JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post #99
The pre-Columbian voyages to the Garden of America-- by the Phoenicians, the Vikings, the Irish, the Greeks (Euphemus the Greek navigator in the 2nd century ACE) the Welsh (Madoc), the Chinese (as found in the Shan Hai King or Shanhai Jing, adapted, enlarged, engorged fictional classic some 3,000 years old), the Japanese and English--mostly have frothy, creamy icings over a rich, textured legend. One of the frothiest belongs to Saint Brendan, the Irish priest (of Clonfert or Bréanainn of Clonfert , c. 484 – c. 577, called "the Navigator", "the Voyager", or "the Bold") whose voyage to America was particularly enhanced and layered as he arrived on the back of a whale sometime in the 530’s. His legend has him exploring some of the high Texas country, though the Texans and most other won’t have him, be he one of the twelve apostles of Ireland or not.
Part of the problematic part of this Irish myth of North American exploration is Jasconius, the enormous fish/whale/island that Brendan made camp upon. He and his followers (sometimes numbered in the 30’s, and other times in the 60’s), actually celebrated Easter on its back and only disturbed the creature after lighting afire on its back to prepare a meal. I've always loved this engraving of St. Brendan celebrating Mass on the back of the beast, his trusty ship parked on the hindquarters of the accepting creature.
There are other instances of adventurers or the lost mistaking a fish for an island and landing on it—this occurs in the tales of Sinbad, the Adventures of Baron von Munchhausen and also in the fibbing world of Pinocchio. St. Branden's is the only instance however of using a fish/island in an effort to reach America.
I've included a bit of the beautiful narrative of Capt. John Smith's The Generall Historie of Virginia, New England & the Summer Isles (1624) in which he attempts a short history of the exploration of the Americas. He includes
in something like a chronological order, the following pre-Columbian visitors to North America:
--(King) Arthur, (pertaining to the Arthurian legend of being in America-not really thee opposite of Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, but , well, In the same ballpark; also, note Benbjamin Britten's Arthur/American).
--Malgo [Geoffrey of Monmouth's Malgo is equated with the historical ruler Maelgwn
--Brandon (St Brandon, our current hero), above.
--The Friar of Linn (Friars of Lynn, England, who according to a 1360 English legend
visited the North Pole via magic/black arts means),
--Madock Quineth (who was supposed to have visited America ca. 1160),
--Hano (Hanno the Navigator was a Carthaginian explorer who flourished c. 450 BC, and
in fact worked along the African coast).
--C. Columbuis (offering dates of 1492 and 1498)
And now the text from The Generall History of Virginia, by Captain John Smith:
“FOR the Stories of Arthur, Malgo, and Brandon, that say a thousand yeares ago they
were in the North of America; or the Fryer of Linn that by his blacke Art went to
the North pole in the yeare 1360. in that I know them not. Let this suffice.
The Chronicles of Wales report, that Madock, sonne to Owen Quineth, Prince of Wales
seeing his two brethren at debate who should inherit, prepared certaine Ships, with
men and munition, and left his Country to seeke aduentures by Sea: leauing Ireland
North he sayled west till he came to a Land vnknowne. Returning home and relating
what pleasant and fruitfull Countries he had seene without Inhabitants, and for what
barren ground his brethren and kindred did murther one another, he pro-vided a
number of Ships, and got with him such men and women as were desirous to hue in
quietnesse, that arriued with him in this new Land in the yeare 1170: Left many of
his people there and returned for more. But where this place was no History can
The Spanyards say Hanno a Prince of Carthage was the first: and the next Christopher
Cullumbus, a Genoesian, whom they sent to discover those vnknowne parts. 1492.
But we finde by Records, Cullumbus offered his seruice in the yeare 1488. to King
Henry the seauenth; and by accident vndertooke it for the Spanyards. In the Interim
King Henry gaue a Commission to Iohn Cabot, and his three sonnes, Sebastian, Lewis,
and Sautius. Iohn and Sebastian well provided, setting sayle, ranged a great part of
this vnknowne world, in the yeare 1497. For though Cullumbus had found certaine
Iles, it was 1498. ere he saw the Continent, which was a yeare after Cabot. Now
Americus came a long time after, though the whole Continent to this day is called
America after his name, yet Sebastian Cabot discovered much more then them all, for
he sayled to about forty degrees Southward of the lyne, and to sixty-seauen towards
the North: for which King Henry the eight Knighted him and made him grand Pilate of
England. Being very aged King Edward the sixt gaue him a Pention of 166l 13s. 4d.
yearely. By his directions Sir Hugh Willowby was sent to finde out the Country of
Russia, but the next yeare he was found frozen to death in his Ship, and all his
I should like also to include Smith's lovely description of those who accompanied him on his voayge--it is just lyrical and no-nonsense at the same time:
"The Names of them that were the first Planters, were these following.
Mr. Edward Maria Wingfield
Captain Bartholomew Gosnoll
Captain John Smith
Captain John Ratliffe
Captain George Kendall
47 gentlemen listed.
4 carpenters listed
12 laborers listed, including one named "Old William"
James Read, Blacksmith
Jonas Profit, Sailer
Thomas Cowper, Barber
William Garret, Bricklayer
Edward Brinto, Mason
William Love, Taylor
Nic. Scott, Drum
William Wilkinson, Surg.
In John Dee’s General and Rare Memorials Pertayning to the perfect Arte of Navigation
(London, 1577), we evidently find one of the earliest fags in the fire of the Madoc
The Lord Madoc, sonne of Owen Gwyndd prince of NorthWales, leaving his brothers in
contention, and warre for their inheritance sought, by sea (westerlie from Irland),
for some forein, and-Region to plant hymselfe in with soveranity: wth Region when he
had found, he returned to Wales againe and hym selfe wth Shipps, vituals, and men
and women sufficient for the colony, with spedely he leed into the peninsula; then
named Farquara; but of late Florida or into some of the Provinces, and territories
neere ther abouts: and in Apalchen, Mocosa, or Norombera: then of these 4 beinge
notable portions of the ancient Atlantis, no longer-nowe named America16"., ca. 1580
It is interesting to note an early Welsh reference in mapmaking in America: a Mobile Bay site was listed as the landing of Madoc was made when an early Spanish Diego Riberio map of the Gulf Of Mexico, dated 1519, labeled Mobile Bay as Tierra de los Gales-Land of the Welsh. Also as early as 1492 Martin Behaim placed St. Brendan's Isle on a Globe in 1492 west of the Canary Islands, saying that in 565 AD St. Brendan came to this island, saw many wonders, stayed for seven years and then returned home.
References and Such:
Robert Barone. Madoc and John Dee: Welsh Myth and Elizabethan Imperialism - an
article from the Elizabethan Review
William McNeill' "Mythistory, or Truth, Myth, History, and Historians" AHR vol. 91
Gwyn A. Williams, Madoc: The Making of a Myth. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.
The first written account of the Madoc myth in English is found in George Peckham, A
True Report of the late discoveries and possessions taken in the right of the Crowne
of Englande, Newfound Landes, published in 1583