Madog ap Owain Gwynedd, or to use the modern spelling Madoc, was a twelfth century Welsh prince, one of the Three Who Made a Total Disappearance from the Isle of Britain, and who supposedly "discovered" America well before the likes of John Cabot or Christopher Columbus.

The story goes that after the death of his father Owain Gwynedd (1137-1169), King of Gwynedd (1), Madog declined to become involved in the dynastic disputes that followed, preferring to set sail and seek his fortune elsewhere. He then returned to tell of some new earthly paradise (i.e North America) before departing once more, with a fleet of eight, ten, or thirteen ships (depending on which version you stumble across) never to be seen again.

The tale, which became part of the Welsh bardic tradition was popularised in the sixteenth century, particularly by one John Dee, sometime astrologer, occultist and antiquarian, who used the story to legitimise the British territorial claims to North America in his Perfect Arte of Navigation. Later on the Americans too, used the same story to substantiate their claim to the west of the continent over the competing Spanish and French claims.

No one, of course, has found any trace whatsoever of any settlement by Madog on the North American continent, which has led most to conclude that the tale is no more than a myth. This has not however, prevented the good citizens of Alabama erecting a plaque at Fort Morgan, Mobile Bay (2) to commemorate Madog's landing, nor has it prevented the erection of a similar memorial at Rhos in North Wales marking his departure point.

On the other hand, it is said that the language spoken by the Mandan Indians of North Dakota bore many similarities to Welsh, and that therefore, by implication, these were the descendants of the original Welsh settlers. Unfortunately the Mandans were effectively wiped out by smallpox in the 1850's, (the surviving remnants of the tribe retiring to the St. Berthold's reservation) therefore limiting the opportunities for research.

But it should be noted that some historians argue that there was regular contact between the New and Old Worlds well before the age of Columbus. Similarities between Greek and Aztec deities, for example, are cited as supporting evidence. It was entirely technically possible for the medieval Welsh to have sailed across the Atlantic just as it was for the Vikings or even the ancient Greeks.


(1) As in North Wales, roughly equivalent to the modern administrative area also known as Gwynedd

(2) Based on the existence of a Spanish map of 1519, wherein Mobile Bay is shown as Tierra de los Gales (Land of the Welsh)


Gwyn A. Williams - Madoc: The Making of a Myth - Oxford University Press (1987)

Tony Williams - The Forgotten People - Gomer Press (1996)

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