Scandinavians Proclaim: "Leif Landed First!"
by Sam Johnson
That's what my t-shirt says, and I'll be wearing it
this week along with my button that says "Take A Liking to A Viking!"
You see, throughout North Dakota, Minnesota and all
across this great land of ours where Americans of Scandinavian heritage live
together and fraternize, lefse, lutefisk, potet klubb, rosettas and krumkake
will be consumed with great celebration to commemorate a very special event.
The occasion is a special one for many
Norwegian-Americans, ranking second only to "settende mai" or perhaps
third behind "jul."
It all started in 982 when a man known as Eric the Red was banished from Iceland, a Viking settlement, for killing a man.
He spent his banishment in exploration, and in so doing discovered the icebound land he called Greenland. He named it Greenland to attract Viking settlers. And it worked, for soon there was a colony established there. (Some say this made Eric "Boy-have-I-got-a-deal-for-you" the Red the first land promoter).
Bjarni Herjolfsson was one of the new Greenland settlers who followed Eric to the land of promise around 986. But he was blown off his course, past his destination, and ended up sighting unknown lands in the process. He made his way back to Greenland to report what he had seen.
Word of his sightings spread and caught the fancy of a young Viking, Leif, son of Eric the Red. Leif asked his father to lead an expedition to this new land, but Eric said he was too old for the hardships of such explorations. So Leif took the job upon himself and set sail in 992 with a crew of 35 in the same boat Bjarni had used.
He first encountered an island of stone he named "Helluland" which means "Stoneland" (probably Baffin Island). Then he reached land covered with trees which he called "Markland" or "Forestland" (probably Labrador).
Finally, he discovered a land rich in grape vines and wild game. He called the land "Vinland."
Leif returned to Greenland, rescuing some shipwrecked sailors he encountered on the way back. When he arrived home he related what he had seen and done and from then on was called "Leif the Lucky."
Leif Erickson helped organize and lead a group of settlers back to the riches of Vineland, but settlements there were not as successful as in Greenland and Iceland, and no further mention is made of them in the sagas.
The exact location of Vineland is uncertain, though
the sagas, as well as archaeological findings by Dr. Helge and Ann Stine
Ingstad in Newfoundland, confirm that Norsemen landed in and attempted to
settle North America around 1000 A.D.