Madoc: Wikis


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Madoc or Madog ab Owain Gwynedd was, according to folklore, a Welsh prince who sailed to America in 1170, over three hundred years before Christopher Columbus's voyage in 1492. According to the story, he was a son of Owain Gwynedd who took to the sea to flee internecine violence at home. The legend evidently evolved out of a medieval tradition about a Welsh hero's sea voyage, only allusions to which survive. However, it attained its greatest prominence during the Elizabethan era, when English and Welsh writers made the claim that Madoc had come to the Americas as a ploy to assert prior discovery, and hence legal possession, of North America by the Kingdom of England.[1] The story remained popular in later centuries, and a later development asserted that Madoc's voyagers had intermarried with local Native Americans, and that their Welsh-speaking descendents still lived somewhere on the American frontier. These "Welsh Indians" were accredited with the construction of a number of natural and man-made landmarks throughout the American Midwest, and a number of white travelers were inspired to go look for them.

The Madoc story has been the subject of much speculation in the context of possible pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact. However, no historical or archaeological proof of such a man or his voyages has been found in the New or Old World. Still, it has provided fertile inspiration for generations of poets and novelists, and cultural historians.



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 to report this, the story continues 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 Midwest or the Great Plains.

Welsh Indians

George Catlin thought the Mandan bull boat to be similar to the Welsh coracle

A later development combined the story of Madoc's voyage with a colonial legend that an Indian tribe speaking a European language existed somewhere on the American frontier. In the early tales, the white Indians' specific language ranged from Irish to Portuguese, and the tribe's name varied from teller to teller (often, the name was unattested elsewhere). However, later versions settled on Welsh, and connected the tribe to the descendants of Madoc's settlers.

On November 26, 1608, Peter Wynne, a member of Captain Christopher Newport's exploration 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.[2] 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 Tuscarora 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".[3]

Madoc's proponents believe earthen fort mounds at Devil's Backbone along the Ohio River to be the work of Welsh colonists[4]

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 in Wales took up his journey in part to find the Welsh-descended "Padoucas" or "Madogwys" tribes.

There have been suggestions 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.[5]) Archaeologists believe the stones were placed there by Native Americans.[6] 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.[7] Benjamin Smith Barton proposed that these "moon-eyed people" who "could not see in the day-time" may have been an albino race.[8] John Haywood also mentioned the legend in his The Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee although the latter work was an effort to prove that the native tribes of Tennessee were descendants of ancient Hebrews.[9]

There is also a theory that the "Welsh Caves" in Desoto State Park, northeastern Alabama, were built by Madoc's party, since local native tribes were not known to have ever practiced such stonework or excavation as was found on the site.[10]

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 in 1782 with the old Cherokee chief Oconostota concerning ancient fortifications built along the Alabama River. The chief allegedly told him that the forts had been built by a white people called "Welsh", as protection against the ancestors of the Cherokee, who eventually drove them from the region.[11] Sevier had also written in 1799 of the alleged discovery of six skeletons in brass armor bearing the Welsh coat-of-arms.

Eventually, the legend settled on identifying the Welsh Indians with 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.

Sources of the legend

The Madoc story evidently originated in medieval romance. There are allusions to what may have been a sea voyage tale akin to The Voyage of Saint Brendan, but no detailed version of it survives. The earliest certain reference appears in a cywydd by the Welsh poet Maredudd ap Rhys (fl. 1450-83) of Powys, which mentions a Madog who is a son or descendant of Owain Gwynedd and who voyaged to the sea. The poem is addressed to a local squire, thanking him for a fishing net on a patron's behalf. Madog is referred to as "Splendid Madog... / Of Owain Gwynedd's line, / He desired not land... / Or worldy wealth but the sea."[12] 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 story may also have been known on the continent. In the introduction to the Middle Dutch poem Van den vos Reynaerde (About Reynard the Fox), the author Willem mentions that he had previously written a work called Madoc. This does not survive, but a number of subsequent Dutch writers refer to it. Willem's Madoc was possibly an adaptation of the Welsh Madoc story, though many of the later mentions associate the hero with a dream, perhaps instead identifying it as dream literature.

The Madoc legend attained its greatest prominence during the Elizabethan era, when Welsh and English writers used it bolster British claims in the New World versus those of Spain. The earliest surviving full account of Madoc's voyage, as the first to make the claim that Madoc had come to America, appears in Humphrey Llwyd 1559 Cronica Walliae, an English adaptation of the Brut y Tywysogion.[13] The story soon became hugely popular. A Title Royal was submitted to Queen Elizabeth in 1580 which stated that "The Lord Madoc, sonne to Owen Gwynned, Prince of Gwynedd, led a Colonie and inhabited in Terra Florida or thereabouts" in 1170.[1] An account of Madoc's story appears 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). 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.[14][15]

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 are related to the Welsh, however, and John Evans and Lewis and Clark reported they had found no Welsh Indians.[16] 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 into the Three Affiliated Tribes.

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), P. G. S. Ten Broeck (Zunis, 1854), and Abbé Emmanuel Domenach (Zunis, 1860), among others.[1] 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.[1] Llewellyn Harris, a Welsh-American Mormon missionary who visited the Zuni in 1878, wrote that they had many Welsh words in their language, and that they claimed their descent from the "Cambaraga" – white men who had come by sea 300 years before the Spanish. However, Harris' claims have never been independently verified.[17]

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."[1] 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 legend has been a notable subject for poets, however. The most famous account in English is Robert Southey's long 1805 poem Madoc, which uses the story to explore the poet's freethinking and egalitarian ideals.[18] Fittingly, Southey wrote Madoc to help finance a trip of his own to America, where he and Samuel Taylor Coleridge hoped to establish a Utopian state they called a "Pantisocracy". Southey's poem in turn inspired twentieth-century poet Paul Muldoon to write Madoc: A Mystery, which won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1992.[19] It explores what may have happened if Southey and Coleridge had succeeded in coming to America to found their "ideal state".[20]

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 novelist 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. Russian poet Alexander S. Pushkin composed a short poem "Madoc in Wales" (Медок в Уаллах, 1829) on the topic.

The township of Madoc, Ontario, and the nearby village of Madoc 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.


  1. ^ a b c d e D. D. Fowler, 2000, A laboratory for Anthropology. University of New Mexico Press, ISBN: 0826320368
  2. ^ Mullaney, Steven The Place of Stager University of Michigan Press 1995 ISBN 978-0472083466 p. 163[1]
  3. ^ Williams 1979, p.76
  4. ^ Falls of the Ohio - Legends & Stories
  5. ^ Georgia's Fort Mountain and Prince Madoc of Wales
  6. ^ Smith, Philip E., "Aboriginal Stone Constructions in the Southern Piedemont", in University Of Georgia Laboratory Of Archaeology Series Report No 4 1962
  7. ^ North Carolina Ghosts and Legends: The Moon Eyed People
  8. ^ Melungeon-L Archives, December 2003
  9. ^ "New theory on Catoosa's first settlers" Catoosa County News, 25 February 2004
  10. ^ Welsh Caves of Alabama
  11. ^ text of John Sevier's 1810 letter
  12. ^ Enid Roberts (ed.), Gwaith Maredudd ap Rhys a'i gyfoedion (Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, Aberystwyth, 2003), poem 8.43-6. Original text with the poetical flourishes omitted in the translation within brackets: Madog wych, (mwyedig wedd) / Iawn genau Owain Gwynedd, / Ni fynnai dir, (f'enaid oedd,) / Na da mawr ond y moroedd. Note that genau can mean "son" or "descendant" or even "a member of the royal retinue".
  13. ^ Bradshaw, p. 29.
  14. ^ Ken MacMillan. "Discourse on history, geography, and law: John Dee and the limits of the British empire, 1576-80". Canadian Journal of History, April 2001.
  15. ^ Robert W. Barone. "Madoc and John Dee: Welsh Myth and Elizabethan Imperialism". The Elizabethan Review
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ Mormon Settlement in Arizona by James McClintock, p. 72. ISBN 1426436572
  18. ^ Bolton, pp. 123–125.
  19. ^ Mosely, Merritt. The Geoffrey Faber Memorial prize. From Retrieved November 19, 2009.
  20. ^ O'Neill, pp. 145–164.


  • 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
  • Bolton, Carol (2006) "Green Savannahs" or "savage lands": Worsworth's and Southey's Romantic America". In Pratt, Linda (Ed.) Robert Southey and the Contexts of English Romanticism. Ashgate.
  • Bradshaw, Brendan; Roberts, Peter (2003). British Consciousness and Identity: The Making of Britain, 1533-1707. Cambridge. ISBN 0521893615. Retrieved November 18, 2009. 
  • Davies, A. (1984): "Prince Madoc and the discovery of America in 1477." Geographical Journal 150: 363-72.
  • Davies, John (1990): A History of Wales. London: Penguin Books. ISBN 9780713990980
  • Franklin, Caroline (2003): "The Welsh American Dream: Iolo Morganwg, Robert Southey and the Madoc legend." In English romanticism and the Celtic world, ed. by Gerard Carruthers and Alan Rawes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 69-84.
  • 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
  • O'Neill, Michael. The All-Sustaining Air: Romantic Legacies and Renewals in British, American, and Irish Poetry Since 1900. Oxford, 2007.
  • Williams, Gwyn A. (1979): Madoc: The Making of a Myth. London : Eyre Methuen. ISBN 9780413394507

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
  • Knight, Bernard, "Madoc, Prince of America", New York: St Martin's Press (1977)
  • 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, Madeleine (1978): A Swiftly Tilting Planet. New York: Dell Publishing. ISBN 0440401585
  • Pryce, Malcolm (2005): With Madog to the New World. Y Lolfa. ISBN 9780862437589
  • Rosemary Clement-Moore (2009): The Splendor Falls. Delacorte Books for Young Readers. ISBN 9780385736909

Juvenile fiction

  • 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
  • Thomas, Gwyn and Margaret Jones (2005): Madog. Talybont: Y Lolfa Cyf. ISBN 0862437660


  • 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

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