Leif Ericsson

About AD 970 -1020

The first European to reach the shores of North America grew up on Greenland

Watch out for that iceberg! Eric the Red shouted the order to the rowers. Exiled from Iceland, he was searching for a new home for his family. Young Leif, his son, kept staring at the huge iceberg while they slowly and carefully rowed past it in their Viking ship. Soon the fjord opened up and Leif could see green grassland both to the right and left. The men stopped rowing and soon the ship gently grounded on the beach and they all went ashore.

For the first three years, they lived there in virtual seclusion. There were no other inhabitants around, and they focused on their family and environment, learning and taking what the new land offered.

Come West – to Greenland

After three years had passed, Eric the Red returned to Iceland and told of the bounty which he had found in the new land to the west, the land he named Greenland. Stimulated and excited by his tales and descriptions, hundreds of people packed up their families and belongings and followed him to their new home.

Leif becomes a Christian

Leif grew to be a large and imposing man, one known for his  fair judgment and honesty. Having been reared under his father’s adventurous hand, Leif had a strong urge to travel and explore. One of his first trips was eastward, to Norway, the homeland of his family. He arrived in Nidaros (Trondheim) and was well received by King Olav Tryggvasson. Leif and his men stayed there for the winter, and were taught the foundations of Christianity. Before they left Norway, Leif, along with all of his men, accepted the faith and were baptised Christians. Returning to Greenland, Leif taught the people of his new-found beliefs. His mother listened to his words and became a Christian. So devout in her belief was she, she asked Eric to have a church built for worship. Grudgingly, Eric fulfilled her request, but he himself never accepted the faith or visited the finished church.

New land to the west!

Some years before AD 1000, Bjarni Herjólfsson relayed exciting news of a new land to the west. Leif, an adventurer in his own right, bought Bjarni’s ship, gathered a crew of 35 and sailed westward as Bjarni had instructed. With favourable weather and winds, Leif and his crew were soon following the outlines of the new lands that they had heard of. They continued onward, stopping only briefly at the other two lands, until they reached the third new land.

Vinland the Good

There, they came ashore and constructed some booths, and later a large house for the winter. They found their winter to be frost-free, and agreed that fodder and other food, that normally would need to be kept during the cold harsh winter for the animals, would be unnecessary here. Also, the rivers and lakes were filled with salmon and a large variety of other fish. And the earth! It seemed to be black and rich, where they could easily grow their crops. So pleased was Leif by the land and its bounty, he named it Vinland.

Leif the Lucky

In the spring, Leif and his men returned to Greenland. On his return journey, Leif came upon a wrecked trading vessel whose crew he rescued; for this deed he received the entire rich cargo and the nickname Leif the Lucky. A year later his father, Eric the Red, died and Leif settled on Brattahlid taking over his father’s farm.

Thorvald goes to Vinland

Thorvald, Leif’s brother, borrowed Leif’s ship and sailed westward to Vinland two years later. He used Leif’s sailing directions and ship to complete the journey. For two years he and his men sailed along the coasts, exploring the new land.

One day, they stumbled across some natives and became involved in a skirmish. It was during this conflict that Thorvald was fatally wounded. His men buried him in Vinland and called the place Crossness.

The following year Thorvald’s men returned to Greenland, bringing back a cargo of wood and wine-berries. Thorvald was the first European we know to die and to be buried in America.

Snorri – the first European-American

Thorfinn Karlsefni and his wife, Gudrid, also sailed to Vinland and resided in Leif’s house. While they lived there, they collected many valuable products, including many samples of wood, which was of high value to the Vikings. Gudrid gave birth to a son during their stay and they named him Snorri. He was the first European child to be born in the New World.

Myths and Sagas suggest that the Vikings on many occasions returned to Vinland, in search of the rich timber that could be found there. Evidence suggests that there is foundation to these beliefs.

This post is also available in: Norwegian Bokmål