The Legend of Madocs Crossing to America

The Madoc legend is one of several pre-Columbian Atlantic Ocean crossing stories that arose shortly after Columbus’ first voyage.  There is no archaeological nor any historical evidence for the voyage of Madoc.

Madoc or Madog, son of Owain, or Owen, was a Welsh prince that supposedly sailed from Wales to America in the year 1170 CE, some three centuries before Christopher Columbus.  The legend states that Madoc took to the sea to escape a brewing civil war in his homeland.  After arriving in North America his crewmen intermarried with Native Americans and their descendants built a number of important monuments in the American Midwest.

The legend of Madoc apparently started in a medieval poem.   The earliest know reference is in a traditional Welsh poem that mentions a Prince Madoc that voyaged to sea, but makes no mention of him finding the New World. The Madoc story reached its widest acceptance during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.  The legend was used to support British claims to the New World against the claims of Spain to the same area.  The first recorded claim that Madoc had reached America is in the Cronica Walliae written in 1559.  A Royal Warrant was issued by Queen Elizabeth in 1580 that supposed that a Lord Madoc had built a colony in the new world.

In popular travel books of the late 16th Century CE the claim that Madoc reached the New World was mentioned at least four more times.  One writer, John Dee, in 1589 went on to claim that not only had Madoc reached America but that King Arthur himself had conquered parts of the New World thereby asserting that Elizabeth had a strong prior claim to the whole Western Hemisphere.

The claim that there was a tribe of “Welsh Indians” didn’t appear until 1740 when a Morgan Jones who stated that the Mandan tribe was in fact the descents of Madoc’s Welsh crewmen.  Of course, there is no DNA or other evidence that show that the Mandans or for that matter any other American Indian tribe are descendants of the Welsh.

While certainly an interesting legend, there is no evidence of any kind that proves that a Welsh prince managed a transatlantic voice in the early 12th Century CE.

Sources:

Fowler,  D. D. “A laboratory for Anthropology”.  Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2000.

Williams, Gwyn A. “Madoc: The Making of a Myth.” London : Eyre Methuen, 1979

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