Welsh in Ancient America

By John D. Baldwin.

The story of the emigration to America of Prince Madoc, or Madog, is told in the old Welsh books as follows:

About the year 1168 or 1169 A.D., Owen Gwynedd, ruling prince of North Wales, died, and among his sons there was a contest for the succession, which, becoming angry and fierce, produced a civil war. His son Madoc, who had “command of the fleet,” took no part in this strife. Greatly disturbed by the public trouble, and not being able to make the combatants hear reason, he resolved to leave Wales and go across the ocean to the land at the west. Accordingly, in the year 1170 A.D., he left with a few ships, going south of Ireland, and steering westward. The purpose of this voyage was to explore the western land and select a place for settlement. He found a pleasant and fertile region, where his settlement was established. Leaving one hundred and twenty persons, he returned to Wales, prepared ten ships, prevailed on a large company, some of whom were Irish, to join him, and sailed again to America. Nothing more was ever heard in Wales of Prince Madog or his settlement.

All this is related in old Welsh annals preserved in the abbeys of Conway and Strat Flur. These annals were used by Humphrey Llwyd in his translation and continuation of Caradoc’s History of Wales, the continuation extending from 1157 to 1270 A.D. This emigration of Prince Madog is mentioned in the preserved works of several Welsh bards who lived before the time of Columbus. It is mentioned by Hakluyt, who had his account of it from writings of the bard Guttun Owen. As the Norsemen had been in New England over one hundred and fifty years when Prince Madog went forth to select a place for his settlement, he knew very well there was a continent on the other side of the Atlantic, for he had knowledge of their voyages to America; and knowledge of them was also prevalent in Ireland. His emigration took place when Henry II. was king of England, but in that age the English knew little or nothing of Welsh affairs in such a way as to connect them with English history very closely.

It is supposed that Madog settled somewhere in the Carolinas, and that his colony, unsupported by new arrivals from Europe, and cut off from communicated with that side of the ocean, became weak, and, after being much reduced, was destroyed or absorbed by some powerful tribe of Indians. In our colony times, and later, there was no lack of reports that relics of Madog’s Welshmen, and even their language, had been discovered among the Indians; but generally they were entitled to no credit. The only report of this kind having any show of claim to respectful consideration is that of Rev. Morgan Jones, made in 1686, in a letter giving an account of his adventures among the Tuscaroras. These Tuscarora Indians were lighter in color than the other tribes, and this peculiarity was so noticeable that they were frequently mentioned as “White Indians.” Mr. Jones’s account of his experiences among them was written in March, 1686, and published in the Gentleman’s Magazine for the year 1740, as follows:


“These presents certify all persons whatever, that in the year 1660, being an inhabitant of Virginia, and chaplain to Major General Bennet, of Mansoman County, the said Major General Bennet and Sir William Berkeley sent two ships to Port Royal, now called South Carolina, which is sixty leagues southward of Cape Fair, and I was sent therewith to be their minister. Upon the 8th of April we set out from Virginia, and arrived at the harbor’s mouth of Port Royal the 19th of the same month, where we waited for the rest of the fleet that was to sail from Barbados and Bermuda with one Mr. West, who was to be deputy governor of said place. As soon as the fleet came in, the smallest vessels that were with us sailed up the river to a place called the Oyster Point; there I continued about eight months, all which time being almost starved for want of provisions: I and five more traveled through the wilderness till we came to the Tuscarora country.

“There the Tuscarora Indians took us prisoners because we told them that we were bound to Roanock. That night they carried us to their town and shut us up close, to our no small dread. The next day they entered into a consultation about us, and, after it was over, their interpreter told us that we must prepare ourselves to die next morning, whereupon, being very much dejected, I spoke to this effect in the British [Welsh] tongue: ‘Have I escaped so many dangers, and must I now be knocked on the head like a dog!’ Then presently came an Indian to me, which afterward appeared to be a war captain belonging to the sachem of the Doegs (whose original, I find, must needs be from the Old Britons), and took me up by the middle, and told me in the British [Welsh] tongue I should not die, and thereupon went to the emperor of Tuscarora, and agreed for my ransom and the men that were with me.

“They (the Doegs) then welcomed us to their town, and entertained us very civilly and cordially four months, during which time I had the opportunity of conversing with them familiarly in the British [Welsh] language, and did preach to them in the same language three times a week, and they would confer with me about any thing that was difficult therein, and at our departure they abundantly supplied us with whatever was necessary to our support and well doing. They are settled upon Pontigo River, not far from Cape Atros. This is a brief recital of my travels among the Doeg Indians. Morgan Jones,

“the son of John Jones, of Basateg, near Newport, in the County of Monmouth. I am ready to conduct any Welshman or others to the country.

“New York, March 10th, 1685-6.”

Other accounts of his “travels” among the “Doegs” of the Tuscarora nation were published much earlier, but no other has been preserved. His veracity was never questioned. What shall be said of his statement? Were the remains of Prince Madog’s company represented in these “Doeg” Tuscaroras? He is very explicit in regard to the matter of language, and it is not easy to see how he could be mistaken. They understood his Welsh, not without needing explanation of some things “difficult therein.” He was able to converse with them and preach to them in Welsh; and yet, if he got an explanation of the existence of the Welsh language among these “Doegs,” or sought to know any thing in regard to their traditional history, he omits entirely to say so. Without meaning to doubt his veracity, one feels skeptical, and desires a more intelligent and complete account of these “travels.”


This is taken from Ancient America, originally published in 1871.





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