Prince Madoc of Wales
Some seventy years following Columbus' voyages to the western hemisphere, English historian Humphrey Lloyd, based on his translations of Caradoc's History of Cambria and of additional records from Welsh monasteries, documented the story of Prince Madoc. Lloyd's work, The History of Cambria now called Wales, was published after his death by David Powell, Doctor of Divinity, in 1584, a generation before the establishment of England's first permanent settlement in the new world. Part of his work was incorporated into a book, Diverse Voyages Touching the Discovery of America, by Reverend Richard Hakluyt a few years later.
In brief, these two sixteenth-century works state that Madoc, one of several brothers fighting among themselves in 1170 to be ruler of North Wales (during the time of Henry II in England), decided he had had enough of the turmoil and
"did think it better prudence to try his fortune abroad; and therefore leaving North Wales in a very unsettled condition, sailed with a small fleet of ships which he had rigged and manned for that purpose, to the westward; and leaving Ireland to the North, he came at length to an unknown country, where most things appeared to him new and uncustomary, and the manner of the natives far different from what he had seen in Europe. ... It is certain that Madoc arrived in this country, and after he had viewed the fertility and pleasantness of it, he thought it expedient to invite more of his countrymen out of Britain and therefore leaving most of those he had brought with him, he returned to Wales. Being arrived there, he began to acquaint his friends with what a fair and extensive land he had met with. ... And so having got a considerable number of Welsh together, he bid adieu to his native country, and sailed with ten ships back to them he had left behind. ... But by reason that the Welsh who came over, were not many, they intermixed in a few years with the natives of the country and so following their manners and using their language, they became at length undistinguishable from the barbarians."
Some 230 years after these stories about Madoc were published, when Major Amos Stoddard was preparing material for his Sketches of Louisiana, he wrote to John Sevier, Governor of Tennessee, seeking information. His letter, dated August 30, 1816, was as follows:
As I am an utter stranger to you, I should not venture to address you on the present occasion, were I not in some measure encouraged to do so by your old friend, Governor Claiborne, who has just left this place.
The object of this communication is to request a statement of particulars of a story, which Governor Claiborne thinks you detailed to him some years ago. According to his account, you once saw an ancient book in the hands of a Cherokee woman which you supposed was written in the Welsh characters, said to be given to her by an Indian from the west side of the Mississippi, and which was afterwards burned with her house.
I have been some time collecting material to prove the existence of a Welsh colony on this continent, which landed here, according to the testimony of history, as early as 1170. If you can call to mind the circumstances to which I have alluded, and will be so good as to communicate them to me, I shall feel myself under many obligations to you.
AMOS STODDARD, Major, 2nd. Corps, U.S.
John Sevier served as Governor of Tennessee for two terms and is known as the founder of that state. A prominent statesman of the Territory of the United States South of the Ohio River, which existed between the era of the State of Franklin and the creation of Tennessee, he served in the King’s Mountain and other Revolutionary campaigns. He fought against the Indians in the Tennessee Valley for more than thirty years, and though feared, he was ultimately loved by them. As proof of this devotion they adopted his daughter Ruth and made her a princess of the tribe and taught her the Cherokee language. Ruth Sevier served as an interpreter for her father and accompanied him on many of his expeditions on which he learned more of the Indians’ secrets than they would reveal to any other white man.
Governor Sevier replied to Major Stoddard as follows:
Knoxville, October 9, 1810.
Your letter of August 30 is before me.
With respect to the information you have requested, I shall with pleasure give you so far as my memory will serve me, aided by a memorandum taken on the subject of a people called the Welsh Indians. In the year 1782 I was on campaign against some part of the Cherokee; during the route I had discovered traces of very ancient, though regular fortifications. Some short time after the expedition I had made, I took the opportunity of inquiring of a venerable old chief called Oconostota, who was then, and had been for nearly sixty years, the ruling chief of the Cherokee Nation, if he could inform me what people it had been which had left such fortifications in their country, and in particular one on the bank of the Highwassee River.
The old Chief immediately informed me: "It is handed down by the Forefathers that the works had been made by the White people who had formerly inhabited the country now called Carolina; that a war had existed between the two nations for several years. At length it was discovered that the Whites were making a large number of boats which induced the Cherokee to suppose they were about to descend the Tennessee River. They then assembled their whole band of warriors and took the shortest and most convenient route to the Muscle Shoals in order to intercept them on their passage down the river. In a few days the boats hove in sight. A warm combat ensued with various success for several days."
"At length the Whites proposed to the Indians that if they would exchange prisoners and cease hostilities, they would leave the country and never return, which was acceded to; and after the exchange they parted friendly. The Whites then descended the Tennessee down to the Ohio, thence down to the Big River (the Mississippi), then they ascended it up to the Muddy River (the Missouri) and thence up that river for a great distance. They were then on some of its branches, but," said he, "they are no more White people; they are now all become Indians, and look like other red people of the country."
I then asked him if he had ever heard any of his ancestors saying what nation of people these Whites belonged to. He answered he "had heard his grandfather and father say they were a people called Welsh, and that they had crossed the Great Water and landed first near the mouth of the Alabama River near Mobile and had been driven up to the heads of the waters until they arrived at Highwassee River".
Many years ago I happened in company with a Frenchman who had lived with the Cherokee and he said that he had formerly been high up the Missouri. He informed me that he had traded with the Welsh tribe; that they certainly spoke much of the Welsh dialect, and though their customs were savage and wild, yet many of them, particularly the females, were very fair and white, and they frequently told him that they had sprung from a nation of White people. He also stated that some scraps of old books remained among them, but in such tattered and destructive order that nothing intelligent remained in the pieces or scraps. He observed their settlement was in an obscure quarter on a branch of the Missouri running through lofty mountains. His name has escaped me.
The Chief Oconostota informed me an old woman in his Nation, named Peg, had some part of an old book given her by an Indian living high up in the Missouri, and thought he was one of the Welsh tribe. Unfortunately before I had an opportunity of seeing the book, the old woman’s house and its contents were consumed by fire. I have conversed with several persons, who saw and examined the book, but it was so worn and disfigured that nothing intelligible remained; neither did any one of them understand any language but their own, and even that, very imperfectly.
I have thus, Sir, communicated and detailed the particulars of your request, so far as I have any information on the subject, and wish it were more comprehensive than you will find written here,
It is thought by many that Madoc's people made their way from Mobile up the river system to the headwaters of the Coosa and then moved north into the mountains. This concept is the subject of a book, Who Discovered America?, by Zella Armstrong, published by the Lookout Publishing Company of Chattanooga in 1950, which argues that three prominent fortresses were built by the Welsh settlers: Fort Mountain near Chatsworth, Georgia, on the mountain north of the upper part of the Oostanaula River which, with the Etowa, forms the Coosa at Rome, Georgia; DeSoto Falls Fortress near Mentone, on the mountain north of the Coosa valley downstream from Rome; and Old Stone Fort seventy miles north of Mentone near Manchester, Tennessee, on the high bluffs above the fork in the Duck River. Since the DeSoto Falls site is closest to Mobile, it is presumed that it was established first.
Albert James Pickett in his History of Alabama describes the DeSoto Falls Fortress as follows:
In the month of October, 1850, we visited a remarkable place at the Falls of Little River, situated in the northeastern corner of Cherokee county, Alabama, and very near the line of DeKalb county, in the same State. What is rather singular, Little River has its source on the top of Lookout Mountain, and runs for many miles on the most elevated parts of it. In the winter and spring it is a stream of considerable size, affording a rapid and dangerous current of water; but when it was seen upon the present occasion, a very protracted drought had nearly dried it up. The river flows along the top of the mountain with very inconsiderable banks, until it reaches a precipice of solid rock, in the form of a half circle, over which it falls seventy feet perpendicularly, into a basin. After being received in this rock basin, the river flows off without much interruption, and, in winding about, forms a peninsula about two or three hundred yards below the falls. The banks of the river bordering on this peninsula are the same unbroken rock walls which form the falls, and are equally high and bold. Across the neck of the peninsula are yet to be traced two ancient ditches, nearly parallel with each other, and about thirty feet apart in the middle of the curve which they form, though they commence within ten feet of each other upon the upper precipice, and when they have reached the lower precipice are found to run into each other. These ditches have been almost filled up by the effects of time. On their inner sides are rocks piled up and mixed with the dirt which was thrown up in making these entrenchments, indicating them to be of the simplest and rudest Indian origin. The author has seen many such entrenchments in his travels over Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, and hesitates not to say that they are the works of the aborigines of the country.
On one side of the peninsula, and about ten feet below the top of the rock precipice, are four or five small caves, large enough, if square, to form rooms twelve by fourteen feet. They are separated from each other by strata of rock, two of which resemble pillars, roughly hewn out. Three of them communicate with each other by means of holes which can be crawled through. These caves open immediately upon the precipice, and from their floors it is at least seventy feet down to the surface of the river. Many persons who have visited this singular place, call these "DeSoto's Rock Houses." and they have stretched their imagination to such an extent as to assert that they have distinctly traced his pickaxes in the face of the rocks. There can be no question, however, but that these caves have been improved, to a slight extent, in size and shape, by human labor. But it was the labor of the Red people. Occasionally we could see where they smoothed off a point, and leveled the floors by knocking off the uneven places. It was, doubtless, a strong Indian fortification, and long used as a safe retreat when the valleys below were overrun by a victorious enemy. The walls are black with smoke, and everything about them bears evidence of constant occupation for years. These caves or rock houses constructed a most admirable defense, especially with the assistance of the walls, at the head of the peninsula. In order to get into the first cave, a person has to pass along a rock passage wide enough for only one man. Below him, on his right, is the awful precipice, and on his left, the rock wall reaching ten feet above his head. A few persons in the first rock house with swords or spears, could keep off an army of one thousand men; for, only one assailant being able to approach the cave at a time, could be instantly dispatched and hurled down the abyss below. In regard to the inner walls of the ditches, the author saw no cement among the rocks, although he had heard that that ingredient (never used by Indians) was to be found there.
Pickett attributed the ruins at DeSoto Falls to "the aborigines of the country"; but, since he did not mention even the possibility that Madoc was involved, Pickett might not have considered that alternative and was simply ruling out a more recent time of construction. This is consistent with the story of how DeSoto Falls got its name. When settlers in the area first heard from the local Indians that white people had been early occupants, they naturally assumed that these were references to DeSoto who was known to have been in the area. But DeSoto's focus was the Coosa River valley southeast of Lookout Mountain and he only sent two men across the mountain to explore the area, and these two were unlikely to have encountered the falls. But the early settlers did not know this and did not know about Madoc, so they named the falls after DeSoto.
Most of the rocks observed by Pickett in 1850 at the ruins of the fortress are gone now. A resident of Mentone whose father was a rock-mason acclaimed in the area, has the following recollections:
My dad, who was born in 1895 and grew up across the river from the fortress and played in that area before any houses were built there, told me that when he was a young man the walls were about head high (he was 6'-3'' tall). I was born in 1922 one mile north of Mentone but as a lad helped my dad as he built the houses near the falls and remember the walls being about 24" to 36" high at that time. I was told that the stones from the walls had been used in the construction of the dam above the falls. I don't know for sure, but have no doubt that my dad used more of the stones in the construction of the local houses. HOMER L. CROW
The site of the DeSoto Falls Fortress is now owned by the State of Alabama who, along with the owners of surrounding private property, watches over and protects the area. The site is not open to the public.
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