Several centuries before Columbus sailed to the Americas, a Welsh prince named Madoc departed Wales with ten ships and a dream of discovering a new land. Madoc was the son of King Owain Gwynedd, who had 18 other sons, some of them bastards. Madoc was one of the bastards. When King Owain died in 1169, a civil war broke out between the brothers over who should be the next king.
Madoc, a peaceful man, assembled a party of other peace-lovers and set out to find new lands. According to the legend, he returned in 1171 with stories of his adventures and attracted more people to go with him on a second expedition, from which he never returned.
The story, which was first recorded in a Welsh manuscript in the 1500s, is shadowy on the details, but some people believe Madoc and his men landed in the vicinity of what is now Mobile, Alabama.
In particular, stone forts along the Alabama River have drawn attention since they were built before Columbus’ arrival, but some Cherokee tribes say they were built by “White People” — though there’re other fascinating claims behind the Cherokee tribes’ legend.
Some speculate that Madoc and his followers joined with and were assimilated by the Mandan Native Americans. Several rumors surround this myth, such as the alleged similarity between the Mandan language and Welsh.
Governor John Sevier of Tennessee wrote a report in 1799 detailing the discovery of six skeletons encased in brass armor bearing the Welsh coat of arms, which may have been a hoax. If they were real, they would be the most solid evidence we have for the potential fate of Madoc’s expedition, which otherwise remains a mystery.