For those of you unfamiliar with Prince Madoc, he was said to be the son of a Welsh king, Owain Gwynedd, who fought a long series of battles against English rulers and other Welsh nobles. Gwynedd had many heirs and when he died, they all fought over who should be the rightful ruler of Wales. One of his sons, Prince Madoc, got tired of all this fighting, and recruited a group of followers to leave Wales in the year 1170.
The story goes that Madoc’s group sailed west from the British Isles and eventually reached the Americas. They liked the “New World” so much that they established a small colony there while some returned to Wales to recruit more folks to return with them to their colony. Sources say that when they departed Wales for the second time, they were never seen again.
According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, one popular story that has been told repeatedly for many years is that Madoc landed near present-day Fort Morgan in Baldwin County. From there, Madoc and his group then traveled up the Alabama River, and some believe that they lived for a time near DeSoto Falls in DeKalb County. Even today, caves near the falls are still called the “Welsh Caves” due to the long-running belief that Madoc’s group once lived there.
A close reading of this tale indicates that Madoc’s group would have had to have traveled through present-day Wilcox County to reach points north. One can only imagine what the Indians living along the banks of the Alabama River in Wilcox County would have thought of Madoc’s ships as they made their way up river. It’s not impossible to imagine Madoc’s group stopping in what is now Wilcox County, perhaps to camp overnight or to replenish their stores with fish or the ample wild game that would have been available at that time.
Interestingly, the Prince Madoc story has come to the surface again in recent weeks. In November, Mobile Bay Magazine published a story by John Sledge titled “Madoc’s Mark: The Persistence of an Alabama Legend.” Around that same time, Alabama podcaster Jared Ordis also discussed Madoc’s travels up the Alabama River in a recent episode of his podcast, “Southern Oddities.” If you’re interested in learning more about Alabama’s ties to the Prince Madoc legend, I highly recommend that you check out Sledge’s article and “Southern Oddities.”
With that said, those of you familiar with the Madoc tale will know that he is very controversial in historical circles. Many scholars believe that he is nothing more than a legend while others say that there is little evidence to back up the idea that he visited Alabama. On the other side of the coin, these stories have persisted for years and were even taught in Alabama textbooks at one time, so maybe he did beat Columbus to the punch by three centuries.
In the end, I’d like to hear from anyone in the reading audience with thoughts about Madoc’s supposed passage through Wilcox County. It would be interesting to know what local readers think about the possibility that he passed through the county nearly 650 years before Alabama became a state. Who knows, maybe someone out there possesses some small artifact or relic that proves that the Prince Madoc story is more than just a story.