Madoc, also spelled 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, and took to the
sea to flee internecine violence at home. The "
Madoc story" legend
evidently evolved out of a medieval tradition about a Welsh hero's sea
voyage, to which only allusions survive. However, it attained its
greatest prominence during the Elizabethan era, when English and Welsh
writers wrote of the claim that
Madoc had come to the
Americas as an
assertion of prior discovery, and hence legal possession, of North
America by the Kingdom of England.
Madoc 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 descendants still live
somewhere in the United States. These "Welsh Indians" were credited
with the construction of a number of landmarks throughout the
Midwestern United States, 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. No conclusive archaeological proof of such a
man or his voyages has been found in the New or Old World; however,
speculation abounds connecting him with certain sites, such as Devil's
Backbone, located on the
Ohio River at Fourteen Mile Creek near
3 Welsh Indians
3.1 Encounters with Welsh Indians
4 Later writings
7 Further reading
8 External links
A map of c. 1577 depicting Conwy, Penrhyn, and Llandrighno
Madoc's purported father, Owain Gwynedd, was a real king 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 heir, Hywel the
Poet-Prince, and Owain's younger sons, Maelgwn, Rhodri, and led by
Dafydd, two the children of the Princess-Dowager Cristen ferch Gronwy
and one the child of Gwladus ferch Llywarch. 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
Madoc and his brother (Rhirid or Rhiryd) were among them,
though no contemporary record attests to this.
The 1584 Historie of Cambria by
David Powel says that
disheartened by this family fighting, and that he and Rhirid set sail
from Llandrillo (Rhos-on-Sea) in the cantref of Rhos to explore the
western ocean with a number of ships.[A] They discovered a distant and
abundant land in 1170 where about one hundred men, women and children
disembarked to form a colony. According to Humphrey Llwyd's 1559
Madoc and some others returned to Wales to recruit
additional settlers. After gathering several ships of
men, women and children, the Prince and his recruiters sailed west a
second time to "that Westerne countrie" and ported in "Mexico", never
to return to Wales again.
Madoc's landing place has also been suggested to be "Mobile Alabama;
Florida; Newfoundland; Newport, Rhode Island; Yarmouth, Nova Scotia;
Virginia; points in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean including the
mouth of the Mississippi River; the Yucatan; the isthmus of
Tehuantepec, Panama; the Caribbean coast of South America; various
islands in the West Indies and the Bahamas along with Bermuda; and the
mouth of the Amazon River". 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
travelled 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. They are reported to be the founders of various
civilisations such as the Aztec, the Maya and the Inca.
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
The earliest certain reference to a seafaring
Madoc or Madog 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." A Flemish
writer called Willem, in around 1250 to 1255,
identifies himself in his poem Van den Vos Reinaerde as "Willem die
Madoc maecte" (Willem, the author of Madoc, known as "Willem the
Minstrel"[B]). Though no copies of "Madoc" survive, Gwyn Williams
tells us that "In the seventeenth century a fragment of a reputed copy
of the work is said to have been found in Poitiers". It provides no
topographical details relating to North America, but mentions a sea
that may be the
Sargasso Sea and says that
Madoc (not related to Owain
in the fragment according to Gwyn Williams) discovered an island
paradise, where he intended "to launch a new kingdom of love and
music". There are also claims that the Welsh poet and
Gutun Owain wrote about
Madoc before 1492. Gwyn Williams
in Madoc, the Making of a Myth, makes it clear that
Madoc is not
mentioned in any of Owain's surviving manuscripts.
Madoc legend attained its greatest prominence during the
Elizabethan era, when Welsh and English writers used it to 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
Madoc had come to America before Columbus,[C] appears in
Humphrey Llwyd's published 1559 Cronica Walliae, an English
adaptation of the Brut y Tywysogion.[D]
John Dee used his
manuscript when he submitted a treatise the "Title Royal" 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. The story was first published by
George Peckham's as A True Report of the late Discoveries of the
Newfound Landes (1583) and like Dee it was used to support English
claims to the Americas. It was picked up in David Powel's Historie
of Cambria (1584),[E] 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 Troy
Brutus of Troy and King Arthur
as well as
Madoc had conquered lands in the
Americas and therefore
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I of England had a priority claim there.
Thomas Herbert popularised the stories told by Dee and Powel, adding
more detail from sources unknown, suggesting that
Madoc may have
landed in Canada, Florida, or even Mexico, and reporting that Mexican
sources stated that they used currachs.
The Welsh Indians were not claimed until later. Morgan Jones's tract
is the first account, and was printed by The Gentleman's Magazine,
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. The
Mandan are still alive today; the
tribe was decimated by a smallpox epidemic in 1837–1838 and banded
with the nearby
Arikara into the Three Affiliated
The Welsh Indian legend was revived in the 1840s and 1850s; this time
the Zunis, Hopis, and
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. 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
Hopi men to Salt Lake City, where they were "besieged by
Welshmen wanting them to utter Celtic words", to no avail.
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's
claims have never been independently verified.
George Catlin thought the
Mandan bull boat to be similar to the Welsh
On 26 November 1608, Peter Wynne, a member of Captain Christopher
Newport's exploration party to the villages of the Monacan people,
Virginia Siouan speakers 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. 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 in
North Carolina by
a tribe of
Tuscarora people 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. The
Gwyn A. Williams
Gwyn A. Williams comments, "This is a complete farrago and
may have been intended as a hoax". There is no evidence for there
having been Doeg among the Tuscarora.
Madoc's proponents believe earthen fort mounds at Devil's Backbone
Ohio River to be the work of Welsh colonists.
Folk tradition has long claimed that a site called "Devil's Backbone"
at Rose Island, about fourteen miles upstream from Louisville,
Kentucky, was once home to a colony of Welsh-speaking Indians. The
Missouri River explorer John Evans of
Wales took up his journey in part to find the Welsh-descended
"Padoucas" or "Madogwys" tribes.
Early visitors referred to a rock formation on
Fort Mountain in
Georgia as a fort, speculating that it was built by Hernando de Soto
to defend against the
Muscogee around 1540. This theory was
contradicted as early as 1917, as a historian pointed out that de Soto
was in the area for less than two weeks. Archaeologists believe
the stones were placed there by indigenous peoples. 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 practised such stonework or excavation as was
found on the site.
In 1810, John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee, wrote to his
Amos Stoddard about a conversation he had in 1782 with
Oconostota concerning ancient fortifications
built along the
Alabama River. The chief allegedly told him that the
forts were built by a white people called "Welsh", as protection
against the ancestors of the Cherokee, who eventually drove them from
the region. Sevier had also written in 1799 of the alleged
discovery of six skeletons in brass armour bearing the Welsh
coat-of-arms. He claims that
Madoc and the Welsh were first in
Thomas S. Hinde
Thomas S. Hinde wrote a letter to John S. Williams, editor of
The American Pioneer, regarding the
Madoc Tradition. In the letter,
Hinde claimed to have gathered testimony from numerous sources that
stated Welsh people under Owen Ap Zuinch had come to America in the
twelfth century, over three hundred years before Christopher Columbus.
Hinde claimed that in 1799, six soldiers had been dug up near
Jeffersonville, Indiana, on the
Ohio River with breastplates that
contained Welsh coat-of-arms.
Encounters with Welsh Indians
Thomas Jefferson had heard of Welsh-speaking Indian tribes. In a
letter written to
Meriwether Lewis by Jefferson on 22 January 1804, he
speaks of searching for the Welsh Indians "said to be up the
Missouri". The historian
Stephen E. Ambrose
Stephen E. Ambrose writes in his
Undaunted Courage that Thomas Jefferson believed the
Madoc story" to be true and instructed the Lewis and Clark Expedition
to find the descendants of the
Madoc Welsh Indians.
In all, at least thirteen real tribes, five unidentified tribes, and
three unnamed tribes have been suggested as "Welsh Indians."
Eventually, the legend settled on identifying the Welsh Indians with
Mandan people, who were said to differ from their neighbours in
culture, language, and appearance. The painter
George Catlin suggested
the Mandans were 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 traditions
were not well known in Catlin's time). Supporters of this claim have
drawn links between
Madoc and the
Mandan mythological figure "Lone
Man", who, according to one tale, protected some villagers from a
flooding river with a wooden corral.
Several attempts to confirm Madoc's historicity have been made, but
historians of early America, notably Samuel Eliot Morison, regard the
story as a 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. Fittingly, Southey wrote
Madoc to help finance a trip of his own to America, where he and
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Samuel Taylor Coleridge hoped to establish a Utopian state they called
a "Pantisocracy". Southey's poem in turn inspired the
Paul Muldoon to write Madoc: A Mystery, which
Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 1992. It explores
what may have happened if Southey and Coleridge had succeeded in
coming to America to found their "ideal state". In Russian, the
noted poet Alexander S. Pushkin composed a short poem "
Madoc in Wales"
(Медок в Уаллах, 1829) on the topic.
John Smith, historian of Virginia, wrote in 1624 of the Chronicles of
Madoc went to the
New World in 1170 A.D. (over 300 years
before Columbus) with some men and women. Smith says the Chronicles
Madoc then went back to Wales to get more people and made a second
trip back to the New World.
Fort Mountain State Park: Legends at
Fort Mountain – Prince
Fort Morgan showing where the Daughters of the American
Revolution supposed that
Madoc had landed in 1170 A.D.
The township of Madoc, Ontario, and the nearby village of
both named in the prince's memory, as are several local guest houses
and pubs throughout North America and the United Kingdom. The Welsh
Porthmadog (meaning "Madoc's Port" in English) and the village
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, and additionally
influenced by the legendary son of Owain Gwynedd,
Madoc ab Owain
The Prince Madog, a research vessel owned by the University of Wales
and P&O Maritime, set sail on 26 July 2001, on her maiden
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
statement that the Cherokees believed "a people called Welsh" had
built a fort on the mountain long ago to repel Indian attacks.
October 2015, the plaque has now been changed with no reference to
Madoc or the Welsh.
In 1953, the
Daughters of the American Revolution
Daughters of the American Revolution erected a plaque at
Fort Morgan on the shores of Mobile Bay, Alabama, reading:
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
The plaque was removed by the
Alabama Parks Service in 2008 and put in
storage. Since then there has been much controversy in getting the
^ "And after he had returned home and declared the pleasant and
frutefull countreys that he had seene without inhabitants, and upon
the contrarye parte what barreyne and wilde grounde his bretherne and
nevewes did murther one an other for, he prepared a number of shippes,
and gote with suche men and women as were diserouse to lyve in
quietness. And takinge his leave of his frends, toke his journey
thytherwarde againe wherefore his is to be presupposed that he and his
people enhabited parte of those countreys."
^ "The earliest existing fragments of the epic of 'Reynard the Fox'
were written in Latin by Flemish priests, and about 1250 a very
important version in Dutch was made by Willem the Minstrel, of whom it
is unfortunate that we know no more, save that he was the translator
of a lost romance, 'Madoc'."
^ "An so his was by Britons longe afore discovered before eyther
Colonus or Americus lead any Hispaniardes thyther."
^ "And at this tyme an other of Owen Gwynedhs sonnes, named Madocke,
left the lande in contention betwixt his bretherne, and prepared
certaine shippes, with men [and] munition, and sought adventures by
the seas. And sayled west levinge the cost of Irelande [so far] north
that he came to a land unknown, where he sawe many starange things.
And this lande most needs be some parte of that land the which the
Hispaniardes do affirme them selves to be the first finders, sith
Hannos tyme. For by reason and order of cosmosgraphie this lande to
Madoc came to, most needs bee somme parte of Nova Hispania, or
Madoc arriving in the Western country, unto the which he came,
in the yeare 1170, left most of his people there: and returning back
for more of his nation, acquaintance, and friends, to inhabite that
faire and large countrie: went thither againe with ten sailes, as I
find noted by Gutyn Owen. I am of opinion that the land, where unto he
came, was part of Mexico; the causes which make me to think so be
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