of the first European expedition to the North
Leif Ericson was born about 980
near present-day Búdhardalur, Iceland, the son
of Eric the Red. His family sailed to southern Greenland
around 985, and his father founded a settlement
near present-day Julianehåb.
About 999, Ericson sailed to
Iceland and then to Norway, where he served King
Olav I and became a Christian. He returned to
Greenland the following year and began preaching
Christianity in his father's settlement.
About 1000, Norse sea captain Bjarni
Herjulfsson spoke of having sighted a land to the
west of Greenland that appeared to be forested.
Hearing the story, Ericson bought Herjulfsson's
ship and fitted an expedition to go in search of
that land. Sailing west from Greenland with 35
men, Ericson landed first at a level stone area
he named Helluland (Flat Rock Land),
which may have been in present-day Labrador.
Sailing farther south, he reached a heavily
wooded region he called Markland
(Forestland), possibly in present-day
Newfoundland. At the next landing site, his men
found grapes growing in abundance, so the land
was named Vinland (Wineland). Ericson
and his men spent the winter in Vinland, where
they built a large house for themselves and a
shed to protect their ship. They also cut a
shipload of logs to take back to Greenland, where
trees were (and still are) scarce. On the return
voyage, he rescued 15 victims of a shipwreck, who
gave Ericson their cargo as a reward. With this
cargo, along with the logs, Ericson became the
richest man in Greenland.
Eric the Red died soon after
Ericson's return, and Leif became the
settlement's leader. Although Ericson never made
another voyage, other Greenlanders made the trip
over the next fifteen years or so. Ericson's
brother, Thorwald, was killed by Indians on one
expedition, and it is likely that further Viking
settlement of Vinland was thwarted by hostile
Leif Ericson died in Greenland
sometime around 1025.
Exactly where Vinland was
located remains a mystery. In the early 1960's,
Norwegian archaeologists uncovered the ruins of
an old Norse settlement in northern Newfoundland,
and this site has since been touted as Ericson's
Vinland. Other sources, however, say that Ericson
could have sailed as far south as present-day
Cape Cod, if not farther.
In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson, backed by a Congressional
resolution, proclaimed October 9th "Leif
Ericson Day" in commemoration of the first
arrival of a European on North American soil.
The World Book Encyclopedia.
Chicago: World Book - Childcraft International,
President Lyndon B. Johnson
Questions or comments about