Prince Madoc

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By Madison Echlin

Prince Madoc [1]

Biography

Prince Madoc, otherwise known as Prince Madog ab Owain Gwynedd, was a pseudo-historical Welsh Prince who supposedly emigrated with his followers to North America in 1170. He was from Gwynedd which is a Welsh country that shares borders with Powys, Conwy, Debinshire, Anglesey, and Ceredigion. His father, Owain, was the King of Gwynedd in the 12th century. It is said that King Owain had 19 children, 13 of which were illegitimate including Madoc himself. After the death of Owain of Gwynedd in 1169, his sons debated who would inherit the throne. It is said that Prince Madoc left Gwynedd in a heated disagreement with his brothers and the fight for the throne, since he was supposedly a man of peace, and instead sought adventure by sea. [2]

It is said that Prince Madoc and his brother Riryd sailed from the North Coast of Wales in two ships and landed in the New World. Madoc then returned to Wales and persuaded others to voyage with him to America. [3] They sailed again from Lundy Island in 1171, but they were never heard from again. It is believed that they landed in what is now Mobile Bay, Alabama and traveled up the Alabama River and left behind several stone forts which the local Cherokee tribes said to have been constructed by "white people." These stone structures were dated to hundreds of years before Columbus. [2] However even this is debated. Some legends say he landed in Alabama, some say Florida, Newfoundland, Rhode Island, Nova Scotia, Virginia, somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, the mouth of the Amazon River, the West Indies, and even the Caribbean. Some of the folklore even says that Madoc might have been the first Inca emperor having discovered Mexico and Peru based solely on the fact that Mango Capae sounds like Madog. [3] Madoc and his followers are reported as the founders of multiple civilizations including the Inca, Maya, and Aztec. Since there was no witness to ever return to Wales with news of their travels, this is mostly speculation.

The Welsh Indians

The Mandans are a tribe of Native American Siouan speakers associated with the Great Plains and have lived for centuries in what is now North Dakota. They historically lived along the Missouri River valley in large settled villages and mostly practiced full time agriculture. However, 18th century reports of occasional physical characteristics among the tribe like their light colored blue or gray eyes and their light colored hair spurred rumors about pre-Colombian European contact. Some believed that the Mandan were "Welsh Indians" or descendants of Prince Madoc and his Welsh followers. It was proposed that interbreeding with the Norse emigrants would explain the blonde Indians. However, there is no real archaeological or scientific evidence to prove anything of the sort.

Early explorers and pioneers were said to have found evidence of Welsh influence among Native tribes along the Tennessee and Missouri Rivers. The Mandans were described as white men with towns and laid out streets and squares. The Mandan supposedly claimed ancestry with the Welsh and spoke Siouan which seemed remarkably similar to Welsh. Unfortunately two waves of the smallpox epidemic, the first in 1781 and then again in 1837, virtually wiped out the Mandans. After the second wave it is estimated that the population plummeted from 1,600 tribal members to 125 by 1838. But the belief in their Welsh heritage persisted, and in 1953 a plaque was created for Mobile Bay that read "In memory of Prince Madog, a Welsh explorer who landed on the shores of Mobile Bay in 1170 and left behind, with the Indians, the Welsh language." [4]

Claims to Rediscovery

In 1608, a member of an exploration party to the villages of the Monacan people in Virginia, Peter Wynne, reportedly found the Monacans language to seem very similar to Welsh. The Monacans were one of the non-Algonquian tribes that spoke Algonquian languages and were referred to by the Algonquians as "Mandoag."[5] In 1669, Reverend Morgan Jones was supposedly captured by a tribe of Virginia Indians in North Carolina called the Doeg. The chief supposedly spared Jones' life when he heard him speak Welsh, which the chief seemingly understood. Jones supposedly returned to the British Colonies in 1686 after living with the Doeg for months and spreading the Gospel. [6] The English forced many of the Doeg out of this region by the late 17th century.

In 1799 Governor John Sevier of Tennessee wrote a report that mentioned the discovery of skeletons that were encased in brass armor which bared the Welsh coat of arms. [4] Additionally, a 19th century painter, George Catlin, spent many years living among the Mandans and other Native American groups. Catlin argued that he had found Prince Madoc's descendants from his expedition. He believed that the Welsh had lived among the Mandan for years and intermarried until there was no distinction between the two cultures. This was further supported by the fact that their two languages were so similar that when spoken to in Welsh, the Mandan can easily understand and respond. [4]

In the late 1790s to around 1804, John Evans was employed by the Spanish colonial authorities to graph their new territory, but his original objective was to find the Welsh Indians. At that time the hunt for the Welsh Indians had narrowed to two Indian peoples: the Mandans of Missouri, and the Apaches of the Southwest. Evans was an explorer and a map maker who was among one of the first to poke a hole in the Madoc myth. By 1795, Evans had spent two years exploring and mapping the northern parts of Missouri and he met the Mandan people, however he didn't recover any evidence of European heritage. He eventually concluded that such people did not exist. However, his critics claimed that he lied to protect the territorial claims of the Spanish, and therefore, stories of Madoc continued into the 20th century. [7]

There are also multiple formations, landmarks, and ruins in North America that are attributed to Prince Madoc and the Welsh. From the mysterious rock formation on Fort Mountain in Georgia, [8] to the "Welsh Caves" in one of Alabama's state parks. [9] Apparently the native tribes in all of these areas either assured ignorance, or such stonework and excavation found on theses sites were never attributed to local native tribes.

Mentions

Prince Madoc was mentioned in multiple different writings throughout the 15th century and all the way into the 19th century. The first mention of which was by Maredudd ap Rhys in his Welsh poem dated to around 1450. His poem mentions the son of Owain Gwynedd and describes Madog as one who does not desire land or wealth but voyage by sea.[10] The first full account of Madoc and his voyage is in Cronica Walliae by Humphrey Llwyd in 1559, which translated Welsh history into English. This account was then most prominently used during the fight for British claim to the New World. The Welsh and English writers used it against Spain’s claim to the land during the Elizabethan era. [11]

Then in the 1840s and 1850s British explorers and writers, George Ruxton, and Abbot Domenach, among others, reported that multiple Native American tribes claimed to be of Welsh descent. Tribes like the Hopis, Zunis, and Navajo were of interest and were investigated, but to no avail, no tribe had any Welsh speakers. Even though a Welsh-American missionary, Llewellyn Harris, claimed there were Welsh words in the Zuni language in 1878. His claims were never verified. [12]

There are also multiple different places named after Prince Madoc. From the township of Madoc, Ontario and the nearby village of Madoc to multiple different research vessels, and many pubs and guest houses across North America and the UK.

Unraveling the Prince

The sea-trade which was then active between Greenland and the people of Western Europe in 1100 AD would have given Madoc an idea of voyage through the Atlantic ocean. Furthermore ships of 1170 were large enough and strong enough to cross the Atlantic, so in these respects it would have been logistically possible for Madoc to make it to North America.

However, while Madoc's discovery of the Americas in 1170 is possible, the Vikings would have already had settlements there. L'Anse aux Meadows is an archaeological site that was excavated in the 1960s. It is dated to around 1,000 years ago between 990-1050 CE. This site is located on the very tip of Newfoundland in Canada. The Vikings didn't stay at that site for long because of the very harsh winters, but they would have been in North America roughly 100 years before Madoc, so he wouldn't have discovered North America in any sense of the word. Moreover, a voyage to Florida was more than 4000 miles into what was basically the unknown at that time. Madoc could have followed the route of trade where he would steer west towards the Greenland coast. The Viking explorers reached parts of the east coast of Canada around 1100, therefore it could have been possible for the Welsh prince to follow the same route and to have brought settlers with him to what is now Alabama. However, there is no real evidence of his existence and no real trace has ever been found of Madoc's presence in any part of North America. [2]

Motivations

The Landing of Columbus [13]

The motivations for the creation Prince Madoc's legend and his voyage to the Americas was mostly based on nationalism or the national pride of Wales. The legend or myth of Prince Madoc is part of the oral history of a people who were proud to have resisted the might of Norman England for 200 years longer than the Saxons, and they longed for an achievement of their own. To have one of their own Welsh princes discover the new world and colonize it many years prior to Columbus would have given them something to be proud of. For this reason, people believe in this myth because it shows off a high achievement and therefore boosts the national pride of Wales. A lot of his story can also be attributed to romanticizing the past or making the past more than it was, more mysterious, or more captivating, which is one of the foundations to all pseudo-archaological claims. The Madoc legend played a huge role in allowing marginalized Welsh to romanticize themselves as a lost tribe, while also claiming to be the heirs an ancient culture in Europe. [3] However, a 15th century Welsh poem depicts Prince Madoc's voyage into the Atlantic with 10 ships and his discovery of America. Whether this account was true or not, it was historically used by Queen Elizabeth I as evidence to the British claim to America during territorial struggles with Spain. [4] It could be argued that the motivation here for Queen Elizabeth I was mostly nationalism. While it is true there were other "discoverers" of North America before Columbus, Native Americans and Vikings come to mind, there is no substantial proof of Madoc, his colonies, or even his existence.

References

  1. David B. Quinn 1966 [1] Madoc. Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 1, University of Toronto, 1966.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Davies, Arthur, 1984 [2] Prince Madoc and the Discovery of America in 1477. The Geographical Journal, vol. 150, no. 3, 1984.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Southey, Robert, 1853 [3] Madoc. The British Library, 1853.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Johnson, Ben, 2018 [4] The Discovery of America - by the Welsh Prince Madog in the 12th Century. Historic UK, 2018.
  5. 2015 [5] Our History. Monacan Indian Nation, 2015.
  6. Greenwood, Isaac J., 1833-1911. The Rev. Morgan Jones And the Welsh Indians of Virginia. Boston: Printed by D. Clapp & son, 1898.
  7. Griffiths, James, 2019 [6] The racist origins of the myth a Welsh prince beat Columbus to America. CNN, 20 July 2019.
  8. Tibbs, David, 2016 [7] Legends of Fort Mountain Historical Marker. Historical Marker, 16 June 2016.
  9. McAlister, Brittney L., 2009 [8] The Welsh Caves. Alabama State Parks, 23 July 2009.
  10. Hunter, Jerry, 2016 [9] Myth and Historiography: One Hundred and Sixty Years of Madog and the Madogwys. The Yearbook of English Studies, vol. 46, Modern Humanities Research Association, 2016, pp. 37–55.
  11. Llwyd, Humphrey, and Ieuan M. Williams, 2002 Cronica Walliae. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2002. Print..
  12. Smallcanyon, Corey, 2010 [10] Contested Space: Mormons, Navajos, and Hopis in the Colonization of Tuba City. Theses and Dissertations, 2010.
  13. Chris 2021 [11] Prince Madoc: The Legend of How the Welsh Colonized North America. History of Yesterday, 2021.