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Vikings, the First Colonizers of North America: Part 3 – America Honors Leif Erikson


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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On October 9, 1825, the ship Restauration came into the New York Harbor with immigrants from Stavanger, Norway. It was the first organized official immigration of Norwegians to America.

Stories of Leif Erikson’s journey to Helluland (Baffin Island), Markland (Labrador coast) and Vinland (areas around the Gulf of St. Lawrence) in North America later helped the Nordic immigrants to the United States to identify themselves with pride with the great explorer of the new found land.

New England region of the Northeastern United States consists of the six states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. In the nineteenth century, the theory that Leif Erikson and his men visited New England gained popularity. Many believed that Cape Cod in Massachusetts could have been the Vinland of the Viking sagas.

Statue of Lief Erikson at Common Wealth Avenue, Boston (Source: wrightimages.com)
Statue of Lief Erikson at Common Wealth Avenue, Boston (Source: wrightimages.com)

In 1887, the first statue of Leif Erikson created by the American sculptor and poet Anne Whitney was erected on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, Massachusetts. It was followed by the erection of another statue of Leif Erikson in Milwaukee by Anne Whitney.

New England in the Northeastern United States consists of the six states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont. In the nineteenth century, the theory that Leif Ericson and his men visited New England gained popularity. Many believed that Cape Cod in Massachusetts could have been the Vinland of the Viking sagas.

Norumbega Tower,  Weston, Massachusetts.

The Norumbega Tower, Weston, Massachusetts.

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In 1889, Eben Norton Horsford, a Harvard Chemistry professor, erected the Norumbega Tower in Weston, Massachusetts at the confluence of Stony Brook and the Charles River.  He built it to mark the supposed location of Fort Norumbega, a Norse fort and city. The tower is approximately 38 feet tall, composed of mortared field stones with a spiral stone staircase.

Horsford believed that the Algonquin word ‘Norumbega’, means the general region that is now coastal New England. Convinced that the word “Norumbega” was derived from “Norvega” meaning Norway, he believed Norumbega was Vinland.

In 1901, the city of Chicago erected the statue of Leif Erikson that was commissioned for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

In 1925, during the centenary celebration of the first official immigration of Norwegians in America, President Calvin Coolidge told a crowd of 100,000 people at the Minnesota State Fair that Leif Erikson had indeed been the first European to discover America.to America,

Replica of Leif Erikson’s Viking ship in Duluth

Visitors to the Leif Erikson Park and Rose Garden in Duluth, a seaport city in the State of Minnesota, USA, can view the replica of a Viking ship built in 1926 in Norway by local boat builder Christian Overlier for Captain Gerhard Folgero. It is not an exact replica of a Viking craft, but a representation of the same class and style of boat likely used by Leif Erikson himself.

The ship on display is a 42-foot wooden fembøring vessel patterned after the traditional Norwegian working craft constructed of fir or pine. Medieval Norse adventurers, explorers, traders, and fisherfolk used this type of crafts. Architects consider the dragon’s head and tailpiece fitted on the ship to be masterpieces.

Captain Folgero and his crew sailed the fembøring vessel from Bergen, Norway, to the coast of Labrador and beyond, following much of Leif Erikson’s original sea route. From Labrador, they reached Boston, covering in all 6,700 miles in 50 days. During their voyage, they faced hurricane-like winds, icebergs, and fog.

From Boston, they sailed on to Duluth to take part in a national convention of Norwegian emigrants invited by the Norwegian-American immigrant and businessman H.H. Borgen.

The crew landed in Duluth on June 23, 1927.

Bert Enger, a Norwegian immigrant and West End furniture dealer along with the wife of his late business partner, Emil Olson, purchased the Norwegian boat and presented it to the city of Duluth. The ship placed on display in Duluth’s Lake Park was later named Leif Erikson Park. The boat was once considered Duluth’s second-largest tourist attraction after the Aerial Lift Bridge.

In 1929, the Wisconsin Legislature passed a bill to make October 9 “Leif Erikson Day”.

A few have speculated that Norsemen may have penetrated as far as Minnesota, either down from Hudson Bay or going west through the Great Lakes. Some researchers suggest that the Mandan Indians showed evidence of being culturally influenced by pre-Columbian explorers from Europe. A Runestone with carvings of a Scandanavian nature was discovered near Kensington, Minnesota, dating to approximately 1030.

Statue of Leif Erikcson near the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Statue of Leif Erikcson near the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota.

On October 9, 1949, a statue of Leif was erected near the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In 1964, the United States Congress authorized and requested the president to proclaim October 9, of each year as “Leif Erikson Day”.

U.S. commemorative stamp issued 9 October 1968, Leif Erikson Day.
U.S. commemorative stamp issued 9 October 1968, Leif Erikson Day.commemorative stamp issued 9 October 1968, Leif Erikson Day.

On October 9, 1968, Leif Erikson Day, the United States issued a commemorative stamp to honor Leif Erikson, the first Viking colonizer of North America.

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← Previous: Part 2 – Leif Erikson

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Vikings, the First Colonizers of North America: Part 2 – Leif Erikson


Myself

By T.V. Antony Raj

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 Bjarni Herjólfsson

The “Saga of the Greenlanders” (“Grænlendinga saga” in modern Icelandic tells that in the summer of 986, Bjarni Herjólfsson, a Norse explorer sailed to Iceland as usual, to visit his parents. Since his father had migrated to Greenland with Erik the Red, Bjarni with his crew set off to find him.

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Bjarni Herjólfsson (Source: ru.warriors.wikia.com)
Bjarni Herjólfsson (Source: ru.warriors.wikia.com)

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In the 10th century, they had no map or devices such as compasses to guide them. Neither Bjarni nor any of his crew members had been to Greenland before. A storm blew them off course. Bjarni and his crew saw a piece of land covered with trees and mountains. The land looked hospitable. They were not sure whether it was Greenland. Although his crew begged him to, Bjarni refused to stop and explore the new lands. He was much eager to reach Greenland to see his parents.

So, Bjarni Herjólfsson was the first European to have made landfall there and see North America beyond Greenland.

After regaining his course, and arriving in Greenland, Bjarni reported seeing the low-lying hills covered with forests some distance farther to the west. But at the time no one seems to have shown interest. Later, word spread of the lands to the west, which Bjarni Herjólfsson had seen.

As they lacked timber, Greenlanders took a special interest in what Bjarni described. They became allured by the wooded coastline Bjarni had seen. It created a great intrigue throughout the Nordic Empire. Though Bjarni was celebrated by the Greenlanders, King Eric chided him for not exploring that land mass.

 Leif Erikson

In 999, Leif Erikson, the son of Greenland leader Erik Thorvaldsson (Old Norse: Eiríkr Þorvaldsson), also known as Erik the Red (Old Norse: Eiríkr hinn rauði), travelled from Greenland to Norway.

Leif Erikson ((Source - pixgood.com)
Leif Erikson ((Source – pixgood.com)

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Blown off course to the Hebrides and staying there for much of the summer with his crew, Leif arrived in Norway. He became a hirdman of King Olaf Tryggvason. He converted to Christianity from Norse paganism and took on the mission of introducing the new religion to Greenland.

Leif Erikson, having heard the story of Bjarni Herjólfsson, approached Bjarni and purchased the ship he had used for his voyage.

The Saga of Erik the Red says Leif Erikson hired a crew of 35 men. He planned to take his father, Erik the Red along with him in his expedition, however, Erik fell off his horse on the way to the ship, and this was taken as a bad omen and stayed at home. Leif with his crew set out towards the land Bjarni had described. He retraced Bjarni’s route in reverse.

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Map shows the route Leif Erikson took to reach Vinland
Map shows the route Leif Erikson took to reach Vinland

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They first went up the West Coast of Greenland and then crossed the Davis Strait and landed first in a rocky and desolate place which he named Helluland (“the land of the flat stones”), possibly Baffin Island.

Then, they went down south and found a forest area which amazed them because there were no trees in Greenland. They named the region Markland (“Wood Land”), possibly Labrador coast.

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The Viking expedition led by Leif Eriksson lands on Vinland (Source: kids.britannica.com)
The Viking expedition led by Leif Eriksson lands on Vinland (Source: kids.britannica.com)

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After two more days at sea, they landed in a luscious place. Relative to Greenland, the weather was mild. Salmon was aplenty in the streams. They named the region Vinland (“land of pastures”).

During one of these explorations, they found the land was full of vines and grapes. Leif and his crew built a small settlement, which later visitors from Greenland called Leifsbúðir (Leif’s Booths).

The earliest record of the name “Winland” is in chapter 39 of Adam of Bremen’s “Descriptio insularum Aquilonis” (“Description of the Northern Islands”) written c. 1075. Adam implies that the name contains Old Norse “vín” (Latin “vinum” meaning “wine”):

Praeterea unam adhuc insulam recitavit a multis in eo repertam occeano, quae dicitur Winland, eo quod ibi vites sponte nascantur, vinum optimum ferentes.

“In addition, the island discovered by many in one of the seas, which is called Winland, from the fact that the spontaneous growth of grapevines, produced the best wine.”

This etymology retained in the 13th-century Saga of the Greenlanders, provides a circumstantial account of the discovery of Vinland, and named from the vínber, i.e. “wine berry,” a term for grapes or currants (black or red), found there.

Archaeological evidences suggest that Vinland may have been the areas around the Gulf of St. Lawrence, the world’s largest estuary, and the outlet of the North American Great Lakes via the Saint Lawrence River into the Atlantic Ocean.

Leif Erikson formed two groups: one to remain at the camp, and the other to explore the lands.

After having spent the winter in Vinland, Leif Erikson returned to the family estate of Brattahlíð in Greenland in the spring of 1000 with a cargo of grapes and timber.

In Greenland, he started preaching Christianity. His father, Erik Thorvaldsson reacted with anger to the suggestion that he should abandon his religion –  Norse paganism.

Replica of Tjodhilde's Church, was built in Brattahlið (Source: greenland.com)

Replica of Tjodhilde’s Church that was built in Brattahlið (Source: greenland.com)

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His mother became a Christian and built a church called Thorhild’s Church (actually a small chapel) in Brattahlið.

At odds with both wife and eldest son Leif, Erik attempted a sail to Leif’s Vinland with his youngest son Thorstein. They failed to reach Newfoundland, but the doughty Eric said, “We were more cheerful when we put out of the fjord in the summer; but at least we are still alive, and it might have been worse.”

Erik the Red is last mentioned in the sagas in 1005.

Leif Erickson is last mentioned alive in 1019. By 1025, he installed one of his sons, Thorkell as the chieftain of Eriksfjord (Eiríksfjǫrðr).

None of the sagas mentions Leif Erickson’s death. He must have died in Greenland. Nothing further is known about his family beyond the succession of Thorkell as chieftain.

In the early 1960s, Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, identified a Norse settlement located at the northern tip of Newfoundland. They suggested that this site, known as L’Anse aux Meadows, is Leif’s settlement of Leifsbúðir, the first known attempt at founding a settlement by Europeans on the mainland of the Americas.

Leif Erikson had opened the way to America. Vikings ships plied from Greenland to these “new lands” (Newfoundland) during the following years.

According to Brattahlíð lore, Thorvaldur, the brother of Leif Erikson set sail to further explore Vinland. The natives of Vinland, called Skrælings (“stunted”) by the Norse because of their small size, attacked Thorvaldur and his crew. Thorvaldur received a fatal wound and his men buried him in Vinland and returned to Greenland.

According to the “Saga of the Greenlanders,” Leif Erikson’s younger brother Thorstein set sail for Vinland along with his wife Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir (Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir) to retrieve his brother Thorvaldur’s body. Losing their way at sea they had to return. At the close of the first week of winter, they landed at Lysufiord, where Thorstein fell ill and died.

After her husband’s death, Gudrid returned to Brattahlíð. She married a merchant named Thorfinn Karlsefni, “a man of good family and good means” and “a merchant of good repute.” After their marriage, at Gudrid’s insistence, the couple set sail to Vinland with a group of sixty men, five women, and various livestock in an attempt to settle down in the camp that Leif Erickson had built some years earlier. They spent three years in Vinland.

In Vínland, Gudrid bore a son, the first European reported to be born in the Western Hemisphere. They named him Snorri Thorfinnsson,

Harassed by the natives, Thorfinn and Gudrid returned with their son to Greenland, where Thorfinn Karlsefni died.

After that, the hostile indigenous people of Vinland thwarted the many attempts by settlers from Greenland and Iceland to found a colony there. The stories of the various Viking expeditions survived in the collective memory of the descendants of those who returned by the 13th century from the North American coast to settle once again in Greenland and Iceland.

The Norse settlements in coastal North America were small. They did not develop into permanent colonies. While voyages, such as to collect timber, are likely to have occurred for some time, there is no evidence of enduring Norse settlements on mainland North America.

Leif Erikson has the honor of being the first European to open the way to America almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

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Next → Part 3 – America Honors Leif Erikson

← Previous: Part 1-  Erik the Red

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