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leader of the first European expedition to the North American mainland
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 Indians.
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.
This page was last updated on 03/17/2017.