They were a people called Welsh and they had crossed the Great Water

Posted by | May 15, 2013

In 1170 A.D., a certain Welsh prince, Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd, sailed away from his homeland, which was filled with war and strife and battles between his brothers. Yearning to be away from the feuds and quarrels, he took his ships and headed west, seeking a better place. He returned to Wales brimming with tales of the new land he found–warm and golden and fair. His tales convinced more than a few of his fellow countrymen, and many left with him to return to this wondrous new land, far across the sea.

Dolwyddelan Castle in Gwynedd, Wales

Dolwyddelan Castle in Gwynedd, Wales; the birthplace of Madoc.

This wondrous new land is believed to be what is now Mobile Bay, Alabama. The choice of Mobile Bay as Madoc’s landfall and the starting point for his colonists is grounded in two main areas. One is the logical assumption that the ocean currents would have carried him into the Gulf of Mexico. Once there and seeking a landing site, he would have been attracted to the perfect harbor offered in Mobile Bay, as were later explorers Ponce de Leon, Alonzo de Pineda, Hernando de Soto, and Amerigo Vespucci.

The second, and more convincing reason, is a series of pre-Columbian forts built up the Alabama River, and the tradition handed down by the Cherokee Indians of the “White People” who built them. Testimony includes a letter dated 1810 from Governor John Sevier of Tennessee in response to an inquiry by Major Amos Stoddard. The letter, a copy of which is on file at the Georgia Historical Commission, recounts a 1782 conversation Sevier had with then 90-year-old Oconostota, a Cherokee, who had been the ruling chief of the Cherokee Nation for nearly sixty years. Sevier had asked the Chief about the people who had left the “fortifications” in his country.

Oconostota, Cherokee chief

Cunne Shote, also known as Oconostota, painted by Francis Parsons in 1762.

The chief told him: “they were a people called Welsh and they had crossed the Great Water.” He called their leader “Modok.” If true, this fits with the known history of 12th century Welsh Prince Madoc. He further related: “It is handed down by the Forefathers that the works had been made by the White people who had formerly inhabited the country. . .” and gave him a brief history of the “Whites.” When asked if he had ever heard what nation these Whites had belonged to, Oconostota told Sevier that he “. . .had heard his grandfather and father say they were a people called Welsh, and that they had crossed the Great Water and landed first near the mouth of the Alabama River near Mobile. . ..”

Three major forts, completely unlike any known Indian structure, were constructed along the route settlers arriving at Mobile Bay would have taken up the Alabama and Coosa rivers to the Chattanooga area. Archaeologists have testified that the forts are of pre-Columbian origin, and most agree they date several hundred years before 1492. All are believed to have been built by the same group of people within the period of a single generation, and all bear striking similarities to the ancient fortifications of Wales.

The first fort, erected on top of Lookout Mountain, near DeSoto Falls, Alabama, was found to be nearly identical in setting, layout, and method of construction, to Dolwyddelan Castle.

DeSoto Falls, AL

DeSoto Falls, Alabama.

The situation of the forts, blended with the accounts given by the Indians of the area, has led to a plausible reconstruction of the trail of Madoc’s colonists. The settlers would have traveled up the Alabama River and secured themselves at the Lookout Mountain site, which took months, maybe even years to complete. It is presumed the hostility of the Indians forced them to move on up the Coosa River, where the next stronghold was established at Fort Mountain, Georgia. Situated atop a 3,000 foot mountain, this structure had a main defensive wall 855 feet long, and appears to be more hastily constructed than the previous fort.

Having retreated from Fort Mountain, the settlers then built a series of minor fortifications in the Chatanooga area, before moving north to the forks of the Duck River (near what is now Manchester, Tennessee), and their final fortress, Old Stone Fort. Formed by high bluffs and twenty-foot walls of stone, Old Stone Fort’s fifty acres was also protected by a moat twelve hundred feet long. Like the other two major defense works, Old Stone Fort exhibits engineering proficiency well beyond the skills of the Indians.

A section of the ancient wall at Fort Mountain, GA.

The trail of the settlers becomes more speculative with the desertion of Old Stone Fort. Chief Oconostota, in relating his tribal history, tells of the war that had existed for years between the White people who had built the forts and the Cherokee. Eventually a treaty was reached in which the Whites agreed to leave the area and never return. According to Oconostota, the Whites followed the Tennessee River down to the Ohio, up the Ohio to the Missouri, then up the Missouri “. . .for a great distance. . .but they are no more White people; they are now all become Indians….”

Chief Oconostota’s testimony has been very thoroughly followed up by later historians, and several points have been corroborated with other reports of “bearded Indians” and their trek upriver in retreat from hostile natives. Throughout the years “. . .there was abundant evidence. . .that travelers and administrators had met Indians who not only claimed ancestry with the Welsh, but spoke a language remarkably like it.”

It must be assumed that the remaining settlers were eventually assimilated by Indians, and that by the early eighteenth century very few traces of their Welsh ancestry remained.

source: “A Consideration: Was America Discovered In 1170 by Prince Madoc Ab Owain Gwynedd Of Wales?” by Jayne Wanner, Barstow Community College, Barstow, CA, 1999
online at http://www.tylwythteg.com/fortmount/Ftmount.html

6 Responses

  • Joan says:

    Dave, I have long been fascinated by the pre-Columbian forts — tho I am not sure that I had heard the theory that they were built by the Welsh. Me thinks, I may want to do some reading here. Thanks for the nudge.

  • Jack Glasser says:

    Am reading a very interesting novel by author Pat Winter
    Bantam Books February 1990

    Thank you for info on the web.

    Keep up the search for positive proof of Madoc discovery.

  • Yes, various groups have come and gone, stayed and married, lived and died, but Cherokee Empire remains in various ways. Many of the newcomers to Indian America did not understand the native world view. This continues to this day. Madoc is not well known in history, but his story set the stage for Columbus. Let it be written also that Poland and Danish arrrivals in the Maritimes of America before Columbs are also real. Poland helped “discover” America much like Madoc. cherokee empire.bravehost.com

  • Fascinating writeup, thanks Dave. I’m a natural skeptic, but that includes the “official” history that Columbus discovered America also!

  • The Spanyards also had forts around the South. Are some of these forts in the Conquest era of Appalachia Spanish? Yes. There was also a Spanish town near King Powhatan’s ruling town in present day Virginia. cherokeeempire.bravehost.com

  • huw Williams says:

    I remember my father telling me stories of Prince Madoc and Welsh Indians before we emigrated from North Wales to Canada many decades ago. All these years I thought the legends a little far fetched, but now hearing of the Welsh breast plates and stone fortresses much like those found in North Wales makes me want to learn much more. Is it possible Madoc saw the future plight of Cymru (Wales) as the English began to lust for Wales as well? As he was a great seafarer it would make sense for him to set sail away from a Wales that had been at war for centuries with no end in sight. It’s time for historians to revisit both Madoc and Irish Saint Brendan’s voyages as well.

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