Thursday, May 5, 2016

Welsh Discovery of America by H. Wright 1874


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The following is taken from The Antiquary, Aug. 9, 1873:—

That America was visited by the Northmen of Northern Europe, and probably by inhabitants of the British Islands, long anterior to the discovery of the Western Continent by Columbus is a fact that can scarcely be disputed. The rude inhabitants of former times may have, and did most probably visit Greenland and portions of North America; but as they died and left no sign, as they had no means, and did not proclaim to the world the existence of another and a fairer continent, to Columbus must belong the honour and glory of this great discovery. As the story of the visit of a Welsh chieftain, in the twelfth century, to the shores of America, is an interesting one, I shall try and tell what I know about it very briefly.

In the "History of Wales, first wrote by Caradoc, Abbot of Llancarvan, and Englished by David Powell," we are informed that, in the year 1170, Madoc ap-Owen Gwynnedd, perplexed by the distractions of a civil war at home and all its attendant calamities and troubles, resolved to seek peace in some remote country. He, with a number of courageous followers, trusting to the tempests and dangers of the ocean, rather than the turmoils and dangers which surrounded them, took to the sea, and, sailing due west, in course of time landed on some part of the vast continent we now call America. Madoc was charmed with his new-found world, its soil, and the evidences of fertility he saw on every band. Building, we are told, some slight fortifications to protect his people (the first thing our first English colony was obliged to do 400 years later), he returned home to Wales, leaving 120 men behind him. I presume the civil broils were now over, for he collected his countrymen, and, relating to them his successful voyage, and describing to them the beautiful, fruitful, and glorious country he had found out, prevailed on many of his people—both men and women—to embark their fortunes with his, and to return with him and enjoy, across the mighty waters, peace, happiness, and plenty. Madoc and a goodly company accordingly set out in ten barges, prepared for the mighty voyage, and by God's good keeping, we are told, they landed safely in the same harbour they had arrived at before. Although this was before the days of tbe mariner's compass and Atlantic steam ships we let it pass; is it not written in the chronicles of Caradoc, Abbot of Llancarvan?

Authorities are divided as to where it was this band of brave adventurers settled or located on the new continent. Some think probably about Mexico, for there prince Madoc was buried, as his epitaph since found makes evident beyond contradiction. It is as follows:—

"Madoc ap-Owen was I called,
  Strong, tall, and comely, not enthralled
 With home-bred pleasure, but for fame
 Through land and sea 1 sought the same."

Another opinion is that Madoc landed on the coast of Carolina, if anywhere in America.

Madoc and his countrymen, having established themselves on the American continent, would naturally, either in the course of time amalgamate and intermarry with the natives of tbe country—as was the case with the Spaniards when they entered into possession of the land, several generations afterwards—er would keep themselves separate and distinct—as was followed by the English colonies in New England, Virginia, &c, in the seventeenth century. There are some proofs and traditions that go to support either view. European travellers allege that they have found various British (i.e., Welsh) words in use among the Mexican Indians, which favours the theory that the Welshmen had seen that the daughters of the land were fair and comely to look upon, and had found favour in their eyes, and so that Welsh words as well as Welsh blood had taken root in the land. The following are mentioned among others —Pengwyn, Groeso, Gwenddwr, Bara, Tad, Mam, Buwch, Cligiar, Llwynoc, Coch-y-dwr, &c.

Other and more modern tradition and testimony—as we shall see subsequently—are to the effect that the knot of Welsh emigrants keeping themselves, as it were, a clan, remained in a great measure like unto white people, maintained above all their own (Welsh) language, and so came down to recent times as "Welsh American Indians."

Confirmatory of the foregoing statements or traditions we have the following testimony from Morgan Jones, son of John Jones, of Basaly, near Newport, in the county of Monmouth, who was chaplain to the plantations of South Carolina, in 1689. Morgan Jones wrote a letter to Dtr. Thomas Lloyd, of Pennsylvania, by whom it was transmitted to Charles Lloyd, of Dol-y-fran, in Montgomeryshire, and afterwards communicated to Dr. Robert Plot, the antiquary and historian, of Oxfordshire and Staffordshire. Morgan ap-Jones states that in 1660 he was an inhabitant of Virginia, and chaplain to Major-General Bennett, of Nauseman County, and that he was sent by General Bennett and Governor Sir William Berkeley, as minister, with two ships to Port Royal, now called South Carolina, accompanied by other ships, they arrived at a place called the Oyster Point (where the city of Charleston now stands). Here he abode about eight months, and he says he and his companions were almost starved. To avoid death by starvation he and five others started through the wilderness till they came to the country of the Tuscarora Indians, when they were taken prisoners. A council being held, an interpreter conveyed to Morgan ap-Jones the unwelcome intelligence to prepare to die—for he and his comrades would be executed on the morrow. Stunned by this intelligence, and knowing that escape or mercy from the savages was not to be expected, the poor Welshman, Morgan ap-Jones, gave vent to his distress in the language dear to his heart, which he had learned among his native mountains in far-off Wales—"Have I," said he, "escaped so many dangers, and most I now be knocked on the head like a dog?" At this an Indian came to him, and replying to him also in the British (Welsh) tongue, said that he should not die, and thereupon he went to the Emperor of the Indians and ransomed Jones and his companions. His new-found friend entertained them hospitably for four months, during which time Jones conversed with them familiarly in the British language, and did preach to them three times a week in the same language, and they would usually confer with him about anything that was difficult therein. At their departure the Indians abundantly supplied their wants, and performed the parts of generous and friendly hosts indeed. This, says Jones, is a brief recital of my travels among the Doeg Indians. "Written from New York 10 March, 1685. P.S.—I am ready to conduct any Welshmen or others to the country."

There is further confirmation of the existence of this tradition of a Welsh discovery of America. Cotton Mather, in his "Magnalia," p. 3, gives credit to a pre-Columbian emigration from Great Britain. The ancient Welsh bards living before the time of Columbus, sang the praises, it is said, of this Madoc-ap-Gwinnedd and his achievements. A Charles Beatty, who travelled in Pennsylvania and wrote a journal, printed in 1768, states that he met with a Benjamin Sutton, who had been taken captive by the Indians, and had lived many years among them. He said that in a town not very far distant from New Orleans a people abode differing much in complexion from the other people of the country, and that they spoke Welsh. He saw a book among them, supposed to be a Welsh Bible, which they carefully preserved in a skin, but could not read. In another town he heard some Indians speak Welsh with one Lewis, a Welshman. A clergyman was also spoken of, who had been taken prisoner by the Indians, but whose life was spared in consequence of his praying in Welsh.

A Mr Evans, an enterprising Welshman, had a vehement desire to find out the scattered seed of Saint David, and had returned to Philadelphia, after having discovered his lost countrymen. He found them about 700 miles west of the mouth of the Missouri. He conversed with them, and they said their ancestors came from a far-off country, in 1018, by thirteen ships to the mouth of the Mississippi, and since that time they had fallen back to the place of their present residence.

A Mr John Chesholm, writing "from the Creek Nation," March, 1797, to the Rev. Dr Rogers, of Philadelphia, says he had generally heard the Southern Indians say that there were such a people as Welsh Indians, who lived far to the westward of the Mississippi, and that they had been at war against them, and had taken prisoners. Among the prisoners were an old woman and three children, and that the woman had books like the white people. She had been visited, and had two printed books, apparently books of devotion.

A member of the Unitas Fratrum, at Bethlehem, Mr John Heckewelder, wrote, March, 1797, that a Mr Sebastian, formerly a clergyman, now an attorney, told him in 1792, that there were now living in Kentucky two persons who had been formerly prisoners with the Indians, and had been carried to a great distance beyond the Mississippi, and lived a number of years with the Welsh Indians.

On the subject of a pre-Columbian discovery of America, numerous notices are scattered through the class of literature now known as "Americana;" but one book may be usefully consulted—"Discovery of America by the Northmen in the Tenth Century, with Notices of the Early Settlements of the Irish in the Western Hemisphere," by N. L. Beamish. 8vo London, 1841.

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