having charted and explored the Missouri for 1800 miles and by my communications with the Indians this side of the Pacific ocean from 39 to 45 degrees Latitude, I am able to inform you that there is no such People as Welsh Indians'
Lewis and Clarke(Top)
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson, himself of Welsh origin, sent two army officers, Lewis and Clark, to lead an expedition to cross the continent to the Pacific. They were the first Americans to succeed, though a Canadian had done it several years earlier. Lewis and Clark were asked to look out for any ‘Welsh Indians’ and spent some time with the Mandans, but reported that they found no sign of any Welsh-speaking Indians.
These were originally a large tribe of Plains Indians, living on the Upper Missouri, towards what would become the Canadian border. By many accounts, they were certainly unusual amongst the native tribes, both in their appearance and life-style.
They were not nomadic, but lived in settled villages. The first recorded European contact was by Frenchman Sieur de la Verendrye in 1738, who was deliberately following up previous reports from fur-traders and missionaries as far back as 1721. Lewis and Clarke found them in 1804 and claimed there were about 1250 surviving.
The best description come from Catlin, who lived among them. He does not mention their fair complexion at first, as others have done, but was struck by their difference from other Indian tribes he knew. They claimed to be the first people on earth, with strange legends about their origins. They lived in large circular lodges, half-buried in the ground and used circular boats like coracles, rather than the usual Indian canoes.
It seems that Catlin did not know of the Madoc legend at first, though later he seizes upon it. Nowhere does he claim that they have any European connections, though later in his copious writings, he tentatively puts forward a suggestion that there might be a Madoc connection and takes a particular interest in comparing the Mandan vocabulary with Welsh. He mentions that they have the art of making blue glass beads – these were also said to have been made on Lundy and used in the Scilly Isles, but such bead making has no particular geographical connotations.
The linguistic aspects have been endlessly debated but though there are some striking congruence of words, the evidence is poor and no better than many such comparisons between languages world-wide.
In 1838, the tribe was effectively wiped out by small-pox introduced by fur-traders and the small remnants were taken as slaves by the Ricarees, then almost exterminated by the Sioux. Any remaining were absorbed by the Hidatsa tribe in North Dakota and today it is doubtful if any full-blooded Mandan survives, though a few claim at least partial descent.
Major criticisms of the Madoc legend(Top)
Most of the historical ‘Establishment’ dismiss the story, partly on grounds of the paucity of pre-Colombian evidence for his existence and the strong political motives of the Tudors to promote the legend.
Thomas Stephen’s destructive essay at the 1858 Llangollen Eisteddfod is often used by critics of the legend. Stephens, a Merthyr chemist, won the eisteddfod prize, but the award was witheld on the grounds that the conditions of the essay were to the effect that Madoc did discover America and Stephen’s essay disproved it.
Professor Gwyn ‘Alf’ Williams’ 1979 book ‘ Madoc - the Making of a myth’- is masterly but generally hostile, though he offers snippets of supportive information, being especially impressed by the Willem the Minstrel material, much of which now turns out to be false.
Until the exposure of Richard Deacons' mischevious fabrications and in spite of the political ‘spin’ of the Tudors which bedevils the Madoc story, there seemed enough historical ‘smoke’ to suggest that there was some sort of fire! Is it a too complex and detailed a story to have been invented without a shred of substance behind it? The political machinations of the Tudors, especially Dr John Dee, must not be underestimated.Their contentions were based on Dr David Powell's elaborations on Humphrey Llwyd's claimed translation of an "ancient Welsh booke", which was presumed to be by Caradoc of Llancarfan, though if that in turn was related to the extant 'Chronicles of the Princes, there is not a single word in those about any Madoc who made any long sea voyages..
Like much of historical record, most of the alleged written sources have been lost since medieval times, e.g. Willem the Minstrel’s book ‘Madoc’
Even Professor ‘Gwyn Alf’ agrees that between the 12th and 15th centuries, there was a well-known story circulating in Wales (and further afield in France and the Low Countries) of a Welshman who was an expert mariner and who ventured out into the Western Ocean.
The ‘Indian’ end of the story is much more speculative and much is obvious fantasy. The Mandan tribe might reasonably be assumed to have some European blood, but this may have come from other pre- or post-Colombus intrusion.
The only way forward now is to pursue DNA studies, but given the current embargo on research on Native American bones by the US 1990 legislation, the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), this will be difficult, as well as the increasing evidence of other pre-Columbian genetic input.
(This version of the legend was written by Professor Bernard Knight CBE, President of MIRA.and is his personal opinion) (Top)