The Scandinavian Vikings, in their single-masted, many-oared galleys, often ventured far out on the waters of the Atlantic, and in the year 860, Naddoddr, one of these Norse pirates, was blown by an adverse wind upon the coast of Iceland. In 876 another navigator, driven beyond Iceland by a storm, saw in the distance the coast of an unknown land. About the year 981, Eric the Red, an Icelandic outlaw, sailed in search of this land, and discovered a new country, which he named Greenland as an inducement to immigrants.
The sagas or written legends of Iceland, which describe these events, relate that subsequent to the discovery of Greenland the Vikings made frequent voyages to the south, to a land which had been discovered there by one Bjarni, and which received the name of Vinland. Some writers consider these stories as too vague and mythical to be of any value, while others accept them as containing definite and trustworthy information concerning the eastern coast of America at that date.
This new land is said to have been first discovered by Bjarni in 985, during a voyage from Iceland to Greenland. The second voyage to this newly-discovered region was made by Leif, the son of Eric the Red, about the year 1000. He first reached a land of icy mountains, with a plain between the mountains and the sea covered with flat stones. This region Leif named Helluland. Afterwards he reached a level country covered with trees, which he named Markland.
Leaving Markland they sailed on the high sea, having a northeast wind, and were two days at sea before they saw land. They steered towards it, and touched the island lying before the north part of the land. When they went on land they surveyed it, for by good fortune the weather was serene. They found the grass sprinkled with dew, and it happened by chance that they touched the dew with their hands and carried them to their mouths and perceived that it had a sweet taste which they had not before noticed. Then they returned to the ship and sailed through a bay lying between the island and a tongue of land running towards the north. Steering a course to the west shore, they passed the tongue of land. Here when the tide ebbed there were very narrow shoals. When the ship got aground there were shallows of great extent between the vessel and the receded sea. So great was the desire of the men to go on land that they were unwilling to stay on board until the returning tide floated the ship.
They went ashore at a place where a river flowed out from a lake. When the tide floated the ship they took the boat and rowed to the vessel and brought her into the river and then into the lake. Here they anchored, carried the luggage from the ship, and built dwellings. Afterwards they held a consultation and resolved to remain at this place during the winter. They erected large buildings. There were not only many salmon in the river, but also in the lake, and of a larger size than they had before seen. So great was the fertility of the soil that they were led to believe that cattle would not be in want of food during winter, or that wintry coldness would prevail, or the grass wither much.
During the winter one of the men, named Tyrker, exploring the country, discovered wine-wood and wine-berries (vinvid ok vinber). On the approach of spring they spent some time in gathering wineberries and loading the ship with wood, after which they set sail for Greenland, Leif naming the region Vinland (Wine-land), from its productions.
In the spring of 1007 an expedition comprising three ships sailed for this new land. In two days they reached Helluland, and in two more Markland. Departing from Markland, they continued their voyage.
On reaching the land, they perceived that even though the country was fruitful, they would be exposed to many dangerous incursions of its inhabitants if they should remain in it. They therefore determined to depart and return to their own land.
Many subsequent visits were made by the Northmen to Vinland, these continuing as late as the fourteenth century. But they seem to have made no effort to colonize this region as they had done in the cases of Iceland and Greenland. Just where Vinland was situated is one of those geographical problems that will probably never be settled. Some writers place it as far south as the coast of Rhode Island. Others conceive it to be no farther south than Labrador, or possibly south Greenland.
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