|All articles written & copyright by John Good|
The True Meaning of 'British'
"My fellow Ameri...", Part One
"My fellow Ameri...", Part Two
Ninnau, Spring 2017
Desert Shamrock, 200?
Desert Shamrock, Spring 2003
Desert Shamrock, Spring 2003
Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I developed a pernicious addiction to paper. Well, to be precise, second-hand paper, covered in funny little symbols representing ideas, images, emotions and conversations. In other words, words. I couldn't seem to pass even the most ramshackle shack of a used book store. I just had to go in. I've found myself doing more than the occasional, borderline legal U-turn just to bathe in the musty, venerable air, and browse--the more disorganized the better--floor-to-ceiling, overflowing shelves of other peoples' literary cast offs. I'm aware I'm not the only one to have or to have had the same problem, a kind of intellectual self-medication. I'm sure that lots of others have lined the walls of many a spare room, home office, attic, entire abode with their precious trove of tantalizingly inexpensive, must-have, reading materials.
Is there a cure? A clinic for those addicted to vintage ink? Twelve Steps for the incorrigible bibliophiliac? Well, maybe. In my case, I started to realize I was increasingly falling further behind in my reading. I was bringing so many faded treasures home, while still having to put food in the fridge, keep a roof over my library and the climate control running to protect the rare collection, that there were more and more books never read. The sheer volume (sic) of tomes was threatening to overwhelm body, mind and soul, not to mention a very patient, understanding wife. Since childhood in South Wales, I have always read a lot--even by torchlight under the proverbial covers--but now I was well and truly hooked on books!
It was past time to take stock. Well actually go through the "stock" and cull the herd, especially as we were weeks away from moving house. Paper is heavy and a home full of weighty paper is good news for a chiropractic practice, but daunting to the unpracticed, amateur house mover. Luckily for me, I found out that the local library was having a book sale and looking for donations. Putting my precious Welsh and forever-books to one side, I started sifting through my general collection, weeding out those once-upon-a-time, must-have, must-read gems that were never read. I soon found myself, in a fit of uncharacteristic, zealous penance, adding to the why-did-I-ever-buy-that-book pile; many a cover I would, in all probability, never read or read again. Ten or so very full and leaden boxes later, I pulled away from the amazed and grateful librarians, with my home, vehicle and life enlightened and my bodily self almost lightheaded after the bloodletting. I was cured!
As with all seemingly significant moments in life, I began to mull over the whole books never-read saga. Not for the first time, my errant mind led me into a maze of byways and never travelled, imaginary trails. Come and take a stroll with me.
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From books never read, to paths not taken was a short vault in my mental gymnasium. Everyone, either by intent or accident, has shaped their own and, to some extent, other people's lives. For example, in my mid-twenties, by intent, I waved goodbye to my mother, father, brothers and Wales, and came to America. More by accident than intent, I'm still here some 40 or so years later, having lived in The Bay Area, L.A. and Phoenix and about to move to the mountains of Arizona. Looking back, there's an accidental element to all these moves, past and future. In a similar vein, what about people? Friends, work associates, even my wife, all were met and developed into short or long term relationships in great part by chance. And what about the places I might have lived and never did? What if I'd stayed in Wales? What about relationships that never developed? Work I never took? They all seem to me today to be very much like books never-read. I'll never know of course what might have been, so why disturb the dust on the rose bowl--to paraphrase T.S. Eliot--which brings me back to books.
Everyone, at least occasionally, wanders around in their own what-if, wonder world. "If I'd been a day sooner or week later? If I'd stayed a little longer or never stayed at all. If I'd turned left at the junction instead of right. If I'd been a little more patient. If only I'd... " For me, there is a point to all this fantasizing. For a long time, I've found it useful to have a good understanding of where I am in life; why I do and did certain things; why I don't and didn't do others and so on. Armed with this personal history, I make better decisions about the things I can control in the here and now, while it makes me more likely to smile about the frequently serendipitous and accept the inevitable.
It's somewhat like writing and simultaneously reading a novel in which you yourself are a main character. At the end of the day it's all fantasy, but just like reading a well worked, thoughtful story, fiction has lessons for real life situations. What if I'd stayed in Cardiff, at the university, instead of joining a jazz band in San Fran? But no, it was a great adventure and academic bureaucracy has never been to my liking or taken a liking to me. What if I'd gone to live in New Orleans as I once thought of doing? But no, the perpetual party on the bayous would have taken its toll and steamy swamps are steamy swamps. Or if I'd only kept in closer touch with my school friends in Aberafan and South Wales, or with other friends met in London, Brighton and beyond.
There's a tinge of regret with some of this wonder-wandering, but looking back, there's also the lesson of taking better care of valuables in the future and making the ongoing effort that friendship and love deserve.
Do you see what I'm getting at? Reading books never-read has its place. Strangely enough, there's something of a riddle in this thought, something like, What things never were but still are? It's the strange idea that what wasn't done can have as much to tell us as what was done. Well, I've told my tangled tail and now I really have to go. There's so many books I've never read...
|I came to the
United States from Great Britain on October 6th, 1975. I was 26 years
old. On the same date in 2001, I had been here for 26 years. The
mathematically nimble amongst us will have noted, at that point in time,
I had spent as much time abroad as I had spent at home in the UK. This
mile stone called for considerable soul searching and begged the
question, "Who and what am I?" Having been the grateful beneficiary of
the wide-ranging advantages available in the Land of the Free--a wife
and second family, my own house, security, great friends, a career in
the creative arts, respect of my peers and continuing hope--I have,
since that time, gradually felt more and more at ease being and thinking
of myself as a Welsh American; a lucky man who has had a great life in two extraordinary countries.
For many a day, I have thought very little about proving who I am--identification/uniaethiad/ I.D.--only when going somewhere by aeroplane, and for a good long while I haven't been suspected of being underage when buying a pint of cider. A, let us say, well-travelled, late middle-age face is all the proof needed by the keeper of the kegs! To tell the truth, when I first came to the United States in the mid 1970's, other than my British passport, I didn't have any I.D. at all, either with or without my youthful likeness.
Somewhere in a dresser drawer upstairs in my Mam's house was my birth certificate, with the Welsh and English details cursively and quite exquisitely handwritten, in flowing black ink. The registrar must have had a lot of practice, patience and pride to produce something so officially aesthetic, especially when he or she may have been using an ink well and pen. My old school copybooks would willingly and graphically attest to that scribe's superior bureaucratic artistry.
Somewhere even deeper in the caves of forgetfulness, in some dusty shoebox were my music degrees. Not of much use to an expatriate playing and singing in West Coast, Summer-of-Love, folk, jazz and rock bands. So, as you might expect, thoughts of proving my identity or my fitness to write a fugue in the style of J.S.B., were buried deep in the other id--my subconscious. "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da life goes on", as John, Paul, George and Ringo told us. But not so long ago, by an understandable yet more than moderately sleepy oversight, my ego was rudely jolted into wide-awake attentiveness. I was forced to again ask the existentially fundamental "Who are you Johnny?" This will take a little explaining.
Reticent to fully recognise my longstanding, ongoing expatriateness and give up even a minuscule vestige of birthright and cherished Welshness, I have never applied for American citizenship. I have possessed a so-called Green Card for many a year. In truth, it used to be called the Resident Alien Card--a title not without its unintended extraterrestrial humor and blunt clarity. More recently these cards were renamed the kindlier and terrestrial Permanent Resident Card, and therein lies the rub.
Somewhere in the shale bed of the swirling shallows of my unconscious I took this to be, as advertised, a semantic fact. No need to trouble myself, even occasionally rereading this piece of compressively informative plastic. To me, it says and meant "Permanent". The awakening came late last year, in my brother and sister-in-law's cozy front room in deepest South Wales. I was trying to get a routine, on-line boarding pass/seat assignment the night before returning to America. Dim shwd lwc. No such luck. The Permanent Resident Card, allowing re-entry into the USA, had a ten year shelf life and was a month or two beyond its sell-by-date. Or more prosaically, it had expired!
Considering the hourly-changing, official U.S. stance regarding borders and those wishing to cross them, I spent an uneasy night, short on sleep, and a couple of edgy Sunday hours on the Heathrow-bound carriageway of the M4 motorway. With my very best attempt at assuming an innocent, slightly unworldly demeanor, and after several brow-knitting conversations with uniformed officials, I gratefully took my precious and space-inadequate seat on the crowded 747. With nothing but time on my hands, I pondered what, ten or so hours later, I would say to the American immigration authorities.
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|I'll come back to
my mid-air cogitations a little later, but to return to the plot...
After a humorless hour under the neon lights in Homeland Security "Room
13", the wrong side of re-entry into the Phoenix night, I promised to
put things right the very next day. I then picked up my bags and, with a winning smile on my egg covered face, headed for the west side of town.
Coming back to my cogitations during the continental limbo of my transatlantic flight, I was compelled to think again of what nationality meant, having been in more than one way between countries, if not continents. Firstly there was the imminent legal matter of the out of date I.D., then the documented fact of my foreign birth, and finally the badge of honor, object of pride and love I carry for the old country. If I'd been turned back at the entry point, the old country would have become the new.
After reaching my sleepy subdivision, on the outskirts of town, and taking a few days to reset the body clock and culturally adjust, the inner debate actually gathered steam and rolled along brand new lines. What is it to be Welsh? I asked. The Irish have their step dance, jigs and reels, Yeats, Mrs. Brown's Boys and Guinness; the Scots have kilts, bagpipes, haggis and Burns. What about us, of Welsh heritage? What binds and readily identifies our own Cymric tribes? Sheep, rugby, a national vegetable, William Williams P., Dame Shirley, Iaith y Nefoedd/The Language of Heaven?
Well that was a good solid start. But looking into the unknown depths of not being Welsh anymore and acknowledging my long-time residency, through seeking American citizenship, would need a head-first dive into unchartered ocean fathoms. Some of my friends back home already jokingly called me a "Yankee", but could I actually become one? Would this happy-go-lucky, patriotic, Welsh whistling fool irrevocably become sullen... morose? End up grumpy and regretful; avoided by polite society; a casualty of terminal Hireath/homesickness?
The dilemma was resolved at least temporarily by the authorities. To become a citizen, your Resident Card must be current and, although I was granted a lengthy extension, the final process, these days, might take as much as six months or more. To tell the truth, it felt like a reprieve, but the deeper question of identity was becoming clearer. I'm sure many reading this will identify with my take on what it means being of Welsh heritage. I invite a dialogue, so I'll get the ball rolling with my tri chynnig i Gymro/three tries for a Welshman. It's more about why than what. We all have affection for at least one or two out of Sir Tom, The Red Dragon, Gavin and Stacey, Welsh cakes, and Dylan Marlais T., but why?
Let an unashamed Welsh Nationalist start out by saying that Wales is no worse or better than anywhere else. Different? I believe so. Unique? Absolutely. My love of the green, green grass, industrial artifacts, and four-part singing in the bath, not to mention blackberried hills and valleys, is not fuelled by reason or science. "Love conquers all" meets very little resistance from logic, facts and statistics, and has intellect under siege. I can't tell you why it does, but it does.
I can name a long list of things starting with family, friends, memories, scenery, pies and pasties, pub society and music. I could list Welsh people's widespread attributes of kindliness, hospitality and a ready humor; then there's the language, poetry, history, heritage and culture; not to forget documented courage in the face of overwhelming odds, and tribal unity when faced by outside threats, especially rugby teams from across The Ditch. This list is very incomplete and your list would surely be at least somewhat different, though people from completely different countries might very well have a similar-in-kind list to mine, of why they adore their homeland. Which only goes to show--fact of birth and upbringing aside--that love of your country of origin is delightfully spontaneous and in many ways accidental.
Don't get me wrong, I would be the first to man the barricades, if needed, routinely defend and promote the cultural uniqueness and extol what is best in the land, where the sea washes up on those glorious rocky shores and fills those storied brackish estuaries. Having said that, I am aware that my national passion actually grows by recognising the validity of other peoples' perceived identities, no matter where they come from. Otherness is not a threat if, in this sense, we are all other, and identity is neither plastic nor necessarily factual. When it comes down to it, deep down, I am Welsh because I feel Welsh and can't imagine being anything else... ever. That's all the reason I need! Hwyl am y tro/bye for now.
|Considering the mayhem soup (cawlach)
surrounding and particularly following the coining of the word and
voting on Brexit, I thought I'd heat up and stir my insidious, verbal
cauldron and re-serve my take on...
The True Meaning of 'British'
For some time I have found myself wanting to interrupt people when I hear them use the terms 'Britain' and 'British'. Celtic people in general and expatriates in particular are anxious for others to be aware of the pride they feel in their ancestry and, to this end, I will try to set the record (as it appears to me) straight and I'll weigh in with the heavyweights, the university professors.
The dictionary tells us that 'British' comes from Middle English 'Bruttische', Old English 'Brettisc', Saxon 'Brettas'; a form of Latin 'Britannia'; originally of Celtic origin, akin to Welsh Brython (Briton). We also learn that the Brythonic (British) group of languages includes Breton, Cornish (fighting back from extinction at the moment), and Welsh (proponents fighting each other for centuries). They are all linguistic descendants of the Celtic language of the ancient Britons of Caesar's day. Joseph Shipley, Dictionary of Word Origins, goes further, saying, "The British draw their name from Celtic (Welsh) brython, meaning tattooed." In fact the modern Welsh word for a Pict (ancient tattooed inhabitant of Scotland) is still Brithwr. Brithyll is a speckled trout and brithwaith is a mosaic; all related to the word brith, meaning spotted.
Oliver Padel, Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic (University of Cambridge), wrote to tell me pretty much the same thing, that 'Britain' came from 'Britannia', Greek 'Pretannikoi' and before that Celtic 'Prydein' (Modern Welsh Prydain). While Anthony Harvey, Editor, Dictionary of Medieval Latin from Celtic Sources (Royal Irish Academy), added that "a B rather than a P (is found in Latin) because that is how the Romans heard it when they came, thence generating the Latin word 'Britannia', which was then borrowed back into Celtic... the word 'British' has been (in reverse order) English, Celtic, Latin, Celtic." Prydain could also be traced back to Pryderi, a son of Rhiannon (Pagan, Welsh Goddess). He became Lord of Dyfed (South West Wales) and as the Mabanogi relates, "under an enchantment he was trapped in the Otherworld (Annwn)." Down through Welsh history there have been many Pryderis, some real, some mythical, but more on this later.
To sum up, a Briton was a Celt who arrived on the island, perhaps beginning as early as the 7th or 6th century BC, and undoubtedly mixed with its latter-day Stone Age aborigines. At the same time, the Irish were doing something very similar in what was to become Erin and would be known as Gaels. In Ireland they spoke Gaelic, in Wales and the mainland, Brittonic (proto Welsh).
Caesar's invasion (55 BC) was intended to prevent the Britons from aiding their kinsmen in Gaul. Julius writes in the third person, "And so it was about 10 a.m. when Caesar arrived off Britain with the leading ships. Armed men could be seen stationed on all the heights, and the nature of the place was such, with the shore edged by sheer cliffs, that missiles could be hurled onto the beach from the top. Caesar considered this a totally unsuitable place for disembarkation, and waited at anchor till 3 p.m."
Later we find his famous and rare description of the inhabitants, "Most Britons are dyed by blue woad and this makes them look fiercer as warriors. They have long hair and shave everywhere except their heads and moustaches." Yes, the Britons fought in their birthday suits! Other than the Picts in Scotland, these "Britanni", as he calls them, were the only inhabitants of what is now Britain. Britannia means 'beyond the sea' in Latin. Claudius, the island's final conqueror, even called his son Britannicus, in honor of his victory.
The Saxons (English-to-be) began to arrive in the Fifth Century and, in response, St. Gildas wrote his The Ruin of Britain (De Excidio Britanniae), AD 456. Despite being educated in Wales, he had nothing good to say about us and even less about the Saxons. The Venerable Bede wrote A History of the English Church and People, circa 625. As the title suggests, he was pro-Saxon and even more prejudiced against his British neighbors in Wales, Cornwall and the north of England.
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|During this period,
Brynley Roberts tells us, "The duty of the poets as a learned class
(was) to conserve and transmit the traditional history of the Welsh,
(making) references to elusive characters like Prydain fab Aedd,
probably an eponymous founder of Britain." Ceri Lewis is quite specific,
"Entirely different in mood is The Prophecy of Britain (Armes Prydein);
a poem of just under 200 lines, written around 930 probably by a member
of a monastic community in South Wales, who was bitterly opposed to the
policy pursued by his king, Hywel Dda (Howel the Good, no relation), of
recognizing the overlordship of the king of England, of living on
peaceful terms with the English, and of paying an oppressive annual
tribute of gold, silver, cattle, hounds and hawks."
Lewis continues, "Negotiations were in progress between certain of the Celtic and Norse inhabitants of the British Isles, the Irish, the Danes of Dublin, and the peoples of Wales, Scotland, Strathclyde, Cornwall and Brittany (a Cornish-Welsh colony in N.W. France), with a view to forming a pan-Celtic coalition that might resolutely oppose the aggressive policy of Athelstan. On one of his coins and in many of his charters he is proudly described as 'King of the English and ruler of all Britain'."
From Armes Prydein:
In forest, in field, in hill, in dale,
A candle will march for us in darkness,
Cynan leading the charge in each assault,
Saxons will sing their lamentations before the Britons.
The last line, in Welsh, reads "Saesson rac Brython gwae a genyn" and "Saeson" (Saxon) is still the Welsh word for an Englishman. Cynan is the son of prophecy (mab darogan), who will return from the past to lead this Celtic federation under the banner of Saint David. Unfortunately, in 937, Athelstan won a decisive victory at Brunanburh.
Even the Irish got into the 'British' sweepstakes. "All of them (Nemedians) the sea engulphed / Save only three times ten." (Poem by Eochy 0' Flann, c. 960.) Britan, their chief, settled in Britain, giving his name to the country; while two others returned to Ireland, after many wanderings, as the Firbolgs and People of Dana. If this is true, 'British' is Irish in origin!
1066 saw the appearance of Haley's comet and Norman troops in Hastings. Geoffrey of Monmouth, who's History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniae) appeared about 1136, claimed that Brutus, great-grandson of Aeneas, was the first king of Britain. Brutus came from the Mediterranean and was said to have led the enslaved Trojans to the Island of Albion, as the British Isles was known; suggesting that the original Britons were from Troy. Brutus is reported to have defeated many giants including 'Gog' and 'Magog', "then called the island Britain from his own name, and his companions he called Britons. His intention was that his memory should be perpetuated... A little later the language of the people, which had up to then been known as Trojan or Crooked Greek, was renamed British, for the same reason."
All this was taken, according to the author, from an "old book in the British language." But mythical or not, the Historia filled a gap in British history; providing the Normans with a history of their adopted land, confirmation of their superiority and the Welsh, their first coherent history of themselves. Geoffrey ended his book with the comment that he was leaving the history of the "English" to fellow historians, William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon.
Of more recent times, the superb historian John Davies tells us, "In 1577, John Dee, a London Welshman, claimed that King Arthur had won a vast empire in the north Atlantic, and that the voyages of Madog... had confirmed the title of the Welsh to those territories. By the Age of Elizabeth, he asserted, they were under the sovereignty of the queen as successor to the Welsh princes. It was Dee, it would appear, who coined the term British Empire; British in the sense of Brythonic. Gwyn A. Williams, in his uniquely provocative way, has argued that it is "fitting that the term was coined by a Welshman. Inventing the British Empire would be a sufficient source of pride or shame."
Elizabeth the First was fond of the Welsh. Some say her grandfather, Henry the Seventh, had spoken the language. He was crowned on Bosworth Field mainly because of the heroism of soldiers from Wales, the land of his birth. That day was also the first recorded occasion when the modern Welsh flag--Y Ddraig Goch (the Red Dragon)-- led an army to victory.
I'll give the last word to Antone Minard, University of Wales, Aberystwyth (Center for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies). "'British' and 'Welsh' was the same thing until the 1800's... but it hasn't been for centuries. Now, I hear people (even people from Wales) saying 'British', meaning people from England only!" So if you see any naked, tattooed, blue Welsh people wandering around the neighborhood, be kind to them, they might be Ancient Britons.
Figure 1. Tal-y-Llyn Plaque (copyright Amgueddfa Cymru)
Figure 3. Book of Taliesin (copyright Nat. Library of Wales)
"My fellow Ameri..."
Madog, Prince of Wales and Alabama? Once upon a time there was a very powerful ruler of Wales, Owain Gwynedd. He kept the Normans out of much of the country for his entire reign but, what is even more surprising, in 1170, he died in his bed. As was common in the middle ages, his passing initiated a blood bath, particularity amongst his fourteen offspring. One of these, a mild, tall, handsome, natural son, who had already made a mark for himself as an adventurer, decided that discretion was the better part of valor and hoisted his sail for destinations West:
Madog am I, the son of Owain Gwynedd,
With stature large and comely grace adorned,
No lands at home, nor store of wealth me pleased,
My mind was whole to search the ocean seas.
Madog wych, mwyedig wedd
lawn genau Owain Gwynedd
Ni fynnai dir, f'eniad oedd,
Na da mawr ond y moroedd.
A tad later a Roger Morris tells us Madog was a "great sailor, much given to voyaging far afield," and he built "a ship without nails but fastened with stag horns so that the sea would not swallow it." He called it the "Gwennan Corn". (The White Horn?)
Like the Vikings, he probably had a crude compass and although many argue that without a magnetic instrument transatlantic voyages were impossible, he nevertheless seems to have followed in the footsteps of St. Brandon and Leif Ericsson in the general direction of Coney Island.
Sir Thomas Herbert around 1634 tells us: "Anno 1170 he [Madog] left his countrie, and after long saile and no less patience, blest with some happy winds, at last descried land in the Gulph of Mexico not farre from Florida." A little lower than Ellis Island but not bad for 1171! Following in Madog's footsteps, three hundred years later, Columbus seems to have recognized his predecessor by writing on his West Indies maps: Questo he mar de Cambrio (These are Welsh waters).
Madog, returning to Gwynedd the same year, convinced one of his brothers, Riryd -- married to an Irish princess and living in Ireland -- convinced him to gather his people and join the as many as thirteen shipfulls of hopeful Welsh getting ready to sail into the sunset. For Madog this was his historical sunset: nothing more was ever heard about him, his brother and brave comrades. Although in 1645, a James Howel tells us that he came upon a tomb in the West Indies with an inscription that read:
"Weary of a life of bloodshed and rapine in Gwynedd, I sailed with ten ships and three hundred men towards a country much recited in the annals of our Druids; a distant world which lay in the west. After thirteen weeks, battered, famished and disheartened, we reached it at last. There for twice thirty years I and my people lived in happiness and peace, possessing wealth not dreamed of in hungry Wales."
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|There are also persistent legends among the Aztecs that a bearded
Welshman named Madog became a quasi-divine king in South America. More
of facial hair later but we digress. The last clue to Madog's epic
voyage was discovered by the Reverend E. F. Synnott amongst some Twelfth
Century official seafaring papers:
Guignon Gorn, Madauc
Pedr Sant, Riryd, filius
Basically it tells us that in 1171 Madog, Riryd and the Gwennan corn were lost at sea.
The Crimson Tide and Spain
Hernando de Soto, Amerigo Vespucci, not to mention Columbus himself -- the great, latter-day explorers -- seem to have been aware of dear old Wales and it's discovery. "In 1519, Diego Ribeiro, a Portuguese cartographer in the employ of Spain, drew a map of the known world with the words Tierra de los Gales (Land of the Welsh) upon a thin line pointing to what is now called Mobile Bay. At right angles to this line, another short one points slightly upward-northward." This was written by Ellen Pugh in her extraordinary book 'Brave his Soul' (ISBN 0-396-06190-7), upon which I based this article.
Ellen goes on, "John Sevier, frontiersman and statesman, who fought Indians in the Tennessee Valley for over thirty years, then served two terms as the first and
third Governor of Tennessee" tells us that in 1810 there was an "ancient book in the hands of a Cherokee woman... 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. In 1782 I was on campaign against some part of the Cherokee... I had discovered traces of very ancient, though irregular fortifications."
Fort Mountain State Park
"Inquiring of a venerable old chief called Oconostota" he said, "It is handed down by the Forefathers that the works had been made by the White people who had formerly inhabited the area" and that a woman in his nation, named Peg, had an old book given her by an Indian living high up in the Missouri, and that he 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.
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|In Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee there are at least three heavy stone
fortifications which were built a few hundred years before Columbus
arrived. It is also agreed that they are totally unlike any known Indian
defense works." Another account tells us, "On top of this peninsula are
the remains of what is esteemed to be fortifications which consist of a
stone wall built on the
very brow of this tremendous ledge. The whole length of the wall is
thirty-seven rods and eight feet, including about two acres of ground."
Dolwyddelan Castle, Wales
Further research has suggested the ruins resemble Dolwyddelan Castle, Madog's birthplace. In the area is a river, originally called Mad Dog (Madog?) And talking about water, it appears that three hundred years before 1482, that a Welsh prince or the descendants of his party landed at Mobile and began to move north up the many waterways through Tennessee and Kentucky, leaving stone forts behind them. Persistent legends tell us that they eventually settled high up on the Missouri river; considering the interconnectedness of the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers, this is entirely possible.
Historic Plaque, Mobile, Alabama
Three Roman coins were unearthed in the area of the forts: "The coin seems to have been a denarius of Antonius Pius. A piece closely answering the description is in the catalogue of the British Museum. The coins were of the second century." And in 1799 "six skeletons, wearing Brass breastplates engraved with a design reminiscent of the Welsh coat of arms, were dug up at Jeffersonville, near the (Soto) Falls, on the Indian side of the river. Also, that a tombstone, or part of one, bearing the date 1186, was
uncovered there. If so, this along with the breastplates has long since vanished."
There is an interesting account by a Reverend Morgan who, as late as 1666 was captured by the Sachem Indian tribe and preparing to meet his maker spoke his worldly farewell in his mother tongue. He was summarily amazed to be released followed by a conversation with his captors in the "Language of Heaven": Welsh!
To be continued.
|The story so far...
In 1171 a Welsh Prince, Madog Ap Owain Gwynedd sailed westward from Wales, away from the murderous Saxons, Normans (and his equally murderous Welsh relations), landed at Mobile Bay, Alabama and established a Welsh Colony that left archeological evidence -- coins, armor, stone forts -- behind them. These Celtic colonists (including an Irish Princess!) then moved north along the great waterways of America. The Spanish "discoverers" acknowledged their predecessors, attested to the above facts in writing and, as late as the 1600's, adventurers reported form a variety of locations, having met friendly, Welsh-speaking Indians. Now read on!
The Plot Thickens
In the late 1700's a very colorful character named William Augustus Bowles turned up in London. With his turban, feathers, jewelry and incredible Indian stories he mesmerized higher London society. He styled himself: "Director General and Commander-In-Chief of the Muskogee Nation." Was he true chief or just another Okie from Mus.....? Well, even royalty had him 'round for a cuppa, scones and a peace pipe. Largely based on Bowles' melodramatic evidence and ancient Celtic legend, a London-Welsh society -- The Gweneddigion --formed a committee (one talent the Welsh share with the Irish!), raised a little money (one they do not!!) and packed off a young man called John Evans, to search for white native Americans who sang as they played rugby on their way to the nearest pub.
W. A. Bowles
I Spy With My Little Eye
Evans subsequent research, after arriving in America, inclined him to believe the Welsh Indians were now to be found far up the Missouri River. He made inquiries in St Louis, telling people of his quest for great grandad Madog and the boys and, the Spanish authorities recognizing him immediately as either dangerously deranged, an obvious yet clever British spy or both, clapped him in irons. Evans spent two years under lock and key but, the wily Spaniards received information about a tribe called the Mandan that seemed to support the crazy Welshman's story. So -- anything to counter English and French claims on the territory -- they sent Evans off to map the upper reaches of the Missouri and claim the Midwest for Wales (under the ever-watchful eye of Madrid).
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|A little later,
still being paid a small fortune by Spain; now considered a Spanish
agent; unable to return home and unhappy with the continuing lack of
financial support from the Welsh, he completely denied the existence of
any Indians with uncles in Cardiff, Bangor or even the little village of
Although, a latter day acquaintance was to say, "...when heavily in strong liquor [Evans] bragged to his friends in St. Louis that the Welsh Indians would keep their secret to their graves because he had been handsomely paid to keep quiet on the subject. He added that within a few more years there would be no more trace of any Paleface Indians."
Accidental Celtic Cleansing
He was right, one of Europe's most endearing gifts to the New World--smallpox--took care of almost all of this strange tribe. But from this man and other explorers we have reports of "women (who) have not the Indian physiognomy"; of pale, Welsh-speaking natives with blonde or reddish hair, blue and gray eyes, who wore beards and who's hair turned white and gray with age: some very un-American-Indian traits.
Mink, Mandan girl, by George Catlin
Another boy from home, Merriweather Lewis and his cohort, William Clark spent time amongst the Mandan nation but, for us, more importantly, so did the artist George Catlin (1833-34), who left us a firsthand account and paintings:
"But this much I can safely aver, that at the moment I first saw these people (the Mandan Indians) I was so struck with the peculiarity of their appearance, that I was under the instant conviction that they were an amalgam of a native with some civilized race; and from what I have seen of them and of the remains of the Missouri and Ohio rivers, I feel fully convinced that these people have emigrated from the latter stream; and that they have... with many of their customs, been preserved from the almost total destruction of the bold colonists of Madawc, who, I believe, settled upon and occupied for a century or so, the rich and fertile banks of the Ohio."
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|He also noted that
"They fished in a boat which was unlike any used by other Indian tribes
in America. It was made of willow or other flexible boughs which formed a
frame shaped like a round tub. Buffalo skins were stretched underneath
the frame" and that "the paddle bore a claw at the top of its loom" This
could be an exact description of the coracle used on the river Teifi in
West Wales but, of course, for Buffalo skins substitute English hides.
Mandan War Chief by George Catlin
A Fish called Pysg?
Most remarkable of all the evidence are the 350 Mandan words that were collected in the 1700's. Take a look at some of these! I give the English, then Mandan, then Cymraeg (Welsh):
coracle koorig corwg
paddle ree rhwyf
fishing area burra bwrw
fishing net ruydrat rhwyd rhwth
fish ( noun) pisg pysg
beautiful prydfa prydferth
blue glas glas
bread bara bara
bridge pont pont
estuary aber aber
foot troed troed
great mawr mawr
he efo efo
I am yr-effi yr wyfi
in the boat in y kook yn y cwch
So next week when George Jr. (George W. Bush) steps up to the microphone and opens with: "My fellow AmeriWelsh..." he hasn't tripped over his lips again, he's just recognizing cousin Madog from mobile!
Hyd y tro nesaf, Hwyl, Sion Dda.
Until the next time, good luck.
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