Top 5: Wales and the USA Connections
Updated: Dec 2, 2022
Wales is a small country tucked into the western enclave of the UK, while the United States of America is the fourth largest and 3rd most populous country in the world today. However, without the influence of Wales, the USA of today may not even exist.
The connections between the two countries run deep, criss-crossing for the last 900 years. Many significant people in American politics including presidents have been Welsh or of Welsh descent, from the 18th century even up until the 21st, as well as baseball players (Jimmy Austin), wild west outlaws (Jesse James), architects (Frank Lloyd-Wright), whiskey makers (Jack Daniel) and even university-founders (Elihu Yale). There are more towns and villages with Welsh place names in the US than in any other country outside the UK. The country was even founded by a Welshman in the first place, arguably…
So, in chronological order, let's take a look at five of the biggest connections historically between Wales and the U.S.A.
A Welshman discovered America
Madog ab Owain Gwynedd, or just Madoc for short, founded American long before Christopher Columbus. In 1170, Madoc, the son of Owain Gwynedd, the Prince of Gwynedd, set sail to flee internal violence. The power struggle in north Wales with King Henry II, amongst others, that followed the death of his father led to his initial departure. It is believed by some that he and a small fleet eventually landed in Alabama, or Florida, or Rhode Island, or Newfoundland or even in Yucatan, Mexico. Either the long list of potential locations is strong evidence or makes it less likely depending on your leaning.
Following a successful first expedition in 1170, many remained in the New World while Madoc returned to Wales in order to recruit some new settlers. The second expedition to America never returned to Wales and the group of settlers are thought to have finally rested along the Mississippi River, mixing with Native American tribes and even infiltrating the local languages with their native Welsh.
No physical evidence survives of Madoc or his early settlers today unfortunately, however there are numerous accounts and sources of information that have developed the legend, or truth, in the intervening 900 years. For example, the story was first, knowingly, written about in 1559’s Cronica Walliae by Humphrey Llwyd. Later, in Elizabethan times, the story was used as a way to strengthen and prove Britain’s claims to the New World over the likes of Spain.
Welsh Indians were also later reported. Native Americans with blond hair and blue eyes speaking Welsh were supposedly encountered in the 17th century. Folk tradition has long claimed that a site called "Devil's Backbone", about fourteen miles north of Louisville, Kentucky, was once home to a colony of supposed Welsh-speaking Indians.
A lot of countries have their own stories about discovering America first, such as Ireland’s St. Brendan the Navigator, who did so while encountering dragons and sea monsters along the way. However, the allegations that Madoc was the first European to reach America may actually be more than just a fairytale.
Welsh Place Names