"After Olav's death, Norway was ruled from Denmark, as part of the 'North Sea Empire' of King Knut the Great. However, Knut was the last Danish king to rule Norway for more than three centuries, and already in 1035, Olav's son, Magnus the Good took the throne. His successor, King Harald Hardrada attempted the invasion of England in 1066, but was beaten and killed at the battle of Stamford Bridge, an event which is generally considered the end of the Viking Age."
We were all taught in grade school that in 1492 the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, hired by the King and Queen of Spain, sailed the Atlantic Ocean in search of a sea route to Asia and ran into an uncharted body of land which he named America. He was the first European to discover the Western Hemisphere but not the first voyager to land on North America. Americans celebrate Columbus Day on Oct. 11, and Leif Ericson Day on Oct. 9.
Leif Ericson sailed west from Greenland in 1002 and was the first to discover America. L'Anse aux Meadows, a National Historic Site located on the northernmost tip of the island of Newfoundland, is said to be the site where Leif Ericson landed. The site, which includes remains of a Viking village and reconstructed Norse buildings, was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.
Ericson's discovery of the North American continent can be said to have started with his father, Erik Raude (also known as Erik the Red). According to the SON Newsletter Service, when Raude was outlawed from both Norway and Ireland, he managed to discover and settle the western shore of Greenland.
It was just a matter of time before Erik Raude wanted to explore farther west, but he was starting to get old, and a new voyage might not serve him well. His son, Leif Ericson, was the one who would fulfill his father's wish of sailing farther west.
After a long and dangerous journey, Leif and his men soon reached the shores of the North American continent, Leif called his discover "Vinland," which is believed to be the extreme north of Newfoundland, although some scholars believe Vinland was near Cape Cod. Ericson named this new land Vinland (meaning wine land) because the Vikings found grapes there from which they made wine. The berries could have been cranberries or gooseberries.
Even if Leif and his men liked Vinland, and most certainly intended to colonize it, they did not get along with the native Indians who were already there. Following several violent encounters between the native Indians and Leif's men, the Norsemen were on their way back to Greenland after only two years. But while the Vikings were there, they built a large house and a shed to protect their ship. In the early 1960s Norwegian archaeologists found the ruins of an old Norse settlement in Newfoundland which is believed to be that of the Viking sailors.
Several expeditions to Vinland were done after Leif Ericson's return to Greenland, and some even stayed there for quite some time, but no permanent settlement of Vinland can be said to have taken place.
And so, even though many of us were taught in school that Columbus was the first White man to navigate a ship to the new country, historians now believe that it was the Norseman Leif Ericson. Sometimes history changes, as it did in this case, but then those of us who are of Norwegian descent have always believed that we were the first to arrive.
Martin Olav Sabo, a representative of the United States Congress from Minnesota (now retired) presented remarks to the U.S. House of Representatives in July of 1999 supporting the Leif Ericson Millennium Coin Act. This legislation called for the creation of silver coins commemorating Ericson's importance in American history. The Senate acted on this bill that allowed 500,000 silver dollar coins to be minted in the United States. Similar mintings were carried out by Canada, Norway and Iceland. (I purchased a few of these coins, that were created due to my second cousin, and college classmate's efforts.) Congressman Sabo was quoted as follows: "Leif Ericson played a vital role in the European discovery of our continent. It is fitting that we prepare to mark the millennium of his daring achievement."
(Continued next week.)