Thorvald’s Rock

By Jennifer St. Arnauld

Hampton, New Hampshire is a place that may people visit each year. Most visitors come for the beautiful beach. Some residents of Hampton are convinced that this same beach was visited by a group of Vikings.

The Saga of Eric the Red says that Thorvald Ericsson, during his exploration of Vinland, stopped at a beautiful, wooded headland. It also says that he was so taken with the beauty of the area that he said he wanted to build a home there. Just then, Thorvald and his companions were attacked by Indians or “Skraelings” as they called them, and Thorvald was shot through the heart by an arrow. Before he died, he asked to be buried at the spot where he wished to build his home. He also asked that his grave be marked with a cross.

The land of Hampton fits the description in the saga. The area known as Boar’s Head is actually two promontories surrounding a wooded headland.  More importantly, there is a special stone that was found at Boar’s Head. This stone has some Norse inscriptions as well as a Christian cross carved into it. The Norse inscriptions were translated in the late 1940’s by Olaf Strangwold to read “Bui raised this stone. 1043 A.D.” (Special Collection, Dartmouth College Library).

According to residents, this stone (and no other) was known as Thorvald’s (or Thorwald’s) Rock. The ground underneath the rock has been excavated several times. Although no artifacts were found, it has been pointed out that, due to the acidic soil conditions and high ground water levels, a body buried there would completely decompose in less than 100 years. Since Thorvald would have been buried almost 1000 years ago, not finding a trace of him would be expected. The rock was located near Thornwald and Viking Streets until 1989.  The owners of the land had always allowed interested people to visit the stone, since it was part of history (or at least local legend). When the land changed ownership, the stone was moved by the Hampton Historical Society to the Tuck Museum grounds to protect and provide access to it.