In memory of Prince Madoc, a Welsh explorer, who landed on the shores of Mobile Bay in 1170 and left behind, with the Indians, the Welsh language.
Mobile, Alabama, November 11, 1953: So stated the historically controversial plaque erected, yesterday morning, at Ft. Morgan near Gulf Shores by the Virginia Cavalier Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The DAR seems convinced that a young explorer named Prince Madoc ab Owain Gwynedda (Madoc) from Wales, which is a part of the United Kingdom, arrived in what is now Mobile Bay some 322 years before Christopher Columbus discovered the “New World” in 1492.
Historians have argued about the validity of this “Madoc story” for centuries.
The pro-Madoc historians say their research shows Madoc was one of 17 brothers who were in constant battles with each other over who should take the place of their father as King of Wales when he died. The king died in 1169. The fights began.
Madoc grew tired of feuding with family and all the civil wars, so he took two ships with crew and passengers and sailed westward across “the great sea” (Atlantic Ocean) sometime in 1170. He eventually sailed into Mobile Bay and stayed there for an unknown period of time.
Madoc, then, sailed back to Wales, apparently in the early 1170’s, and persuaded many other Welshmen to sail back with him to this “wondrous new land.” He returned to Mobile Bay with ten ships loaded with passengers and supplies.
These pre-Columbus explorers then trekked up what are now the Alabama and Coosa Rivers toward present day Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Madoc and his followers built at least three forts along the way. The first fort was built on Lookout Mountain, overlooking the present day Desoto Falls outside Ft. Payne in northeast Alabama. This falls was named for the European explorer Hernando Desoto who “discovered” the falls some 370 years after Madoc built his fort there.
Due to incessant hostilities with the indigenous Indians around Desoto Falls, Madoc moved on and erected another fortress in what is now northwest Georgia and Ft. Mountain State Park. This new fort was gigantic. It was situated on top of a 3000 foot mountain with a massive wall around it. The main defensive wall measured 15 feet tall, 20 feet wide, and 855 feet long. Portions of the wall are still visible today. A final fort was built outside present day Manchester in southeast Tennessee, with a huge 1000 foot long wall, some of which is still visible, today, as well.
Numerous archaeologists have testified through the years that (1) these forts date back hundreds of years before Columbus, (2) are unlike any structures ever built by American Indians, and (3) are built strikingly similar to the way Madoc’s family castle was built in Wales.
For hundreds of years after they arrived, these Welsh settlers were apparently assimilated into Indian tribes. Many historians think these white explorers became the distinctly different Mandan tribe of American Indians. The Mandan’s were described as “having long beards, speaking with a strange dialect, having grey hair in old age, and having women who possessed soft, magnificent and distinctly different beauty.”
In 1810, Governor John Seiver of Tennessee wrote a letter stating that in 1782 he had an “extensive” conversation with the great Cherokee Chief Oconosoto who told him about the people who built the unusual stone forts that the Chief had learned about from his forefathers. The Chief said, “They were people who called themselves Welsh, and they crossed the Great Water, and they landed near the mouth of the Alabama River at Mobile.”
Whether the Madoc story is true or not is up to historians to decide. But, apparently, the Daughters of the American Revolution, here in Mobile, have made their decision already. The plaque has been erected, and they say they regret it took so long to recognize this major “fact” in American history.
After 55 years on display, the Alabama Parks Service removed the Madoc plaque from Ft. Morgan and put it in storage in 2008. The reason? The state didn’t want the plaque to be destroyed by Hurricane Ike. It has not been re-erected.
The Mandan tribe itself is no more. It is thought the Mandan’s simply died in hostilities over the years, were further assimilated by other Indian tribes, and like so many other tribes of the day, did not survive the smallpox epidemic of 1837.
So, this highly controversial and unusual people, who arrived before Columbus, whether they existed in reality or not, will continue to survive, for sure, in our Southern Memories for centuries to come.