Did Prince Madog Discover America?
Disgrifiad | Description
- Author: Michael Senior
- Publication February 2004
- Format: Paperback, 182x124 mm, 124 pages
An investigation by the author into the claim that it was Prince Madog, son of Owain Gwynedd, who discovered America in 1170, including details of the story and the people who have promoted the claim over the years.
‘Of all the disinformation taught us in our appallingly Eurocentric educational system,’ remarks the author of this book, in typically robust style, ‘perhaps the one that packs the most errors into the fewest words is the statement that “Columbus discovered America in 1492”.’ We now have archaeological confirmation that the Vikings reached Newfoundland half a millennium before Columbus, and Tim Severin (a surprising omission from this investigation) demonstrated in the 1970s that the Irish Saint Brendan could also have followed the North Atlantic stepping-stone route to the Americas several hundred years before that. The myth of Madoc's voyage from Wales to America is located somewhere between the time of the Vikings and of Columbus and is thus not inherently improbable. Those who believe the tale give remarkably precise details: Madog ab Owain Gwynedd is said to have sailed from Rhos-on-Sea to Mobile, Alabama, in 1170. A plaque in a garden wall at Rhos-on-Sea commemorates the departure and one at the Fort Morgan visitor centre in Mobile commemorates the arrival of the Welsh party, although as the author points out, the latter plaque is subject to repeated removal by the Knights of Columbus!
Leaning heavily on recent secondary sources - Richard Deacon and Gwyn Alf Williams between them have probably exhausted the subject (and their work owes much to the prior scholarship of David Williams and the self-styled 'Merthyr druggist' Thomas Stephens) this lively investigation serves as a popular introduction to an intriguing topic. What gives the legend of Madoc its fascination is the way in which this tale of a pre-Columbian Welsh settlement of the Americas was used by a newly Protestant state to justify colonisation in a continent which a Papal decree had previously divided between the two rival Catholic powers of Spain and Portugal. (The Treaty of Tordesillas placed the boundary by means of a line of longitude 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde archipelago, incidentally, not 100 miles west of the Azores as stated on p.30). Elizabeth I evidently felt happier ignoring the Renaissance equivalent of international law if she could also find some justification for colonial activity in historical precedent.
The myth of Madoc served this purpose admirably and pressed into diplomatic service, the story grew like Topsy to encompass Welsh-speaking Indians, with family Bibles (several centuries before the invention of printing or the translation of the Bible into Welsh) and sacred coracles. The most bizarre twist of all comes with the remarkable journey of the Waunfawr (often misspelt in the book) Calvinistic Methodist, John Evans, up the Missouri in search of Welsh-speaking Indians in the last decade of the eighteenth century. Although he famously concluded that there was ‘no such thing as the Welsh Indians’, the map that he had drawn of the Upper Missouri passed via Thomas Jefferson (whose ancestral home was in Llanberis, we are told) to Lewis and Clark and was thus instrumental in opening up the westward passage to the Pacific coast, the bicentennial of which event is now being celebrated.
Michael Senior provides a lively and judicious introduction to this fascinating subject and the book comes with a generous selection of maps, prints and black-and-white photographs.