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Leif Eriksson

Erik Thorvaldsson, popularly know as Erik the Red, led a colonizing party to Greenland in 986 A.D. after being forced out of Iceland. His son, Leif Eriksson, was most likely born in Greenland (but some say Iceland); his date of birth is uncertain. Legend relates that Eriksson served King Olav I of Norway and in the year 1000 sailed back to Greenland for the purpose of introducing Christianity.

Some experts believe that Eriksson’s ship was blown off course in a storm and he unwittingly ended up on the shores of North America.

Other authorities, citing the Greenland Saga, believe that Eriksson purposely outfitted his expedition for a voyage to the west. Some years before, Bjarni Herjulfsson sailed in that direction and reported sighting land. Some maintain that Eriksson was attempting to verify this claim.

Eriksson’s party apparently landed first on Baffin Island, then possibly on Labrador, and finally in what was called “Vinland.” In Old Norse, the word "vin" meant something like "grassland" or "open fields" or "good pasture."*

The actual location of Vinland remains a matter of controversy. Some historians have reasoned that it was in northern Newfoundland, while others have argued for a site as far south as Cape Cod. Current thinking seems to favor the northern site; in 1963, archaeologists discovered the ruins of a Viking outpost at L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland, which seemed remarkably similar to Eriksson’s description.

Eriksson and his crew wintered in Vinland, then returned to Greenland in 1001.

Eriksson never returned to the lands in the west. His brother Thorvald, however, took the ship on later voyages and lost his life in an encounter with American Natives. No permanent settlements in North America resulted from these ventures.

*Today, "vin" is still part of geographical names in Scandinavia and is a current word in Icelandic.