Leif Eriksson (975-1020), Icelandic explorer thought to have been one of the first Europeans to set foot on North American soil. His name is also spelled Erikson, Ericsson, or Eiriksson. He was the second son of Erik the Red, who in about 985 established the first European settlement on Greenland after he was exiled from Iceland. Leif Erkisson’s story was recorded by several Icelandic writers in the 13th and 14th centuries, but the accounts which they give differ so greatly that it is not possible to be certain of the details of Leif’s career.
|II||SAGA OF ERIK THE RED|
According to the 13th-century Saga of Erik the Red, Leif, a sailor like his father, voyaged from Greenland to Norway, the homeland of his family, shortly before 1000. There, King Olaf I converted him to Christianity and later sent him back to Greenland to win its Viking settlers over to the Christian faith. Journeying westward, Leif lost his way and happened upon land in the west with which he was unfamiliar. There he found “fields of self-sown wheat” and a country rich with grapevines and trees of a kind called mösurr (said to be maple). Because of the grapes and the land’s fertility, Leif called the land Vinland (or Wineland).
The saga also relates that on Leif’s return journey, he came upon a wrecked trading vessel and rescued its crew. For this deed he received the vessel’s entire rich cargo and, subsequently, the nickname Leif the Lucky. After he reached his home in Greenland, he carried out his commission to bring Christianity to the settlers. One of his converts was his mother, Thjódhild, who is said to have built Greenland's first Christian church at Brattahlid.
|III||TALE OF THE GREENLANDERS|
A different story is told in Tale of the Greenlanders, a saga that modern scholars believe is older and more reliable than the Saga of Erik the Red. According to Tale of the Greenlanders, an Icelandic trader named Bjarni Herjólfsson was the first European to sight land in North America. Some years later, Leif bought Bjarni's ship and, based on his description, retraced the voyage shortly after 1000. As he sailed, he reached what he called Helluland (perhaps Baffin Island) and Markland (perhaps Labrador) before finding Vinland.
Leif and his crew built shelters and stayed in Vinland for a year or two before returning to Greenland. Leif lent his ship to his brother Thorvald for further exploration of Vinland where, according to some sagas, Thorvald was killed by Native Americans.
|IV||WHERE IS VINLAND?|
The precise identity of Vinland remains controversial among scholars. Some say it is Newfoundland, others, Nova Scotia or even New England. In 1963 archaeologists found ruins of a Viking-type settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows, in northern Newfoundland, which correspond to Leif’s description of Vinland.