The racist origins of the myth a Welsh prince beat Columbus to America

(CNN)Morgan Jones was close to starving. It was 1660 and he and his boat crew had been stranded at Oyster Point, in modern-day South Carolina, for almost eight months, running low on food with no hope of rescue.

Eventually, Jones and five others set out "through the wilderness" for British colonies in the north, but were detained as they passed through the territory of a local indigenous tribe.
"That night they carried us to their town and shut us up close to our no small dread," Jones wrote in an account of his journey published years later.
    Told they were to be executed, Jones cried out in his native language, Welsh: "Have I escaped so many dangers and must I now be knocked on the head like a dog?"
      One of his captors then approached him and said, "in the British tongue" that Jones "should not die." Instead, he took him to his home, where Jones happily conversed "with them familiarly in the British (Welsh) language and did preach to them three times a week in the same language."
      Pages from "An enquiry into the truth of the tradition concerning the Discovery of America, By Prince Madog ab Owen Gwynedd, about the year, 1170," by historian John Williams, published in 1791.
      After almost a month, Jones returned to his home in New York and wrote to a fellow clergyman, Thomas Lloyd of Pennsylvania, promising to "conduct any Welshman" to the place he had met their American co-linguists.
      Jones' account reignited interest in a more than half-a-century-old story popular on both sides of the Atlantic that Christopher Columbus had been beaten to the Americas by almost 300 years by a Welsh prince, and that therefore the New World belonged not to the Spanish crown but to the English. The rights of indigenous people who had been there for millennia not deemed worth considering.
        Proof of this account was purported to be found in existence of Welsh-speaking communities living in America. The hunt for these so-called "white Indians," who looked and spoke like Europeans, was an obsession for many early settlers, including explorers, priests and journalists -- even Thomas Jefferson, the country's third president.
        At its root was not only a rivalry between England and Spain, but also a deep seated racism that sought alternative explanations for how supposedly primitive indigenous people had conquered the Americas and built grand civilizations throughout, the remnants of which European settlers were finding as they spread throughout the continents.

        Madog's mission

        The story goes something like this. In 1170, Owain, ruler of the Kingdom of Gwynedd, in what is now north Wales, died. His sons quickly set about contesting the succession and plunged the country into civil war.
        One of Owain's youngest sons, Madog, was disgusted by the fighting and set off in search of something better. As Humphrey Llwyd put it in his 1584 history, "Cronica Walliae," Madog "left the land in contention betwixt his brethren, and prepared certaine ships with men and munition, and sought adventures by seas, sailing West, and leaving the coast of Ireland so far north, that he came to a land unknowen, where he saw manie strange things."
        Finding the land lush and plentiful, Madog reportedly left a small number of his crew there to build a settlement and returned to Wales, where he gathered more followers and ships and set off west again, never to return.
        The land which Madog sailed to, Llwyd wrote, "must needs be some part of that countrie of which the Spaniardes affirme themselves to be the first finders."
        "It is manifest, that that countrie was long before by Brytaines discovered, afore either Columbus or Americus Vesputius lead anie Spaniards thither," he said, referring to the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, whose Latin moniker gave the continents their modern names.
        An extract from Humphrey Llwyd's 1584 history, "Cronica Walliae," which recounts part of the Madog myth.