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Leif Erikson

Leif Erikson

Leif Erikson was a famous Icelandic explorer who was the first European to travel to the American continent, over 400 years before Christopher Columbus. Him and his men even set up a settlement on the Island of Newfoundland, the settlement known as Vinland is thought to have been located around the Gulf of St. Lawrence. 

His birth is estimated to have been between 970-980 AD and modern historians think he was probably born in Iceland, since this was the meeting place of his parents, however this was not recorded on any historical records. His grandfather had been banished from Norway and settled in Iceland, however when he was young Leif's father was also banished, this time from Iceland and decided to settle in Greenland, which is where he spent most of his adult life. 

Leif Erikson

The Landing of the Vikings - Arthur C. Michael, 1919


Leif's father was a famous Viking in his own right. Known as 'Erik the Red' he was of Norwegian descent and was the founder of the first Viking settlement on the Island of Greenland. His mother was named Thjodhild, he also had three siblings, two brothers; Thorsteinn and Thorvanldr. He also had one sister named Freydís Eiríksdóttir, who too was a legendary Viking warrior who joined Leif on his expedition to North America. In one account she was said to have fought off an attack on the Vinland settlement from the native tribesmen whilst being heavily pregnant. 

During his time in the Hebrides, a group of islands on the northern edge of Scotland, Leif fell in love with a local noblewoman named Thorgunna and together they had a child, Thorgils. This was Leif's first son, however after returning to Greenland it was noted in historical records that Thorgils was not popular there and did not become Leif's successor. 

The last mention of Leif in the historical record is in 1019, shortly after his second son, named Thorkell had become chieftain of the Greenland settlement, so it can be presumed that he died around this date and passed on the title to his son. 

Expedition to North America

Around the year 999 AD Leif set of on a journey from to Norway from Greenland, after briefly stopping in the Hebrides over summer he arrived in the Norwegian kingdom of King Olaf. It was here that he was converter to christianity and was given the task of spreading the religion to the colony in Greenland. 

The are various accounts of what happened next, however according to 'the saga of Erik the Red' Leif ended up finding North America and founding the Vinland settlement after being blown off course on his way back to Greenland. 

According to another source, 'voyages to Vinland' the continent was actually discovered by another Viking named 'Bjarni Herjólfsson' who was blown off course on his travels. Upon hearing about this new mysterious land Leif gathered a crew and set sail to explore it. Allegedly Leif's father, Erik the Red, was supposed to be part of the expedition, however he fell from his horse just days before they were set to leave. In Norse culture this was considered to be a bad omen and he never boarded the ship.

After making land and settling in an area which they found to have a mild climate and a plentiful supply of salmon Leif directed his men to split into two groups so one could secure the camp and another could travel inland to explore the area. Once the men came across a large quantity of grapes they decided to call the land 'Vinland'.

Modern historians have found some evidence of the potential location of the Vinland settlement around an area known as L'Anse aux Meadows. There is also a belief that there were numerous settlements around the island of Newfoundland including a ship repair station.

It is not known why the viking settlements were abandoned, however it is possible that the perilous sea journey and hostilities with the natives had an impact on their growth and ultimately lead to their demise. 

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