Leif Ericson

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A statue of Leif Ericson near the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul dedicated on October 9, 1949.
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Viking colonisation site at L'Anse-aux-Meadows, Newfoundland

Leif Ericson (Old Norse: Leifr Eiríksson; modern Icelandic: Leifur Eiríksson; modern Norwegian: Leiv Eiriksson) (c. 980c. 1020) was a Norse explorer, and the first European known to have discovered North America—more specifically, the region that would become Newfoundland and, by later extension, Canada.

It is said to this day that Leif was born around 980 (in Iceland) and was the second son of Erik the Red (Old Norse: Eiríkr rauði), a Norwegian-Icelandic outlaw, himself the son of another Norwegian outlaw, Þorvaldr Ásvaldsson. Leif's mother was Þjóðhildr. Erik had started two Norse colonies, the Western Settlement and the Eastern Settlement, in Greenland, which he had named. As far as it is known, Leif Ericson had two brothers, Þorvaldr and Þorsteinn, and one sister, Freydís. Leif married a woman by the name of Þórgunnr, and they had one son, Þorkell Leifsson.

During a stay in Norway, Leif was converted to Christianity, like many Norse around that time. He also went to Norway to serve the King of Norway, Olaf Tryggvason. When he returned to Greenland, he bought the boat of Bjarni Herjólfsson, and set out to explore the land that Bjarni had found, today known as North America.

The Saga of the Greenlanders tells that Leif set out around 1000 to follow Bjarni's circular route with 35 crew members, but in the opposite direction.Template:Ref The first land he met was covered with flat rock slabs (Old Norse: hellur). He therefore called it Helluland ("Land of the Flat Stones"), probably the present day Baffin Island. Next he came to a land that was flat and wooded, with white sandy beaches, which he called Markland ("Wood-land"), usually assumed to have been Labrador.

When Leif and his crew left Markland and found land again, they landed and built some houses. They found the land pleasant: there were plenty of salmon in the river, and the climate was mild, with little frost in the winter, and green grass year-round. They remained at this place over the winter. The sagas mention that one of Leif's men, Tyrkir, possibly a German warrior, found grapes, and that Leif named the country Vínland after them.

On the return voyage, Leif rescued an Icelandic castaway named Þórir and his crew — an incident that earned Leif the nickname 'Leif the Lucky' (Old Norse: Leifr hinn heppni).

Research done in the 1950s and 1960s by explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine, strongly suggests that the settlement of Leif Ericson and his party in Vínland was actually the tip of Newfoundland later known as L'Anse aux Meadows.

In 1964, President of the United States Lyndon B. Johnson declared October 9 "Leif Erikson Day" in the United States.

Notes

  1. Template:Note Another saga, The Saga of Eric the Red, relates that it was actually Leif who discovered the American mainland while returning from Norway to Greenland in 1000 or thereabouts; but the saga does not mention any attempts to settle there. However, the Saga of the Greenlanders is considered to be the more reliable of the two.

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