Viking Adventures in North America


It was 986 AD and Bjarni Herjólfsson was not looking for the new world; instead he wanted to find his family. He had left his family in Iceland, but when he returned he found that they had left with a man named Erik the Red to settle Greenland. When he asked around for the location of Greenland, all the settlers could tell him was that it was an island to the west. He set off to sail west but was blown off course and headed too far south. When he sighted land he realized there were too many trees for it to be the rocky island described to him. His family was not there so, Bjarni Herjólfsson, the first European to sight the Americas turned east to find his family.

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Erik the Red had found and convinced people to settle Greenland in 985 AD. Instead the colonists of Greenland had found that it wasn’t the paradise Erik had promised. Despite this false promise, they were able to survive by hunting and fishing. They developed a stable society under Erik’s leadership trading seal skins and walrus ivory.

During this time, Erik’s son Lief was in Norway to seek service with the king. Upon arrival, he was immediately converted to Christianity and sent back to Iceland with a mission to evangelize. He was very successful which was a problem. Erik was a staunch pagan and Lief converted his mother to Christianity, making Erik’s marriage very hard. So Leif decided to explore while all of this cooled off. He had heard Bjarni’s stories and Greenland had no more remaining timber. So Leif bought Bjarni’s Ship and hired his crewmen to find this land of green.

The land he found was flat as stone so like any reasonable person he called it flat-stone land. Then he went south and found a very dense forest. So, he called it Forest Land. He then found a large meadow with a good river and plentiful game. So he and his crew decided to settle down for the winter. They had hit a jackpot finding timber and wine grapes that were, of course, turned into alcohol. So after some intense thought, he decided to call this new land… Wineland. Although the grapes may not have been grapes because ancient Scandinavians called all berries wine grapes. Then came summer and Leif loaded his ship with timber and berries and headed back to Greenland. Many attempts were later made by the Norse to colonize Wineland but lowering temperatures and later encounters with pre-Inuit tribes moving north pushed them out of Wineland and Greenland and back to Iceland.

If you ask most people who was the first European to find the Americas and most would probably say Columbus. Many people would never know of Bjarni and the people after him.  But when asked, high school student Jeremy Powers told me, “I love the Viking’s and how they named the places they found.” Many high school students will never learn about Bjarni, Leif and the people after them who would try to settle the new world. Personally I think that we are not taught this because all of the stories are from word of mouth, and not written from the point of view of a catholic priest (From which most written accounts of medieval history come from, as they were the only people who knew how to write). But I personally feel that this is still important in the long run and that is why I want people to know about it. If you wish to lean more about this, I suggest finding an article from encyclopedia Britannica (You can get the free version through the library website) or perhaps getting a book about it from the library.