Who Was the First European to Discover North America?

Who Was the First European to Discover North America?

It is well known that Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ North America in 1492. Except, of course, he didn’t.

Indigenous peoples had been making their way across what was then a land bridge from Asia for perhaps 20,000 years before him. And we now know that he was not even the first European to become aware of the continent. That claim belongs to Viking voyagers and we are lucky that several surviving sagas tell us what happened.

Understandably, historians are sometimes sceptical of relying on such accounts. Often they were written up hundreds of years after the events they discuss, and sometimes include some highly suspect references to supernatural goings-on which are very unlikely to have happened in real life.

Luckily, recent archaeological discoveries have given us firm evidence to back up the saga stories.

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Bjarni Herjólfsson sets off for Greenland

The name of the first European to sight North America has been largely forgotten. It was not Leif Eriksson, whose fame was largely secured by his expeditions to the continent, nor was it Erik the Red (who indeed never went there). It was rather Bjarni Herjólfsson who journeyed from Norway to his home in Iceland in the year 985.

Arriving back in Iceland, he learned that his parents had recently sailed west to Greenland with an adventurer (and something of a rogue), the aforementioned Erik the Red. Bjarni decided to go after them and set out for Greenland. Unfortunately the journey quickly started to go wrong.

Carl Rasmussen’s painting depicting the Viking voyages to Greenland.

The first issue was that there was insufficient wind for the ship to make good speed. Then the curse of all mariners, fog, descended on them. They lost track of time, meandering around aimlessly in the mist without a clue where they were.

At last the fog lifted and they caught sight of land. Any euphoria they felt was short-lived, for it quickly became apparent that this was a land no one from Europe had ever seen before. Unlike Greenland, it was carpeted in thick forests and there were no glaciers in sight.

To some Vikings this might have been exactly the kind of excitement that they were searching for. We think of them of being spurred on by a spirit of adventure, an everlasting quest for the unknown. Bjarni however was not of this type.

Rather than putting ashore to find out more, he ordered the ship to turn around and head for Greenland – or where they thought Greenland to be. They soon arrived at their destination. As far as we know, Bjarni never set eyes on North America – for it is now generally thought this is what he caught a glimpse of – again.

Leif Eriksson sets foot in North America

It was on Bjarni’s return that Leif Eriksson enters the story. He heard of Bjarni’s epic voyage and bought his ship off him, determined to find out more about the unexplored lands in the west.

Leif was very much an adventurer. He had spent time in Norway before heading for Greenland and now he wished for another thrilling voyage into the unknown.

Thanks to two surviving accounts, The Greenlanders’ Saga and Erik the Red’s Saga, some details of his (and others) journeys to North America have survived.

Three geographical regions are named as being visited by Vikings; Helluland (‘slab-stone land’ – possibly Baffin Island), Markland (‘forest land’) and most famously Vinland (‘wine land’).

‘The Landing of the Vikings’ by Arthur C. Michael, painted 1919. It must be noted that Vikings did not wear horned helmets, contrary to this image.

Leif did not stay on the continent for long. He over-wintered there and then returned to Greenland along with a welcome supply of timber, vital in the Viking world for ships, houses and furniture amongst other things. Others followed in his footsteps though. His brother Thorvald did so and stayed for several years.

However, it soon became apparent that they did not have the country to themselves. They came across an indigenous population, the skrӕlings as they became known (the word translates approximately as ‘barbarians’).

There was soon a clash between them in which all but one of the indigenes in the party they came across was killed. In response, the indigenes attacked the Vikings with a flotilla of boats. One of their warriors loosed an arrow which struck Thorvald in an armpit. He soon after died of his wounds.

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Another brother of Leif Eriksson’s, Thorstein, also led an expedition to the continent but atrocious weather conditions meant that it was aborted.

Thorstein’s death during an epidemic in Greenland soon after meant that he did not try again. His place was taken by Thorfinn Thordarson (known as Karlsefni). Not only did Karlsefni decide to try again in Vinland but he also married Thorstein’s widow, Gudrid.

He took with him sixty men, five women (including Gudrid) and livestock. They also met parties of skrӕlings when they put shore. There was initially some trading between the two groups but they soon came to blows too.

Eventually, Karlsefni’s group returned to Greenland – after Gudrid gave birth to a son called Snorri, the first-known European child to be born in North America.

Eiríksstaðir, the home of Erik the Red in Haukadalur, Iceland. Image source: Bromr / CC BY-SA 3.0.

The last expedition

One last expedition followed, led by Thorvard. He was married to Freydis, the uncontrollable daughter of Erik the Red.

Freydis showed herself to be the archetypal villainess. With their party was a group of Icelanders who Freydis later decided to murder. She had previously been in Karlsefni’s party and, when they were attacked, she had fought off the skrӕlings using unconventional tactics involving the baring of her breasts in the general direction of the indigenous warriors.

Historians are slightly sceptical about these accounts of Freydis, noting the resemblance of her name to the Norse god Frey/Freyr (male/female twins in the Viking pantheon). Similarly, Gudrid, whose actions are generally portrayed as being exemplary, has a name that is suspiciously similar to that of the Christian God.

In this period the old pagan Viking religion and recently arrived Christian religion were fighting for supremacy. Therefore, it is possible that some of these accounts may be allegorical rather than literal.

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A modern assessment

Doubts about the accuracy of the sagas force us to look at other forms of evidence for the Vikings in North America. This came to a head in the 20th century. It is now time to turn our attention to the so-called Vinland Map and a remarkable husband and wife archaeological team.

The map appeared in 1965. It purported to show Viking settlements in North America and made specific reference to Leif Eriksson and Bjarni Herjólfsson. Vinland, Helluland and Markland were clearly marked. H

istorians were overjoyed at the discovery; that is until it was revealed that it was a fake, probably crafted by a 20th century Yugoslav professor of history, Luka Jelič.

The Vinland Map.

It was the husband and wife team who gave real cause for excitement. A Norwegian couple, Helge and Ann Stine Ingstad, were curious about the origins of an apparent archaeological site at L’Anse aux Meadows on Newfoundland.

Extensive investigation over a number of seasons revealed buildings constructed in a distinctive Norse style which were radiocarbon-dated to around the year 1000.

The site was never large but the discovery of ships’ rivets there suggests that this was something of a stopover point from which perhaps Viking trading (or raiding) parties could push on, possibly to the North American mainland.

An authentic Viking settlement in Newfoundland, Canada. Image source: Dylan Kereluk / CC BY 2.0.

From time to time new evidence emerges in North America that hints at a wider Viking presence in the continent beyond the rather peripheral position of Newfoundland.

So far, any evidence has been inconclusive. Perhaps one day more conclusive archaeological finds will be uncovered, proving that the Vikings pushed further into the continent.

As they say, watch this space.

W. B. Bartlett has worked across the globe in over thirty countries and has spent time in over seventy. He is the author of many history books including titles on the Titanic, Medieval History, King Cnut and the Dam Busters. Vikings, A History of the Northmen is his most recent work and will be published on 15 November, by Amberley Publishing.

Exploration of North America

The exploration of North America by non-indigenous people was a continuing effort to map and explore the continent and advance the economic interests of said non-indigenous peoples of North America. It spanned centuries, and consisted of efforts by numerous people and expeditions from various foreign countries to map the continent. See also the European colonization of the Americas

The Age of Discovery

During the 15th and 16th centuries, leaders of several European nations sponsored expeditions abroad in the hope that explorers would find great wealth and vast undiscovered lands. The Portuguese were the earliest participants in this 𠇊ge of Discovery,” also known as 𠇊ge of Exploration.”

Starting in about 1420, small Portuguese ships known as caravels zipped along the African coast, carrying spices, gold, slaves and other goods from Asia and Africa to Europe.

Did you know? Christopher Columbus was not the first person to propose that a person could reach Asia by sailing west from Europe. In fact, scholars argue that the idea is almost as old as the idea that the Earth is round. (That is, it dates back to early Rome.)

Other European nations, particularly Spain, were eager to share in the seemingly limitless riches of the �r East.” By the end of the 15th century, Spain’s “Reconquista”—the expulsion of Jews and Muslims out of the kingdom after centuries of war—was complete, and the nation turned its attention to exploration and conquest in other areas of the world.

Who Was the First European to Reach North America?

Contrary to the common myth that Christopher Columbus "discovered" America, he was not the first European to reach North America that honor arguably belongs to Leif Erikson, who landed in North American locations in modern-day Canada and during the second century C.E., about 500 years before Columbus first landed in this part of the world. However, Leif Erikson's father, Erik the Red, led the first group of European colonizers to Greenland, which arguably makes this group the first collection of Europeans to set foot on and establish their society in North America. Though Greenland is officially a Danish territory, it is usually considered to be located within North America rather than Europe.

Those who do not consider Greenland to be part of North America give credit for European "discovery" of North America to Leif Erikson, which is why he is sometimes referred to as the first European in America. Either way, there is physical and recorded evidence that confirms the fact that Christopher Columbus was not the first European in North America. Though Columbus landed much farther to the south, Leif Erikson and his father, Erik the Red, established European colonies in North America long before Columbus was even born. Leif Erikson has also served as a symbol for Scandinavian-American immigrants in more modern times.


The exploits of European explorers had a profound impact both in the Americas and back in Europe. In Spain, gold and silver from the Americas helped to fuel a golden age, the Siglo de Oro, when Spanish art and literature flourished. Riches poured in from the colonies, especially from the silver mines at Potosí in the Andes and Zacatecas in Mexico. New ideas poured in from other countries and new lands.

Until the 1500s, the Roman Catholic Church provided a unifying religious structure for Christian Europe. The Vatican in Rome exercised great power over the lives of Europeans, controlling not only learning and scholarship but also levying taxes on the faithful. Spain, with its New World wealth, was a bastion of the Catholic faith. Beginning with the reform efforts of Martin Luther in 1517 and John Calvin in the 1530s, however, Catholic dominance came under attack as the Protestant Reformation began. During the sixteenth century, Protestantism spread through northern Europe, and Catholic countries responded by attempting to extinguish what was seen as a heretical menace. Religious turmoil between Catholics and Protestants influenced the history of the Atlantic World as well, since different nations competed not only for control of new territories but also for the preeminence of their religious beliefs there. Just as the history of Spain’s rise to power is linked to the Reconquista, so too is the history of early globalization connected to the history of competing Christian groups in the Atlantic World.

Martin Luther was a German Catholic monk and theologian at the University of Wittenberg who took issue with the Catholic Church’s practice of selling indulgences, documents that absolved sinners in return for cash donations to finance the building of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. He also objected to the Catholic Church’s taxation of ordinary Germans and delivery of Mass in Latin. Although he had hoped to reform the Catholic Church while remaining a part of it, Luther’s action instead triggered a movement called the Protestant Reformation that divided the Church in two. The Catholic Church condemned him as a heretic, but a doctrine based on his reforms, called Lutheranism, spread through northern Germany and Scandinavia.

Like Luther, the French lawyer John Calvin advocated making the Bible accessible to ordinary people in their own languages. In 1535, Calvin fled Catholic France and led the Reformation movement from Geneva, Switzerland. Soon Calvin’s ideas spread to the Netherlands and Scotland. Luther’s idea that scripture should be available in the everyday language of worshippers inspired English scholar William Tyndale to translate the Bible into English in 1526. The break with the Catholic Church in England occurred in the 1530s, when Henry VIII established a new, Protestant state religion. A devout Catholic, Henry had initially opposed the Reformation. Pope Leo X even awarded him the title “Defender of the Faith.” The tides turned, however, when Henry’s Spanish Catholic wife, Catherine (the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella), failed to produce a male heir for Henry and the king petitioned for an annulment to their marriage. The Pope refused his request and Henry created the Church of England, with himself at its head. This left him free to seize all the land and wealth of the Church, and to annul his own marriage and marry Anne Boleyn.

The new queen also failed to bear a son and when she was accused of adultery, Henry had her executed. His third wife, Jane Seymour, at long last delivered a son, Edward, who ruled for only a short time before dying in 1553 at the age of fifteen. Mary, the daughter of Henry VIII and his discarded Spanish first wife Catherine of Aragon, then came to the throne, committed to restoring Catholicism. She earned the nickname “Bloody Mary” for the many executions of Protestants that she ordered during her reign. Mary married her cousin Philip II, the King of Spain, who became King of England as well until Mary’s death in 1558. When Queen Elizabeth I took the throne, Philip proposed marriage so that he could continue as King of England. Elizabeth turned him down, which led Philip to plan an invasion of Britain, supposedly to return the nation to Catholicism. The invasion was launched in the summer of 1588, but the British navy and storms at sea defeated the Spanish Armada and established Britain as Europe’s leading naval power.

Panoramic painting presenting a stylized account of the battle of Gravelines between the Spanish Armada and the English fleet including the beacons, Queen Elizabeth’s address at Tilbury, and the battle itself.

Under Elizabeth, the Church of England again became the state church, retaining the hierarchical structure and many of the rituals of the Catholic Church. However, by the late 1500s, some English members of the Church began to agitate for more reform. Known as Puritans, they worked to purify the last traces of Catholicism from the Church of England. At the time, the term “puritan” was pejorative, since many people saw Puritans as pious frauds who used religion to swindle their neighbors. Worse, many in power saw Puritans as a security threat because of their opposition to the national church. Puritans crossed the Atlantic in the 1620s and 1630s to create a New England, a haven for reformed Protestantism where Puritans could not only practice their religion freely but attain wealth and power unavailable to them in England. The conflict between Spain and England dragged on into the early seventeenth century, and Protestant nations, especially England and the newly-independent Dutch Republic, posed a significant challenge to Spain and to Catholic France as imperial rivalries played out in the Atlantic World. Spain retained its hold on Central and South America, but by the early 1600s, the nation could no longer keep England and its European rivals, the French and Dutch, from colonizing smaller islands in the Caribbean and the mainland of North America.

  • How much of a factor do you think the Protestant Reformation was in the colonization of the Americas?

Who discovered North America first? Vikings, Columbus or Chinese?

This article mainly focuses on the question who discovered North America first. Was it really Columbus? Maybe Vikings? Or did Chinese do that earlier than Europeans? Since there were a large number of indigenous people living in North America, the discovery of North America was only a beginning of the communication between American civilization and Eurasian civilization.

As we know, the so-called Americas are consist of the continents of North and South America, together they are the only land wholly in the Western Hemisphere of Earth. Divided by the Panama Canal, the two continents comprise the “New World”. As the Americas do not border with Asia, Europe or Africa, for ages there was no communication between these continents.

No direct communication between the Americas and Eurasian continent was established until the discovery of the New World. But the arrival of Europeans also led to the end of American civilizations, such as the Inca Empire and the Aztec Empire. Without communications with the outside world, the American civilizations grew slowly and were soon conquered by European invaders.

However, through archaeological discoveries, it has been proved that voyagers from Europe and Asia had arrived in this land before Columbus. For example, the Olmec civilization created by the natives in North America was very similar to the Chinese civilization. This just makes us wonder: did ancient Chinese got across the ocean and reached North America? Meanwhile, the proofs of Viking activities were also found in North Canada, making the identity of the discoverer of North America even more mysterious.

Did Columbus discover North America first?

This is now a common view in academia and also written in the textbooks of the most countries. As is known to us all, Christopher Columbus was an Italian-born explorer. In his first voyage in 1492, he landed in somewhere in the Bahamas, he named it “San Salvador”. But it was not “Japan” in his plan. In the following three voyages, Columbus arrived in the Greater Antilles, Lesser Antilles, Venezuela and the Central America, which he declared to be terriorities of the Spanish empire. Till his death in 1506, he still believed he had arrived in India. What he did not know was, his discovery of the “New World” led to the revival of a notorious industry, piracy.

Did Vikings discover North America first?

The theory that Vikings discovered North America is agreed by many historians. Speak of the European activities in North America, we have to mention Erik the Red, the man who discovered Greenland. He also had a son named Leif Erikson, who followed in his father’s footsteps and continued to explore the unknown world. He arrived in many places in Canada, United State and Mexico. His travel stories were recorded in the Voyages to Vinland. Some people believed that he discovered North America in around 1000 AD, which was nearly 500 years earlier than Columbus. In 1964, US president Lyndon Johnson proclaimed October 9 to be the Leif Erikson Day, in memory of this European explorer who first set foot on North America continent in the history.

In Newfoundland, Canada, some copper fasteners and a stone spindle were discovered here, together with the ruins of the foundations of six houses. And someone discovered a Viking toolkit in 1936. There were various tools inside, including sledgehammers, drills, saws, axes and pliers, almost everything. Also, in the 1970s, archaeologists Helge Ingstad and Anne Ingstad excavated a historic site in L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, where there was a ancient Norse village. They found the ruins of eight peat-turf houses, a number of Norse-style fireplaces, a smithy, some melt iron and a few nails along with some other items, which were made in late 10th century and early 11th century.

Did Chinese discover North America first?

There are three different views about the discovery of North America by Chinese: the troops of Shang Kingdom reached the Americas Xu Fu, a court sorcerer in Qin Dynasty, led three thousand young boys and girls to the Americas Zheng He’s fleet arrived in the Americas in Ming Dynasty.

The troops of Shang Kingdom reached the Americas

In 1046 BC, Zhou Kingdom launched an operation to conquer Shang Kingdom. The two troops had a major battle in Muye, where Shang troop was defeated and King Zhou of Shang burnt himself. As a result, the Shang Kingdom fell. However, hundreds of thousands of Shang civilians and soldiers mysteriously disappeared. In 20th century, there rose a historical hypothesis that Shang people sailed eastwards to the Americas. American historian John McNeil mentioned in his book The History of Human Society that, the ancient jadewares excavated in United States and Mexico were very similar to those made in Shang or Zhou Dynasty in ancient China. This might be a strong evidence for the hypothesis.

In Mexico, some mysterious symbols were also found and believed to be developed from the oracle bone script in ancient China. Accordingly, it seems we can assume that Chinese arrived in North America in 1300 BC, which was nearly 2800 years earlier than Columbus. On the Indian-style carved stones, jadewares and some other potteries excavated in Mexico, nearly one hundred and fifty symbols were found, which were also similar to the oracle bone script.

Xu Fu sailed to the Americas

As you might know, Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of Qin Dynasty, was extremely eager to find the secret of immortality. Thus, Xu Fu, a court sorcerer, was ordered to look for the elixir of life. To finish the job, Xu Fu took three thousand young boys and girls with him and sailed eastwards from Shandong. They reached South Korea first, and then arrived in Japan. It is said that he later became the founding emperor of Japan, the Emperor Jimmu.

Another theory is, after Xu Fu reached Japan, he found there was an unknown world to the east of Japan. So he sailed further east following the Kuroshio current in Pacific, by way of Hawaiian Islands he finally reached the Americas and never returned. Square rocks carved with Chinese seal characters discovered in Hawaiian Islands, and the ancient arrows with Chinese seal characters excavated in San Francisco might be left by Xu Fu’s men.

There also lived some yellow people in somewhere in Venezuela near the Gulf of Mexico. Their clothes were similar to ancient Chinese costumes, while their faces and accents were also close to Chinese people. These men called themselves “descendants of the medicine seekers”, which reminded us of the Xu Fu Story.

Did Zheng He’s fleet discover the Americas?

During the Zheng He’s voyages, he sent some squadrons to sail in other directions with fixed dates to return. But one of these squadrons was one year later to join the main fleet. Many people suspected that this squadron very likely arrived in the Americas, or even made a voyage round the world, thus were one year late. But all the detailed records about Zheng He’s voyages were lost, so where this squadron had been to remains a mystery.

There were wrecks of ancient Chinese ships and remains like rock anchors and fishing gears founded at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea. The founder of the theory that Zheng He discovered the Americas, Gavin Menzies, offered a inference that these wrecks were some of Zheng He’s ships sunk in the Caribbean Sea in the December of 1421. If this inference is true, then it can be proved that Zheng He discovered the Americas one hundre years earlier than Columbus.

In Venice, Menzies found a map drawn in 1459, which was suspected to show the American continent and the Cape of Good Hope. But the Cape of Good Hope and American continent were respectively discovered in 1479 and 1492, how could they be shown in a map drawn in 1459? Therefore, Menzies believed this map was drawn by Chinese, and most likely Zheng He. Accordingly, many people suggested that it was Zheng He who discovered the Americas first.

A Trecherous Journey

Alone with no expert help and not much experience under his belt, Erikson proceed to follow the merchant’s route. He would make landfall first in a northern section of Canada which modern estimates guess it being in Labrador country in Canada. He would set off once again for 2 days and arrive in a much warmer part of the continent with a plentiful supply of salmon on the coast.

Winter approached so Erikson decided to camp for the rest of the year in this newfound area. He would split his party into two, one half to stay at camp and the other half to explore. The explorer party came to find many vines and grapes as they reached further inland, therefore, christening the land “Vinland”. He would spend the winter there and return to Greenland with a plentiful supply of grape and timber to show for his success.

The First Europeans

In 1497, just five years after Christopher Columbus landed in the Caribbean looking for a western route to Asia, a Venetian sailor named John Cabot arrived in Newfoundland on a mission for the British king. Although fairly quickly forgotten, Cabot's journey was later to provide the basis for British claims to North America. It also opened the way to the rich fishing grounds off George's Banks, to which European fishermen, particularly the Portuguese, were soon making regular visits.

Columbus, of course, never saw the mainland United States, but the first explorations of the continental United States were launched from the Spanish possessions that he helped establish. The first of these took place in 1513 when a group of men under Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the Florida coast near the present city of St. Augustine.

With the conquest of Mexico in 1522, the Spanish further solidified their position in the Western Hemisphere. The ensuing discoveries added to Europe's knowledge of what was now named America -- after the Italian Amerigo Vespucci, who wrote a widely popular account of his voyages to a "New World." By 1529 reliable maps of the Atlantic coastline from Labrador to Tierra del Fuego had been drawn up, although it would take more than another century before hope of discovering a "Northwest Passage" to Asia would be completely abandoned.

Among the most significant early Spanish explorations was that of Hernando De Soto, a veteran conquistador who had accompanied Francisco Pizzaro during the conquest of Peru. Leaving Havana in 1539, De Soto's expedition landed in Florida and ranged through the southeastern United States as far as the Mississippi River in search of riches.

Another Spaniard, Francisco Coronado, set out from Mexico in 1540 in search of the mythical Seven Cities of Cibola. Coronado's travels took him to the Grand Canyon and Kansas, but failed to reveal the gold or treasure his men sought. However, Coronado's party did leave the peoples of the region a remarkable, if unintended gift: enough horses escaped from his party to transform life on the Great Plains. Within a few generations, the Plains Indians had become masters of horsemanship, greatly expanding the range and scope of their activities.

While the Spanish were pushing up from the south, the northern portion of the present-day United States was slowly being revealed through the journeys of men such as Giovanni da Verrazano. A Florentine who sailed for the French, Verrazano made landfall in North Carolina in 1524, then sailed north along the Atlantic coast past what is now New York harbor.

A decade later, the Frenchman Jacques Cartier set sail with the hope -- like the other Europeans before him -- of finding a sea passage to Asia. Cartier's expeditions along the St. Lawrence River laid the foundations for the French claims to North America, which were to last until 1763.

Following the collapse of their first Quebec colony in the 1540s, French Huguenots attempted to settle the northern coast of Florida two decades later. The Spanish, viewing the French as a threat to their trade route along the Gulf Stream, destroyed the colony in 1565. Ironically, the leader of the Spanish forces, Pedro Menendez, would soon establish a town not far away -- St. Augustine. It was the first permanent European settlement in what would become the United States.

The great wealth which poured into Spain from the colonies in Mexico, the Caribbean and Peru provoked great interest on the part of the other European powers. With time, emerging maritime nations such as England, drawn in part by Francis Drake's successful raids on Spanish treasure ships, began to take interest in the New World.

In 1578 Humphrey Gilbert, the author of a treatise on the search for the Northwest Passage, received a patent from Queen Elizabeth to colonize the "heathen and barbarous landes" in the New World which other European nations had not yet claimed. It would be five years before his efforts could begin. When he was lost at sea, his half-brother, Walter Raleigh, took up the mission. In 1585 Raleigh established the first British colony in North America, on Roanoke Island off the coast of North Carolina. It was later abandoned, and a second effort two years later also proved a failure. It would be 20 years before the British would try again. This time -- at Jamestown in 1607 -- the colony would succeed, and North America would enter a new era.


Leif was the son of Erik the Red and his wife Thjodhild, and the grandson of Thorvald Ásvaldsson, and distant relative of Naddodd, [13] who discovered Iceland. [14] He was a Viking in the early days. His year of birth is most often given as c. 970 or c. 980 . [15] Though Leif's birthplace is not accounted for in the sagas, [16] it is likely he was born in Iceland, [6] where his parents met [15] —probably somewhere on the edge of Breiðafjörður, and possibly at the farm Haukadal where Thjóðhild's family is said to have been based. [6] Leif had two brothers, whose names were Thorsteinn and Thorvaldr, and a sister, Freydís. [17]

Thorvald Ásvaldsson was banished from Norway for manslaughter and went into exile in Iceland accompanied by young Erik. When Erik was banished from Iceland, he travelled further west to an area he named Greenland, where he established the first permanent settlement in 986. [16] [18] Tyrker, one of Erik's thralls, had been specially trusted to keep in charge of Erik's children, as Leif later referred to him as his "foster father". [19]

The Saga of Erik the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders, both thought to have been written around 1200, [20] contain different accounts of the voyages to Vinland. [21] [22] The only two known strictly historical mentions of Vinland are found in the work of Adam of Bremen c. 1075 and in the Book of Icelanders compiled c. 1122 by Ari the Wise. [23] According to the Saga of Erik the Red, Leif apparently saw Vinland for the first time after being blown off course on his way to introduce Christianity to Greenland. [24]

According to the Icelandic sagas, while in Vinland, Leif and his crew came into contact with "Red Indians" (as distinguished from the Inuit), whom they referred to as skrælingi, an archaic term for "wretches". [25] According to these sagas, the encounters with the indigenous people were initially friendly with a strong trade relationship. Tensions rose when Leif's brother, Thorvald, was struck by an arrow in a fight with the skrælingi. He is famously known for pulling the arrow out, and poetically reciting the phrase, "This is a rich country we have found there is plenty of fat around my entrails", upon which he dies. [25]

According to a literal interpretation of Einar Haugen's translation of the two sagas in the book Voyages to Vinland, Leif was not the first European to discover America: he had heard the story of merchant Bjarni Herjólfsson who claimed to have sighted land to the west of Greenland after having been blown off course. Bjarni reportedly never made landfall there, however. Later, when travelling from Norway to Greenland, Leif was also blown off course, to a land that he did not expect to see, where he found "self-sown wheat fields and grapevines." He next rescued two men who were shipwrecked and went back to Greenland and Christianised the people there. [26]

Leif then approached Bjarni, purchased his ship, gathered a crew of thirty-five men, and mounted an expedition towards the land Bjarni had described. [27] His father Erik was set to join him but dropped out after he fell from his horse on his way to set sail, an incident he interpreted as a bad omen. [28] Leif followed Bjarni's route in reverse and landed first in a rocky and desolate place he named Helluland (Flat-Rock Land possibly Baffin Island or northern parts of Labrador). [29] After venturing further by sea, he landed the second time in a forested place he named Markland (Forest Land possibly near Cape Porcupine, Labrador). [29] After two more days at sea, he landed on an island to the north (possibly Belle Isle), and then returned to the mainland, going past a cape on the north side (perhaps Cape Bauld). [29] They sailed to the west of this and landed in a verdant area with a mild climate and plentiful supplies of salmon. As winter approached, he decided to encamp there and sent out parties to explore the country. [29] During one of these explorations, Tyrker discovered that the land was full of vines and grapes. Leif therefore named the land Vinland ('Wineland'). [29] [30] There, he and his crew built a small settlement, which was called Leifsbudir (Leif's Booths) by later visitors from Greenland.

After having wintered over in Vinland, Leif returned to Greenland in the spring with a cargo of grapes and timber. [27] [31] On the return voyage, he rescued an Icelandic castaway and his crew, earning him the nickname "Leif the Lucky". [32]

Research done in the early 1960s by Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, identified a Norse site [33] located at the northern tip of Newfoundland. It has been suggested that this site, known as L'Anse aux Meadows, is Leifsbúðir. The Ingstads demonstrated that Norsemen had reached America about 500 years before Christopher Columbus. [34] [35] Later archaeological evidence suggests that Vinland may have been the areas around the Gulf of St. Lawrence and that the L'Anse aux Meadows site was a ship repair station and waypoint for voyages there. That does not necessarily contradict the identification of L'Anse aux Meadows with Leifsbúðir [35] [36] since the two sagas appear to describe Vinland as a wider region which included several settlements. The Saga of Erik the Red mentions two other settlements in Vinland: a settlement called Straumfjǫrðr, which lay beyond Kjalarnes promontory and the Wonderstrands, and one called Hóp, which was located even farther south. [37]

Leif was described as a wise, considerate, and strong man of striking appearance. [38] During his stay in the Hebrides, he fell in love with a noblewoman, Thorgunna, who gave birth to their son Thorgils. [17] Thorgils was later sent to Leif in Greenland, but he did not become popular. [39]

Leif was converted to Christianity by the Christian King of Norway, Olaf Tryggvason, [40] and after Leif's first trip to Vinland, he returned to the family estate of Brattahlíð in Greenland, and started preaching Christianity to the native population, at the commission of the King Olaf Tryggvason. [36] This would make Leif the first Christian missionary to the New World, preceding even the voyages of Christopher Columbus. His father Erik reacted coldly to the suggestion that he should abandon his religion, while his mother Thjóðhildr quickly became a Christian and built a church called Thjóðhild's Church. [41] Leif is last mentioned alive in 1019, and by 1025 he had passed on his chieftaincy of Eiríksfjǫrðr [16] to another son, Thorkell. [42] Nothing is mentioned about his death in the sagas—he probably died in Greenland some time between these dates. [43] Nothing further is known about his family beyond the succession of Thorkell as chieftain. [ citation needed ]

Norse and Medieval Europe Edit

Leif's successful expedition in Vinland encouraged other Norsemen to also make the journey. The first apparent contact between the Norse and the indigenous people, who the Norse later referred to as skrælingjar, was made by his brother Thorvald, and resulted in conflict. [44] Leif Erikson's brother is said to have had the first contact with the native population of North America which would come to be known as the skrælings. After capturing and killing eight of the natives, they were attacked at their beached ships, which they defended. [45] The Norse were the first Europeans to colonize the Americas. In the end there were no permanent Norse settlements in Vinland, although sporadic voyages at least to Markland for forages, timber and trade possibly lasted for centuries. [46] [47] The casual tone of references to these areas may suggest that their discovery was not seen as particularly significant by contemporaries, or that it was assumed to be public knowledge, or both. [23] Knowledge of the Vinland journeys spread around medieval Europe although to what extent is unclear writers made mention of remote lands to the west, and notably the medieval chronicler Adam of Bremen directly mentions Vinland (c. 1075) based upon reports from the Danes. [note 2] It has been suggested that the knowledge of Vinland might have been maintained in European seaports in the 15th century, and that Christopher Columbus, who claimed in a letter to have visited Iceland in 1477, could have heard stories of it. [44]

Another instance of exchange between the continents occurred in 1420, when Inuit captives were taken to Scandinavia. Their kayaks were put on display in the Tromsø's cathedral. [25]

Travels and commemoration Edit

Stories of Leif's journey to North America had a profound effect on the identity and self-perception of later Nordic Americans and Nordic immigrants to the United States. [18] The first statue of Leif (by Anne Whitney) [48] was erected in Boston in 1887 at the instigation of Eben Norton Horsford, who was among those who believed that Vinland could have been located on the Charles River or Cape Cod [18] not long after, another casting of Whitney's statue was erected in Milwaukee. [49] A statue was also erected in Chicago in 1901, having been originally commissioned for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition to coincide with the arrival of the reconstructed Viking ship from Bergen, Norway. [18] Another work of art made for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, the painting Leiv Eiriksson oppdager Amerika by Christian Krohg, was in the possession of a Leif Erikson Memorial Association in Chicago before being given back to the National Gallery of Norway in 1900. [50]

For the centenary of the first official immigration of Norwegians to America, President Calvin Coolidge stated at the 1925 Minnesota State Fair, to a crowd of 100,000 people, that Leif had indeed been the first European to discover America. [18] Additional statues of him were erected at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul in 1949, near Lake Superior in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1956, and in downtown Seattle. [18]

The Sagas do not give the exact date of Leif Erikson's landfall in America, but state only that it was in the fall of the year. At the suggestion of Christian A. Hoen, Edgerton, Wis., 9 October was settled upon, as that already was a historic date for Norwegians in America, the ship Restaurationen having arrived in New York Harbor on 9 October 1825 [51] [52] from Stavanger with the first organized party of Norwegian immigrants. [ citation needed ]

In 1924, a party of four consisting of a Swede, an Englishman, and two Americans attempted to emulate Erikson's voyage in an eponymous 40-foot vessel but were lost after reaching the west coast of Greenland. [53] : 267 On 6 October 2000 President Bill Clinton issued Presidential Proclamation 7358, proclaiming Monday, 9 October 2000 as Leif Erikson Day. [54]

In 1929, the Wisconsin Legislature passed a bill to make 9 October "Leif Erikson Day" in the state. [51] In 1964, the United States Congress authorized and requested the president to proclaim 9 October of each year as "Leif Erikson Day". [18]

In 1930, a statue of Erikson was erected in the city center of Reykjavík, Iceland – currently situated in front of Hallgrímskirkja — as a gift from the United States to Iceland to commemorate the 1,000 year anniversary of Alþingi, the parliament of Iceland. [55]

The Leif Erikson Awards, established 2015, are awarded annually by the Exploration Museum in Húsavík, Iceland. They are awarded for achievements in exploration and in the study of the history of exploration. [ citation needed ]

Several ships are named after Leif - a viking ship replica, a passenger ship, [56] [57] and a large dredger. [58]

Who was the first European to discover North America?

Leif Erikson, Leiv Eiriksson or Leif Ericson ( c. 970 &ndash c. 1020) was a Norse explorer from Iceland. He was the first known European to have set foot on continental North America (excluding Greenland), before Christopher Columbus.

One may also ask, was Columbus the first European to discover America? Christopher Columbus did not &ldquodiscover&rdquo the Americas, nor was he even the first European to visit the &ldquoNew World.&rdquo (Viking explorer Leif Eriksson had sailed to Greenland and Newfoundland in the 11th century.) However, his journey kicked off centuries of exploration and exploitation on the American continents.

Subsequently, one may also ask, who actually discovered America first?

For a long time, most people believed that Christopher Columbus was the first explorer to "discover" America&mdashthe first to make a successful round-trip voyage across the Atlantic. But in recent years, as new evidence came to light, our understanding of history has changed.

Who were the first settlers in North America and where did they come from?

The first colony was founded at Jamestown, Virginia, in 1607. Many of the people who settled in the New World came to escape religious persecution. The Pilgrims, founders of Plymouth, Massachusetts, arrived in 1620. In both Virginia and Massachusetts, the colonists flourished with some assistance from Native Americans.