At the Nanney North Carolina reunion in August of this year, I was honored to make the acquaintance of one of my neighbor Wade Nanney’s many cousins who allowed me to peruse her vast collection of family memorabilia. It has taken me several weeks to organize a presentation, but we are delighted to be able to share with all. I decided to start out in Wales and make a surprise detour to Indiana!
The genealogy of the legitimate family of Prince of Wales Owain Gwynedd (son of Gruffydd ap Cynan last King of Wales) is well recorded and debated. Certainly he had two wives but perhaps many mistresses and possibly 27 children, more than the recognized nineteen. Several historians agree that there was an illegitimate son named Madoc (Madawc), according to Richard Deacon’s Madoc and the Discovery of America, published by George Braziller in New York. The copy in Mary Glenn’s archives is dated 1977 by the Dallas public library. Deacon references accounts in Brut y Tywysogion and Latinae Annales Cambriae. Ancient History for most.
I include this in my Nanney Saga to illustrate the difficulty of probing through written historical accounts. The changes in language and the loss of clear identification require diligent effort that may be challenged by another historian equally diligent and well-meaning. For example, a court poet, one of the historians of that age (1130-1180), wrote: “Madog kindly apportioned gifts; He did more to please than offend me.” (Deacon’s page 28)This bard was referring to Madog ap Meredydd, Prince of Powys, a Welsh ancestor to the American Nanneys.
Around 1430-1460, a clergyman bard wrote about a sea-faring Welshman named Madoc (“large in stature and comely grace adorned” on page 27 of Madoc and the Discovery of America) whose exploits had been legendary, worthy of a place in oral history a century before then. In 1584, Dr. David Powel published The Historie of Cambria, and substantiated that Madoc had lived in the first half of the twelfth century, but scholars disagreed. There were a lot of reputations riding on this argument. Madoc was not a prince but his explorations may have had an affect on all Americans. There is a theory that this Welshman, an early navigator of the seas referenced even as late as the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, might have been the first to set foot on North America. A provocative claim to be examined here, close to Columbus Day.
Madoc is also in the Nanney lineage since his Aunt Gwenllian, the daughter of the last King of Wales,Gryffydd ap Cynan, married Cadwgan, founder of Nannau. (The Nanney ancestral home in Powys.) So this ancestor lived close to the time frame of Madog. Because of the similarity in names, some confuse Madog with his cousin Madoc. Even though the clergyman bard’s tale was at least thirty years before Columbus, and then Madoc was “almost a patron saint of fishermen, and renowned as a sailor,” there was reluctance to acknowledge that it was Madoc who first explored the New World. I can see the rivalry of countries wanting the credit. There was much at stake for political bragging rights, colonization, and of course, gold coins and other treasure.
On page 184 of his book, Deacon wrote, “If Madoc had followed the ocean currents, they would have brought him first of all close to the swamps of southern Florida,” on his first expedition. “Entering the Gulf of Mexico he would have sailed on in search of a suitable landing place, and Mobile Bay would almost certainly have attracted him as much as it did such later explorers as Ponce de Leon, Pineda, and Hernando de Soto.” “When the Spaniards landed here and took it over from the Indians, Mobile was called Echuse by the native tribe. All these explorers, and Americus Vespucius, who dropped anchor here in 1497, paid tribute to Mobile Bay as a perfect natural landing place.”
Wade Nanney wrote me that he “once saw a historical marker alongside a highway at Mobile that told of Prince Madoc landing in the bay and taking colonists up the Coosa River system.” Anybody reading this from Mobile? Can I get a photo?
Back to our story, on page 185. “When Major Amos Stoddard was preparing material for his Sketches of Louisiana, he wrote to John Sevier, Governor of Tennessee, seeking information.” August 30, 1810. “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.” John Sevier was contacted because of his history with the Indians who both feared and respected him. In fact they adopted his daughter Ruth who became an interpreter for the Cherokees. (Aha! Another story to investigate. One day)
Sevier wrote back that on a campaign against the Cherokee in the Chattanooga, TN, area, he saw ancient ruins of what looked like a fort. He asked an old chief about them and was told a legend about white people who requested peaceful passage in many boats down the Tennessee River to the Ohio, down to the Big River (Mississippi) up to the Muddy River (Missouri). On page 187, the response quoted from the Chief was, “They are no more White people; they are now all become Indians, and look like other red people of the country.” This was from a letter written by Sevier in 1810 who also asked the chief if he knew where these white people came from. The chief answered that his grandfather told him, “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.”
Sevier’s fascinating tale continued, and he wrote that, years before, he had talked with a Frenchman who lived with the Cherokee. This trader told of a tribe high up on the Missouri River who spoke with a Welsh dialect, “and though their customs were savage and wild…many of them were very fair and white.” “They frequently told him that they had sprung from a nation of White people.” Thus wrote John Sevier, former governor of the great state of Tennessee, and Revolutionary War hero at King’s Mountain. (See my blog Chapter 5: Overmountain Men)
To Be Continued…
Painter George Catlin (1796-1872) produced many studies of the Mandan Indian tribe, and it is said he believed they were descendants of the Welsh. (Wikipedia)
Copyright October 22, 2014, Georgia Wilson