Uncategorized Patrick Mead on 26 Jan 2010 11:42 am
I have tried, without success, to count all the references made by early explorers to finding “Welsh Indians” or coming upon Indians who understood or spoke some words in Welsh. Some confusion comes from the white explorers who were desperate to find a way to claim the land for England. If the Spanish or French had been through there, the only way to reverse their claim was to find evidence that Welsh people, the followers of Madoc, had been there first. There is no question that some of their “evidence” is bogus.
However, some of the confusion came from the Indians themselves. The Shawnee and Cherokee called the Welsh “Talegewi” — their word for a visitor from a far off land — and they called the Yuchi (a lighter skinned Indian tribe) “Tahogalewi.” It is certainly possible that the two words are related because the Welsh and Yuchi formed alliances and, eventually, marriages but it is also just as likely that the words aren’t related, but that they sounded so similar to English ears that a relationship was assumed. Here is what we DO know:
The five forts built by the Welsh in and around Chattanooga are not constructed with strong defenses. Those built in Georgia and Alabama certainly were. The location of the Tennessee forts are very close to the Mound Builder culture of the Mississippian Culture on the Tennessee River. That indicates that the Welsh had friendly or neutral relations with them. The Creek Indians were also known to be friendly to the Welsh based on trading patterns, nearness of their villages to the Welsh forts, and their oral history. Here is where it gets interesting: The Creek Indians are lighter skinned than the Indians around them (Cherokee, Muskogi, etc.). They refer to themselves as “white” and to the tribes around them as “red people.” This has led some to believe that the Creeks and Welsh mixed until the Welsh were absorbed into the Creek Nation.
And not just the Creek Nation. The Yuchi Indians also say that they welcomed the Welsh into their tribe. And most subsections of the Yuchi Indian confederation refer to themselves as “white.”
When explorers entered this area much later, they found it a relatively empty land. Many tribes used the area for hunting but none lived there permanently. That is why it amazed these explorers enough to write in their journals about it when they found graves at the head of several major springs from French Lick (the old name for the Nashville area) down through northern Alabama, Georgia, and eastern Tennessee. Each grave was individually lined with rocks and the graveyard was also lined with rocks in the Welsh tradition of the 1200-1400s. Some of these graveyards had been enlarged over time and the largest was ten acres, all circled by an ancient rock wall. The current theories — there are three — are that these are graves of the Arikara, the Skidi-Pawnee, or a mixed people of Welsh and Indian blood. The Arikara certainly buried their dead in stone lined graves so they are a good candidate for the builders of these graveyards. The Skidi-Pawnee just lived in the region for awhile and have no record (as far as I know) of burying their dead oriented to the east or in stone lined graves. I think the best guess is the Arikara or Welsh/Indian mixed people. Why not just Welsh? All the remains that we have found are most likely of Indians, not Europeans.
Here we need to mention one theory about where the Welsh disappeared to. Some have said the Melungeons are the remnants of the Welsh explorers. One reason is that some Melungeons upon being found by later explorers told people they were Welsh, but others told them they were Portuguese. I have written extensively about the Melungeons before in the Hidden People series so I won’t go there now. I will just say that DNA evidence supports a Celto-Iberian origin rather than a Welsh one. That doesn’t mean that a remnant of the Welsh didn’t enter the Melungeon line, however. They were known for accepting those rejected by everyone else (or who were on the run from others). They have accepted African slaves, Indians, and survivors of other lost people over the years.
One more interesting bit: remember that the Yuchi call themselves white and say in their oral history that they interbred with the Welsh. Some of them didn’t enter the Mississippi River or Tennessee River area but, rather, were driven northwards into the mountains of East Tennessee. They called themselves Tomahittans after that and would have perhaps disappeared from history were it not for the record we got from James Needham and Gabriel Arthur in 1673. In their record, they came across Tomahittans who reported that a white people lived in the mountains who captured many of them, enslaved them, and who had long beards and odd clothes. They were said to worship a large bell that rang several times a day in the middle of their largest village. The bell was over six feet high, showing some skill in metal working. They were also said to have black people among them; something complete unique in those days. Those white people have since been called Melungeons. It could be that some Spanish-Portuguese-Berber-African people soon absorbed the mixed Indian/Welsh people by conquest or by love (intermarriage).
As for the rest, Oconostota says they retreated up the Mississippi and then the Missouri but, by that time, “they are no more White People; they are now all become Indians and look like other Red People of the country.”
Have time for one more tidbit? B.R. Owen wrote of an interview with an old Indian prophet in 1854. The prophet spoke of a long ago people who plowed and raised grain. They were not primarily hunters like the Indian tribes around them. He said the Indians called them Welegens. Why is that important? Madoc’s area of Wales included the Isle of Lundy. In the 12th century, the Welsh on the Isle of Lundy called themselves… Welegens.