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Leif Ericsson

Leif EricssonBorn: fl. 11th c.
Died: fl. 11th c.
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Explorer

Nationality: Iceland
Executive summary: European discoverer of Vinland

Scandinavian explorer, of Icelandic family, the first known European discoverer of Vinland (or Vineland) in North America. He was a son of Erik the Red (Eirikr hinn raudi Thorvaldsson), the founder of the earliest Scandinavian settlements -- from Iceland -- in Greenland (985). In 999 he went from Greenland to the court of King Olaf Tryggvason in Norway, stopping in the Hebrides on the way. On his departure from Norway in 1000, the king commissioned him to proclaim Christianity in Greenland. As on his outward voyage, Leif was again driven far out of his course by contrary weather -- this time to lands in America of which he had previously had no knowledge, where self-sown wheat grew, and vines, and "mösur" (perhaps maple) wood. Leif took specimens of all these, and sailing away came home safely to his father's home in Brattahlid, on Ericsfjord in Greenland. On his voyage from this Vineland to Greenland, Leif rescued some shipwrecked men, and from this, and his discoveries, gained his name of "The Lucky" (hinn heppni). On the subsequent expedition of Thorfinn Karlsefni for the further exploration and settlement of the Far Western vine-country, it is recorded that certain Gaels, incredibly fleet of foot, who had been given to Leif by Olaf Tryggvason, and whom Leif had offered to Thorfinn, were put on shore to scout.

Such is the account of the Saga of Eric the Red, supported by a number of briefer references in early Icelandic and other literature. The less trustworthy history of the Flatey Book makes Biarni Heriulfsson in 985 discover Helluland (perhaps Labrador) as well as other western lands which he does not explore, not even permitting his men to land; while Leif Ericsson follows up Biarni's discoveries, begins the exploration of Helluland, Markland and Vinland, and realizes some of the charms of the last named, where he winters. But this secondary authority (the Flatey Book narrative), which until lately formed the basis of all general knowledge as to Vinland, abounds in contradictions and difficulties from which Eric the Red Saga is comparatively free, Thus (in Flatey) the grapes of Vinland are found in winter and gathered in spring; the man who first finds them, Leif's foster father Tyrker the German, gets drunk from eating the fruit; and the vines themselves are spoken of as big trees affording timber. Looking at the record in Eric the Red Saga, it would seem probable that Leif's Vinland answers to some part of southern Nova Scotia.

Father: Erik the Red
Mother: Thorhild Jorundóttir
Sister: Freydís Ericsdóttir (explorer)
Brother: Thorvald Ericsson (explorer)
Brother: Thorstein Ericsson (explorer)
Wife: Thorgunna
Son: Thorkell Leifsson


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