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The Legend of Madoc

“Hidden History”

Joe Guy


In the year 1170, a ship named the Gwenan Gorn left the coast of Wales.  It was commanded by a Welsh prince, Madoc ap-Owain Gwynedd, and held a group of fellow Welsh adventurers.  Madoc was the last of the 17 sons of King Owain Gwynedd, and after the death of his father Wales erupted in war between Madoc’s brothers.  Having no desire to fight with his family, Madoc decided to travel to a distant land, far to the West over the ocean, a place it is believed he had visited before.  The following year, it was recorded in Welsh history that Madoc’s ship had “ventured far out over the Western ocean never to return”, and so it was assumed that Madoc and his friends had been lost at sea. But a legend remained that Madoc had not perished, but had found a distant land after all.


Three hundred years later, Christopher Columbus was a swash-buckling mercenary sailor known as a corsair.  He had heard about Madoc in his travels between Iceland and Portugal, and Columbus was intrigued by the legend.  This information was part of the reason Columbus petitioned Queen Isabella to fund the historic voyage on which he “discovered” America.  Columbus, on his second voyage, saw old wrecked ships of European design in the area of the West Indies, and wrote on his map that “These are Welsh waters”.


Then there is Quetzalcoatl.  Quetzalcoatl was an Aztec Indian god who was pictured as a White man with a yellow beard.  When Hernando Cortes invaded present day Mexico in 1520, he learned of the “white god” legend, and that Quetzalcoatl had visited the Aztecs many years before and had promised one day to return. Cortez pretended to be the fabled Quetzalcoatl, and thereby overthrew the Aztec Indians.  There are those today who connect Quetzalcoatl with Madoc.


In 1810, former Tennessee Governor John Sevier recorded a conversation he had had many years earlier with the famed Cherokee Chief, Oconostota.  While conducting a military operation against the Cherokee in 1782, Sevier saw several strange-looking stone fortresses in the area of present day Chattanooga.  He inquired of Oconostota of their origin, to which Oconostota replied: “It is handed down by the forefathers that the works had been made by the white people who had formerly occupied the country now called Carolina (Tennessee).”  When Sevier asked who the white people were, the Chief answered that “he heard his father and grandfather say that they were a people called Welsh, and they had crossed the great waters and landed first at the mouth of the Alabama River near Mobile and had been driven up the heads of the waters until they arrived at Hiwassee River.”  In 1854, Benjamin Bowen recorded an Indian who spoke of ancient White people who once lived on Conasauga Creek.  Even today, stone fortifications remain at places such as Old Stone Fort in Manchester, Tennessee, Desoto Falls on Lookout Mountain, and Fort Mountain in Chatsworth, Georgia.  Archaeologists and historians remain puzzled as to who actually built these sites. 


Other stories remain of early hunters encountering Indians in the Appalachian region who had light skin and blue eyes.  In many Indian cultures are stories of whites who had come to them long ago, long before the Spanish, “wolf” in Cherokee is “waya”, in Welsh, it is “wayman”.  Shawnee words such as glass, father, old, water, and dance match the Welsh words almost exactly.  Ancient Roman coins have been found in Mobile Bay, Louisville, Kentucky, and as far west as Missouri.  Were they left by a twelfth-century band of Welshmen who were eventually absorbed by Native American tribes?  Or is there some other explanation?


Today, in Alabama’s Mobile Bay, is a marker placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution commemorating the landing of Prince Madoc at Mobile Bay in the year 1170.    While the legend remains, evidence is thin.  But in this piece of Hidden History is the possibility of white Welshmen who saw the beauty of East Tennessee three hundred years before Columbus set sail.