Uncategorized Patrick Mead on 11 Jan 2010 12:40 pm
We know from the records of ancient and medieval bards that Madoc was known in Provence and Brittany when he was still a young man. Based out of Norse-held Ireland, a sailor of great renown and skill, he would have known of Erik the Red, Leif Eriksson, and other adventurers who had sailed west in the recent past. He might have also known of Phoenician travels many centuries before, but that is pure supposition. He would have known of the currents in the Atlantic that force sailing vessels to use, as the Psalmist says, “the paths of the seas.” These were mapped first in modern times by Matthew Fontaine Maury (who has a fascinating story all his own that has been told in Bible classes a few times. See http://www.bible.ca/tracks/matthew-fontaine-maury-pathfinder-of-sea-ps8.htm) but the Norse, Kelts, and Albans already knew of these as did Sir Henry Sinclair in later years. More on Sinclair much later in this series.
If you take the northern route, you will reach Iceland, Greenland, and then the coast of Canada. If you miss the northern route, the currents will shove you back east. Ever hear of Thorstein, the brother of Leif Eriksson and his voyage? Probably not, because he missed the current, strayed too far south, and instead of reaching Vinland, he was shoved back to Ireland. That may be why there is a noticeable lack of statues built in Thorstein’s memory.
Had Thorstein gone a bit further south… the story would have been different. Madoc knew about the southern current and in the turmoil of the late twelfth century, he took it. This was a time of exodus from Wales as brother killed brother in an effort to gain control of Gwynedd or of Wales as a whole. It didn’t help that the English (Angles and Saxons) were trying to find a way into their mountain fastness, too. Where did the Welsh go? That is no mystery: Ireland. When the Welsh royal, David, married the half sister of the English King Henry, he made an alliance with England that threw his nation into greater turmoil yet.
Madoc offered to take some of his family and other adventurous Welshmen and women to a new land. How he knew of that land isn’t known for certain but he must have been convincing because in 1170 he filled his ships with settlers. This has caused some historians such as Zella Armstrong and William Traxel to believe that Madoc had already been to the New World… and the evidence seems to say they are right. His first voyage took place sometime before 1170 and took between three and four years. Without settlers, but with a crew of trusted men, he took the southern current to the land across the water. Where he landed is still in dispute but there is reason to believe he landed first in Mexico.
The Toltecs passed down a legend to the Aztecs who, in turn, told it to the Spanish conquistadors. They said that ships came from the east with square sails bearing white men whose knowledge and powers made the Toltecs consider them gods. These white men were friendly (in stark contrast to the Spanish who arrived hundreds of years later and took advantage of the good will the population was predisposed to offer to white men from the east) and shared knowledge with them. Before racial politics made it impossible to talk about evidence, it was assumed that the royal line of the Aztecs did indeed, as they insisted, contain blood from these white men. Cortez, in 1520, remarked that the royal household in general and Montezuma in particular did not look like the rest of their people. They were taller and had features that were a blend of European and Indian. Montezuma said his ancestors were those men in boats with square sails who came from the east. His speech to his people, recorded by Cortez’s scribe, said, in part:
“My…fathers and all descendants of my race… came from a far distant northern nation whose tongue and manners we have yet partly preserved…you sprang from a race of freemen and heroes… most renown upon earth for liberty and valor…the only unsubdued people upon the earth…” He went on to say that this powerful group of men did not try to overthrow the nations they found but, rather, treated them justly and with honor. From everything we know of Madoc from his French and Welsh chroniclers, this fits him well.
The Song of Quetzalcoatl, recorded by a priest who accompanied Cortez, refers to these men as wearing long, yellow beards (absolutely unknown and unseen in Mexico before that time), skilled in trades, master workmen, willing to teach any who wanted to learn. Quetzalcoatl himself was depicted as a white man with European features and a long beard. No wonder those who knew those stories joyfully greeted the Spanish when they showed up over 300 years later!
Still… was this Madoc? Maybe. It could also have been a number of other European adventurers who, by the late 1100′s, were sailing to the New World and establishing secret trading outposts. At sometime on this first voyage Madoc sailed into the Gulf of Mexico and landed at Mobile Bay in present day Alabama. Many of his party loved the area and were granted permission to stay. Upon his return to Wales around four years after he left (and he was quite a celebrity when he arrived!), he told the Welsh of two great lands. One was full of many strange and amazing animals and people, full of cities and peopled by many tribes (Mexico) while the other was empty, rich, and ready to settle (Alabama). His descriptions of Mobile Bay were detailed enough to make us fairly certain that was, indeed, where he landed. Until recently, a state plaque rested at Mobile to honor Madoc. I am told it was removed for rehabilitation and hasn’t been put back in place. Someone out there can tell me if that is true or not.
Madoc had no trouble filling eleven ships full of settlers in 1170. People were ready to get away from the internecine and international warfare that filled every deep valley of Wales by this time. He took some of his brothers and sisters with him on this trip — an alternative royal line of Wales that, had things been different, would have held the throne in Gwynedd instead of being hunted as potential enemies of the king, their relative. Estimates vary widely of how many people joined him on this first journey, but the number is likely around 300. The ships would be familiar to anyone who have seen Viking vessels. They would have been around 75 feet long, single masted, square sailed, backed up with eight to ten pairs of oars. This time, Madoc didn’t go to Mexico. After a voyage of just over six weeks, he entered Mobile Bay once again.
Many of the men he had left behind were now dead but it is not recorded whether this was at the hands of natives or by disease or by internal warfare. Regardless, Madoc did not seem to be concerned with leaving more settlers there. He only took enough men to man his ships back with him to Wales and immediately filled them with more settlers from both Wales and Northern Ireland. In 1171 he sailed back to Mobile Bay… and out of history.
What happened to him? He might have perished at sea, but there is ample evidence that he arrived in the New World and thrived there, at least for a time. Spanish historian Antonio de Herrara said that Columbus found a ship’s mast and an iron pot on Guadeloupe, an island in the Windward Islands, on his fourth voyage in 1502.
Here is where it gets more interesting: if we listen to Native American accounts and pay attention to the evidence, we have to believe that Madoc missed his target that last time. You see, currents vary by a few degrees and that is enough to throw you off if you cannot tell your longitude. Madoc would have been able to determine his latitude with the stars and with a lodestone, a primitive form of compass. Longitude, however, was problematic at best. The evidence is that Madoc sailed into the mouth of the Mississippi, not Mobile Bay.
Two groups of Welsh settlers were now in the New World. And they would leave evidence of their lives that is only now being understood. More….