Uncategorized Patrick Mead on 30 Jan 2010 03:38 pm
From now on, we enter a new chapter. The Welsh are in America well before the year 1200; that we know. One group migrated into Eastern Tennessee, North Georgia, and then back into Middle Tennessee before we lose them. It is assumed that they were assimilated into tribes that lived in that area and all over Alabama (as in the last blog) and that others died of disease or war. Another group landed in Mobile Bay (the second voyage of Madoc) or, perhaps, landed elsewhere along the Gulf coast. We know that Madoc reported the loss of the earlier colonists, assuming they were dead when, in fact, they had moved north and east. That second group might have moved northward. When Madoc returned for his third and final voyage it is anyone’s guess where he landed. What we DO know is that a group of Welsh fought a pitched battle against an overwhelmingly superior force of Cherokee at Muscle Shoals in or around the year 1500. It wasn’t the first set of colonists but it could have been the second or third… or the second and third might have joined together sometime over the intervening three hundred years. We just don’t know — and that is frustrating.
Echoes and evidence of the Welsh show up from time to time. In 1874, a strange rock was found northeast of French Lick (now Nashville) near Castalian Springs. Known as the Thruston Tablet, it was turned over in 1878 to the Tennessee State Historical Society and now rests in its museum. The tablet plainly shows a battle between Indians and… non-Indians. There are many who say the other combatants are Vikings and they certainly have some reason to say that. The ships shown look a lot like the Viking ships that were used to get to Newfoundland in the year 1000, one of which was found there nearly intact a few decades ago. The fighters have round eyes while the Indians have almond shaped eyes. Vikings? Certainly, it isn’t impossible. We know that some Norse traveled far up the Missouri river sometime before 1200, establishing an outpost in northeast Oklahoma (we have already written about the Heavener Runestone in this series). It is certainly not impossible that some of them ended up in Middle Tennessee, but if they did, this is the only evidence we have of that. No coins or other carvings exist to support Norse/Viking exploration in that part of the south. However… remember that the Vikings were well established in Ireland and that Madoc went to Ireland as a teenager and learned sailing and navigation from them. He returned to Wales in Viking longships and sailed away — three times — in large, ocean going Viking-style ships. The Thruston Tablet might be showing Welsh explorers, not Vikings.
Again claimed for both Viking and Welsh explorers, bodies were found five miles north of Carthage, Tennessee in caves by the Cumberland river by Captain David Williams and a group of men hunting for saltpeter. In one cave had “many skeletons” (he didn’t count them all), one of which still had long yellow hair and a silver bracelet with lettering on it that Williams assumed was an ancient form of Greek. In another cave were found three more bodies with desiccated skin he thought was originally white, auburn hair, and clothing that didn’t look like any Indian clothing he had ever seen (this was the very early 1800′s). Sadly, the bracelet and artifacts were passed from family to family and are now lost to us. No one thought to draw the letters on the bracelet so we still don’t know who these people were. Interesting point: Captain Williams described the yellow haired skeleton as female, but he wasn’t qualified to determine the sex of skeletons. He based his guess on the fact that the hair was long and the skeleton had the remains of a long, dress like garment. My guess is that this was a Viking or Welsh male, both of whom wore tunics and had long hair, often yellow. Still, we’ll never know and that is frustrating.
Several Indian tribes speak of the Welsh coming up the river to the Falls of the Ohio. Until then, the sailing would have been relatively easy. They escaped the huge whirlpool that used to lurk there by the Indiana shore, just off present day Louisville. The Big Eddy was a navigation hazard that even swallowed steam ships before the river was dammed and controlled. Anything caught in the 150 foot deep swirling water was lost. Local Indians say that the Welsh stopped here and built forts as they fished for mussels and engaged in trade with the tribes. Game was plentiful in the region and the Welsh built their enclosures on the Indiana side of the Falls so that they could hunt and fish while keeping an eye out for trouble. Clay Baird wrote of this group and their history in his excellent “Journey to the Falls” published in 1994 by Highway Press. If he is right in his dating, this group of Welsh made it here from the Gulf in about 22 years. That would mean the bulk of the colonists would still be intact. They would be a formidable group, well armed and — since the Welsh groups included women (unlike the Vikings) — they would have well on their way to replenishing their numbers with children who were now adults.
These were not Vikings, though, and that is known for certain. These were Welsh. In 1799, six skeletons were found in present day Jeffersonville, Indiana, right across the river from Louisville, Kentucky. Historian (Col.) Reuben Durrett said that they were found with silver breastplates bearing a mermaid and a harp — the symbols of Madoc-era Wales. Durrett said the breastplates had writing on them but the earliest translation of that writing dates from the middle 1800′s and that makes me unsure whether this is fact or tradition. With that caveat, the writing was said to be middle-era Welsh for “Virtuous deeds are their own reward.” Durrett found a stone nearby with a name on it but couldn’t translate it. Armor — including an arm shield, a helmet, and a shield — was found in a field being worked across the river in Louisville. The armor was… wait for it… identified as Persian. What? Sure — the Vikings had trading routes all the way through Russia, through the Med, and into the Middle East. And that means the Irish and Welsh did, too. Somebody brought it here and lost it here. Who, exactly, is anyone’s guess.
More in a few days. I’m off to teach at OSU on Monday and then off to Louisiana at the end of the week for a youth rally and two church seminars. If I can update, I will. Until then…