Uncategorized Patrick Mead on 13 Jan 2010 12:33 pm
Twenty seven years after Columbus first sailed to the New World, a Portuguese mapmaker drew a map of the Gulf of Mexico. He labeled the mouth of Mobile Bay as “Tierra do los Gales” or, the “land of the Gaels.” At that time (1519), The Portuguese referred only to those in Wales or the islands around the west of Scotland as “Gaels.” The Highland Scots and Welsh still refer to themselves as Gaels. In addition, some Welsh will refer to themselves as Britons, the original inhabitants of what is now England (named after the Angles who, with the Saxons, pushed the Britons to the edges of their own country). Entering the Highlands of Scotland, you will see a sign saying “Welcome to the land of the Gaels” written in Gaelic.
A long, long time latter the future governor of the State of Tennessee was exploring the Mobile Bay region. John Sevier — who would also give us our first eye witness description of Melungeons — interviewed a Cherokee chief named Oconostota who told him that a white people, calling themselves Welsh, land first at Mobile Bay and then at another place, not described in the surviving records. The Chief told him that the Welsh did not get a friendly reception from the Indians in that area so they retreated north and east along the Hiawassee River into present day eastern Tennessee. Those who don’t want to admit that the Welsh made it to America so long before Columbus and those who certainly don’t want to admit that the Welsh might have even survived and flourished for a time have an unsolvable problem: how did Oconostota know about this story? How did he know to call them Welsh? At this time, Cherokee history was not written down (they had no alphabet until later) but was passed down orally with great care. To this day, the story of the arrival and struggles of the Welsh remains in the Cherokee nation’s oral history. And Oconostota was well known and highly regarded throughout his lifetime, serving as an emissary to explorers from France, Spain, and Britain.
Zella Armstrong points out a linguistic correlation that might or might not mean anything. Flowing into Mobile Bay is a river now called Dog river but known in this nation’s early years as Mad Dog river. Zella is convinced that this was originally named for Madoc but, sadly, there is little solid evidence to confirm her suspicions.
The story from the Cherokee is that the Welsh moved up to the Coosa River and then to Lookout Mountain (Alabama). The Cherokee offered to take John Sevier there to show him the old home of the Welsh. Sevier was respected by the Cherokee. He was an incredible battle leader, entering 35 battles with various Indian tribes and never losing a fight. He was an explorer, historian, and linguist. As Daniel Boone in Kentucky, John Sevier was known as the man who knew more about what would become Tennessee, Alabama, and that region than any other man alive, white or red. He never broke his word or mistreated people; something that endeared him to the Cherokee. In one battle, he took nearly three dozen Cherokee captives. Having no place to put them, he took them home. They lived there as guests — not slaves or prisoners — for years, teaching the Sevier children their language and “adopting” them as members of their tribe. Oconostota’s granddaughter married Sevier’s grandson. All this is to say that Sevier is a reliable source. Sad that he is almost entirely ignored by those who tell the Official Story.
Sevier surveyed the stoneworks on top of Lookout Mountain and wrote what the Cherokee told him. “It has been handed down by the Forefathers that the works had been made by the White people who had formerly inhabited the country now called Carolina.” (The name “Tennessee” had not yet been given to that western region) Oconostota also said the people said they had come from a land named… Gwynet. This could only refer to Gwynedd, the section of Wales from which Madoc came.
It isn’t just the Cherokee; other tribes tell the same story. The Native Americans who lived there around Madoc’s time were the Mobilia, who gave their name to the bay. They and the Muskogee tribes still tell of a group of white men who sailed up the Coosa and traded in metal, furs, and wood. In 1947, a Muskogee chief told this story to a group of young boys. He told them a cave still existed where they could find relics if they wanted them. Two of the boys followed his direction to a cave the Indians called Tula. The Indians said the White people called it that. It is another linguistic oddity when you realize that it is commonly thought that Madoc first visited the Toltec people in Mexico whose capital city is named… Tula.
The boys dug in the dirt of the cave and six vases, sack loads of broken pottery, and Roman coins that were still in circulation in Wales during Madoc’s day. We have the record of this find and its description in great detail, but most of the artifacts that were given to museums have disappeared and the rest seem to have been passed on to family members and, perhaps, still languishing in shoeboxes or old trunks somewhere.
The Welsh certainly left their mark on Alabama if you know where to look. There is an ancient stone walled settlement five miles downstream of De Soto Falls, north of Gadsden. The settlement was well placed — you can see a very long way from that height. It was also a major settlement. The walls extend an average of 69 feet, enclosing a peninsula. A narrow pathway, also protected by a wall, leads thirty feet down from the top of the cliff, bringing you into five 10×10 foot chambers inside the bluff. The wall was drawn and described in great detail by two early Alabama historians, Josiah Priest (1833) and Albert Pickett (1845). I believe it was Pickett who also found a metal axe there. Sadly, the stone walls were torn down in the late 1800′s, the stones used to build a dam and some houses in the area.
Pickett drew the area, showing how the settlement was placed, how ditches had been dug to make attacking the fort difficult and slow, and how long and tall the walls were. The local Indians told him that white men built it. They said they were men with fair skin, beards, and that they wore a lot of clothes. The Indians guessed that it was De Soto and his men, but De Soto didn’t linger in this area long enough to build anything and, besides, he was an OCD journal keeper. He would have mentioned it. And he didn’t. So who else could it have been?
Not long after Pickett’s report, a surveyor named Griffiths got a copy of his drawing. He immediately recognized it as Dolwydden castle, Madoc’s birthplace. While not an exact copy, it is so very close as to make it most likely that these fortifications were built by people who came from Dolwydden in Gwynedd.
And it isn’t the only fort the Welsh left behind. Not by a long shot. A much larger fort, with walls in excess of 880 in length, was about to be found…. (more later)