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A Special Day for Leif Erikson

Who was the first European to set foot on North America? While Christopher Columbus was…

  • October 7, 2017

Who was the first European to set foot on North America? While Christopher Columbus was for a long time honored as the European who “discovered America,” he was likely preceded by explorer Leif Erikson.

To honor Leif Erikson and celebrate our Nordic-American heritage, the Congress, by joint resolution approved on September 2, 1964, authorized the President of the United States to proclaim October 9 of each year as “Leif Erikson Day.”

Leif Erikson or Leif Ericson was a Norse explorer from Iceland.

He was the first known European to have discovered continental North America (excluding Greenland), before Christopher Columbus (or possibly Saint Brendan).

According to the Sagas of Icelanders, he established a Norse settlement at Vinland, tentatively identified with the Norse L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of Newfoundland in modern-day Canada.

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.

He was a Viking in the early days. His year of birth is most often given as c. 970 or c. 980.

Though Leif’s birthplace is not accounted for in the sagas, it is likely he was born in Iceland, where his parents met —probably somewhere on the edge of Breiðafjörður, and possibly at the farm Haukadal where Thjóðhild’s family is said to have been based.

Leif and his crew travelled from Greenland to Norway in 999 AD.

Blown off course to the Hebrides and staying for much of the summer, he arrived in Norway and became a hirdman of King Olaf Tryggvason. He also converted to Christianity and was given the mission of introducing the religion to Greenland.

The Saga of Erik the Red and the Saga of the Greenlanders, both thought to have been written around 1200, contain different accounts of the voyages to Vinland.

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.

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.

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