History Hall of Fame: Leif Erikson
Updated: Jun 6, 2020
(Leif Eriksson Discovers America by Hans Dahl)
Leif Erikson (also known as Leiv Eiriksson or Leif Ericson) is the first entry into my History Hall of Fame. Now this does not mean he is the most important person of all time, I just needed to start somewhere, and so I decided to start with Erikson.
Erikson is the first European to step foot into North America, and he did so about 500 years before Christopher Columbus. While Columbus is falsely credited with discovering the new world, he was the main reason for the European Age of Exploration and deserves credit for changing the course of history with his own expeditions. There would not be a recorded voyage from Europe to North America, for nearly 500 years after Erikson, which shows how ahead of his time Erikson was.
Born to explore
Erikson is the son of Erik Thorvaldsson (Erik the Red). It was custom in norse culture at the time to use patronymic names. A patronymic name is when a child's last name (nymic) is based after their father's (patro) name. This is why he is named Leif Erikson, because he is Leif, son of Erik. Erik Thorvaldsson is the son of Thorvald Asvaldsson. Now that we got the name out of the way, it's time to look at the Leif's family's contribution to discovery. Thorvald's great-great uncle (great grandfather's brother) was a man named Naddodd. Naddodd was a Norse Viking credited with discovering Iceland. Thorvald would spend his life in Norway until he committed manslaughter and was exiled to Iceland, with his 10 year old son Erik. Like his father, Erik would also be exiled for manslaughter when he killed Eyjiolf the Foul and Holmgang-Hrafn in retaliation because they killed one of his thralls (slaves.) During his exile, Erik the Red led 14 ships to Greenland and would become the first to colonize the land. Similar to Columbus, Erik the Red did not discover Greenland, previous vikings had, but he was the first to create settlements on the Greenland, and would be the reason for further colonization of Greenland. Erikson's ancestors are responsible for discovering Iceland and settling in Greenland, therefore it is only fitting for Erikson to carry out his family's legacy and explore.
(Hulton Archive, Getty Images)
Erikson was born in 970 AD (no exact date recorded). There is no record of where he was born, but it is believed to be Iceland. He had 3 siblings. 2 Brothers, Thorsteinn and Thorvaldr, and a sister named Freydis. In 999 AD, he traveled to Norway, and was tasked by King Olaf Tryggavson to bring Christianity to Greenland. During his time in Norway, Erikson converted from Norse Paganism to Christianity. Erikson set out on his trip back to Greenland with hopes of converting the Greenlanders to Christianity.
On his voyage back, he was blown off course and saw lands that he did not expect to see. These lands were first sighted in 986AD by a Bjarni Herjolfsson, a merchant who was also blown off course. Herjolfsson did not explore these lands but is credited with being the first European to set sight on the Americas. Erikson made it to Greenland where he successfully converted the people to Christianity. He then reached out to Herjolfsson and purchased the ships that Herjolfsson was on when he saw lands west of Greenland.
Erikson recruited 35 men to join him on his voyage westward. He followed instructions given to him by Herjolfsson and landed on a rocky named that he named Hulluland (this is expected to be Baffin Island in Canada). He continued his route and found a forested area which he named Markland (this is expected to be Labrador). After two more days of sailing he settled on land that had a mild climate and was great for catching salmon. During the winter, his crew broke up into two groups. One group would stay in the camp and the other would continue to explore this new land. The land was abundant in vines and grapes and Ericsson decided to name the land Vinland. His crew started to build a settlement on the land called Leifsbudir. After the winter was over, Erikson returned back to Greenland with grapes and timber from Vinland.
Hall of Fame Rationale
Erikson is the first European ever to set foot on North American soil. Historical data on when North America was originally settled by the Native Americans is uncertain. Some historians date it to around 17,000 years ago, while others claim it was as early as 90,000 years ago. At the very least, people have been living in the Americas for 16,000 years before there would be a human from another land mass would set foot in the Americas. Of all the Pre-Columbian trans-oceanic contact, Leif Erikson's exploration is the most historically valid one. Erikson's travels are documented in the Sagas of Icelanders (Íslendingasögur), it wasn't until 1960 that Erikson's travels had physical evidence to back them up. The site norse styled site of L'Anse aux Meadows, is assumed by some to be Leifsbudir. In 1964, the United States Government decided to recognize October 9th of each year as Leif Erikson Day. The recognition of Leif Erikson as the first man to land in the North America, earns him his place in the History Hall of Fame.