There is a Welsh legend/myth that America was discovered by a Welshman named Madoc the Great, in the 12th century. His Wikipedia page reads the same but also that there isn't any conclusive evidence of this legend. Wikipeda:Madoc

Similar to the Welsh legend, there is an American legend that a specific piece of land, the Devil's Backbone, has a Welsh origin, predating Colombus' voyage.

According to local legend, on this bedrock ridge once stood a stone fortress that was built by Welsh explorers led by Prince Madoc sometime in the 12th century.

What is the origin of the American legend?

Just to be clear, I'm not asking about the authenticity of Madoc's voyage (his wikipedia page shows him being referred to numerous time by figures including Thomas Jefferson). I'm assuming the position that this voyage never occurred, and with that, I am confused over the existence of the American legend which seems to suggest otherwise.

Madoc's page further reads that the legend came to prominence during the Elizabethan Era to assert England's claim on America, over the Spanish.

My guess is, the American legend was formed during or after the Elizabethan Era. But that is a guess, not a legit answer to the question.

  • 1
    I actually have some first hand knowledge of the creation of another such "American legend" back when I was a kid. I'm not gonna narc anyone out about it unless/until it gets a Wikipedia page (at which point probably nobody will believe me), but watching the legend-creation process unfold in the age of the internet has been an interesting experience.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 12:44
  • I will say though that if its a good story, people don't care much about it being highly unlikely (or if its good enough, even transparently untrue). This is what Robert Wuhl called the Liberty Valance effect.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 12:50
  • 1
    If you don't get an answer here, consider migrating this to mythology.stackexchange.com.
    – MCW
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 15:19

2 Answers 2


Most probably this is good old plain racism and motivated reasoning:

When 'discovered' by European settlers — in the 18th and early 19th century — such artifacts of the 'mound builders' clearly show some form of 'advanced civilization' and sophistication. So, surely, nothing the barbarous Indians could have ever accomplished. Some European nobleman just must have been responsible for such works, first ascribed to him at the Alabama mound that was thought to resemble Dolwyddelan Castle.

(— George Catlin: "Letters and Notes on the North American Indians", (Michael MacDonald Mooney, ed), Clarkson N. Potter: New York, (1842) 1975. archive.org)

Another example for this racist theory:

Modern investigations and discoveries show that there once existed an almost unbroken system of defences, extending from New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas, in a diagonal direction, to the valley of the Ohio, and thence into the great basin of the Mississippi. These works increase in size and number as they advance towards the centre, and may properly be classified into forts for defence and tumuli or mounds for sepulture. They are chiefly found along the fertile valleys through which run large rivers, and at their junctions with one another. It is quite usual with writers on these remarkable works to assign to them so great an antiquity that the employment of figures is almost useless if they tell the truth.

But there are substantial reasons for the belief that they were erected by the Welsh, aided by those Indians with whom they became incorporated and whom they directed in their labor.

The route they took, either by choice or necessity, and the exact correspondence of these earthen monuments with those found in England and Europe known to be of Cambrian origin, go very far to support this belief.

— Benjamin Franklin Bowen: "America discovered by the Welsh in 1170 A.D.", J.B. Lippincott: Philadelphia, 1876. p71, archive.org

That the superficial resemblance of the Alabama mound is based primarily on a tower at the Welsh castle that was only erected in the 13th century, after Madoc had supposedly left? Nothing to ruin a good story.

Is this a simple hero tale? Or did these intrepid settlers reach the New Land and stayed? The land that Madoc settled is believed by some to be Mobile Bay, Alabama. Today a plaque stands on the shore to commemorate the voyage. But there is more than just empty tales to spark the curious. Along the Alabama River are a series of pre-Columbian “forts.” Cherokee tradition, as reported by Governor John Seiver of Tennessee in a letter dated 1810, states that the forts “had been made by the White People who had formerly inhabited the country…” The ancient structures, like so many others along the Atlantic Coast, were unlike any others constructed by Native Americans. One of these forts, located on the summit of Lookout Mountain, is said to be “nearly identical in setting, layout, and method of construction, to Dolwyddelan Castle in Gwynedd, North Wales.” Gwynedd is allegedly the birthplace of Prince Madoc. According to archaeologists, the forts were constructed around 1100 AD but are believed to have a “religious” purpose. These Welsh settlers reportedly traveled up the Alabama River were many of the stone forts were constructed. In 1799 Governor Seiver reported that six skeletons had been discovered in the area clad in brass armour and bearing the Welsh coat of arms.

Another Native American tribe, the Mandan, apparently were believed to be remnants of the Welsh settlers. Very light skinned and bearded, the Mandan used coracles, a round boat very similar to those still used in Wales today by fishermen. Mandan villages were laid out in squares with streets also similar to European design. The most striking thing about he Mandan was their language. Evidently, it was so similar to Welsh that they easily understood Welsh spoken by an American lieutenant who was from Flintshire, North Wales. Unfortunately, the Mandan tribe was practically exterminated by smallpox in 1837. A few Mandan reside today on the Sioux reservation in North Dakota.

— Gary R. Varner: "Ancient Footprints. Cultural Diffusion in Pre-Columbian America", OakChylde, 2010. (p32–33, academia.edu)

— Jerald Fritzinger: "Pre-Columbian Trans-Oceanic Contact", Lulu, 2016. (gBooks)

For the origin after 1583 of the Madoc story itself:

— Matthew Lauzon: "Welsh Indians and savage Scots: History, antiquarianism, and Indian languages in 18th-century Britain", History of European Ideas 34, 2008, p250–269. doi

  • "Mound" of course is the quaint Anglo-American term for Native American city sites.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 19, 2021 at 14:02

The Madoc story was discussed at length in The History of America, published in the late 1700s. The author cites several earlier works for the origin of the story, and you may be able to track it down further from there:

Evans Early America:Umich.edu

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