Leif Erickson

Leif Erickson

Discovery of Greenland and America

Leif Erickson discovered America and named it Wineland because of the grapefruit he saw every very. In the year 985, Erick the Red became the first European to settle in Greenland. In the year 1000, his son, Icelander Leif (the Lucky) Erickson became the first European to land in America.

Leifur Eiriksson (Leif's name speld in Icelandic), Son of Iceland, Discoverer of Vínland,by US Sculptor Sterling CalderGift from the People of the USA to Iceland, 1930

Leif Erickson - Son of Iceland - The First European in America
By Dr. Jonas Kristjansson, former Director of the Arni Magnusson Institute in Reykjavik. Translation: Jeffrey Cosser.

They Knew Wineland
"The country which is called Greenland was discovered and settled from Iceland. Eiríkur the Red was the name of a man from Breidafjordur who went there from here and took possession of land in the place which has since been called Eiriksfjordur. He named the country Greenland, and said it would make people want to go there if the country had a good name. There, both in the East and the West, they found human habitations and fragments of skin boats and stone implements, from which it was evident that the same kind of people had been there as lived in Wineland and whom the Greenlanders call Skraelingjar. He began settlement in the country 14 or 15 years before Christianity came to Iceland, according to what a man who himself had gone there with Eiríkur the Red told Thorkell Gellisson [Ari's uncle] in Greenland."

This extract from the Book of the Icelanders by ari the Learned (1067-1148) is completely reliable, though tantalizingly brief. He could be sure that his readers knew about Wineland, and so wasted no words on the story of its discovery and the early attempts that were made to settle there.

The Sagas Tell the Story
The Book of Settlements contains more about Eiríkur the Red, the father of Leif Erickson. Eiríkur's father had fled from Norway because he had slain men, and settled in Iceland. Eiríkur established a farm at Eiríksstadir in the West of Iceland and also lived for a short time on Sudurey and Oexney, two of the islands off the west coast. Like his father, he also became involved in slayings, and was eventually sentenced to three years' outlawry and exile. Eiríkur sailed to Greenland and spent the three years exploring the country. after a year in Iceland, he then moved permanently to Greenland in either 985 or 986. The same summer, 25 ships set out for Greenland, of which only 14 made the crossing. This was the beginning of the Icelandic settlement of the country, a settlement which flourished for some centuries.
The discovery of Wineland the Good and other lands on the Eastern coast of North America is recorded at greater length in two mediaeval Icelandic sagas, the Saga of Eiríkur the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders. These were probably written around or soon after the year 1200, just over two centuries after the events they record. of course it is likely that many details in them were distorted or altered in the time during which they were handed down orally, but these two sagas contain a central body of facts in common, including most of the characters, the new lands in the West, and many of the main events.

The Christian Voyager
Leif Erickson was probably born at Eiríksstadir about 970-980. as a child he moved with his parents to Greenland and grew up on the farm at Brattahlid. Following the custom common among the sons of prominent Icelandic families of the time, he made a voyage to Norway as a young man. according to the account in the Saga of Eiríkur the Red, his ship was blown to the Hebrides and he spent most of a summer there, during which time he begot a child with a woman named Thorgunna. He arrived in Norway in the autumn. The king of Norway at the time was Olafur Tryggvason (who ruled 995-1000); he made great efforts to convert Norway and the countries which had been settled. Leif Erickson met the king, was converted, and spent the winter with him. In the spring the king sent him to Greenland to spread Christianity, and sent two men to Iceland for the same purpose, who succeeded in getting the Icelanders to adopt Christianity at the althing in the summer.

Leif Erickson was driven off course in this voyage, and found lands whose existence he had not previously known of. In one place there were fields of self-sown wheat and grapevines. Leif Erickson named the country Wineland. On the way back to Greenland he found men on a wrecked ship and rescued them, after which he made his way to his father's home in Brattahlid. This took place in the year 1000 according to Snorri Sturluson's Heimskringla. Leif Erickson brought a priest with him from Norway, and set about spreading the new faith in Greenland. The saga says that Eiríkur was reluctant to have anything to do with it, but his wife Thjodhildur converted immediately and had a church built at some distance from the farm buildings. The settlers in Greenland were probably all converted very quickly, since no heathen graves have been found there. A cathedral and bishopric were built later in Gardar in the next fjord.

Exploring the Unknown
Soon after Leif Erickson return to Greenland, an expedition was mounted to explore the lands he had found. The explorers came first to a flat and stony land which they named Flat-Stone Land. Then they sailed further South and found another piece of land which was level and wooded, and they named this Forest Land. Then they sailed a long way south and reached a country where there were grapevines and self-sown wheat. Flat-Stone Land was probably Baffin Island, while Forest Land was possibly part of Labrador. Archeological remains left by Nordic people in the Viking age have been discovered on the northern tip of Newfoundland. They may be the remains of wintering quarters, a staging-point on the way between Greenland and Wineland. Some scholars believe that this location represents Wineland itself.

The Saga of the Greenlanders tells how Bjarni Herjolfsson, the son of a settler in Greenland, was the first to see the new countries when he lost his course in fog while sailing to Greenland, and how Leif Erickson later explored them and gave them their names. It is impossible to say now which version is correct, but if the two sagas are given equal weight then the conclusion is that both men were the discoverers, but Leif Erickson retains the credit for exploring the new lands and giving them their names according to their characteristics.

A Brief Experiment
Attempts were later made to settle in Wineland. A man from Skagafjörður in Northern Iceland, Thorfinnur Karlsefni, led a large expedition in the early 11th century. According to the Saga of the Greenlanders, there were sixty men and five women on his ship, including his wife Gudridur. Thorfinnur had all sorts of livestock with him, since he intended to settle in the new country. He stayed in Wineland for three years, but was driven away following violent clashes with the Skraelingjar. During the first autumn in Wineland, Snorri, the son of Thorfinnur and Gudridur, was born, and he is the first European recorded in history as being born in the New World. After a short time in Greenland, Thorfinnur and Gudridur went back to Iceland and settled at Reynines in the North.

"Gudridur was a very exceptional woman", says the Saga of Eiríkur the Red, and the Saga of the Greenlanders says that after Thorfinnur's death she made a pilgrimage to Rome and returned to Iceland to live with her son, finally becoming a nun and a recluse in her old age.

Very little is known about Leif Erickson later life. He was the most prominent person in Greenland after the death of his father, and he lived at Brattahlid.

Leif Erickson determination and nobility of spirit are well attested in the two Wineland sagas, albeit in tersely-worded passages. "Leif Erickson became wealthy and well respected", says the Saga of the Greenlanders. after the rescue of the shipwrecked men, the Saga of Eiríkur the Red reads: "In this, as in many other things, he showed the greatest nobility and goodness... and after this he was always called Leifur the Lucky."

"The Vikings in Greenland The Viking Age settlements in Greenland were established in the sheltered fjords of the southern and western coast. They settled in three separate areas along approximately 650 kilometers of the western coast.

The Eastern Settlement, located at about 45 degrees West and 61 degrees North, was the largest. The remains of almost 450 farms have been identified in this area clustered in the sheltered areas of the inner fjords. Leif Erickson or Eric the Red settled at Brattahlid on Ericsfjord. Most of walls of the structures at Brattahlid that have been excavated are from a date later than the settlement period, but some of the foundations of the house may date from that time. A small turf church some distance from the farm had been identified as Tjodhild's church described in the Sagas. "

Leif Erickson