Volume 1, Chapter 3 -- Early Discovery of Winland by the Icelanders, about A.D. 1001.[1]

The passion which the Nordmen or Normans had always manifested for maritime expeditions, still prevailed among them in the cold and inhospitable regions of Iceland and Greenland. An Icelander, named Herjolf, was accustomed to make a trading voyage every year to different countries, in which latterly he was accompanied by his son, Biorn. About the year 1001, their ships were separated by a storm, and Biorn learned on his arrival in Norway that his father had sailed for Greenland, to which place he resolved to follow his father; but another storm drove him a great way to the south-west of his intended course, and he fell in with an extensive flat country covered all over with thick woods; and just as he set out on his return, he discovered an island on the coast. He made no stay at either of these places; but the wind being now fallen, he made all the haste he could to return by a north-east course to Greenland, where he reported the discovery which he had made.

Lief, the son of Eric-raude, who inherited from his father an inordinate desire of distinguishing himself by making discoveries and planting colonies, immediately fitted out a vessel carrying thirty-five men; and taking Biorn along with him, set sail in quest of this newly discovered country. The first land discovered in this voyage was barren and rocky, on which account Lief gave it the name of Helleland, or Rockland. Proceeding farther, they came to a low coast having a sandy soil, which was overgrown with wood, for which reason it was called Mark-land, or the Woody-land. Two days after this they again saw land, having an island lying opposite to its northern coast; and on the mainland they discovered the mouth of a river, up which they sailed. The bushes on the banks of this river bore sweet berries; the temperature of the air was mild, the soil fertile,[2] and the river abounded in fish, particularly in excellent salmon. Continuing to sail up the river, they came to a lake, out of which the river took its rise; and here they passed the winter. In the shortest day of winter, the sun remained eight hours above the horizon; and consequently the longest day, exclusive of the dawn and twilight, must have been sixteen hours. From this circumstance it follows, that the place in which they were was in about 49° of north latitude; and as they arrived by a south-westerly course from Old Greenland, after having cleared Cape Farewell, it must either have been the river Gander or the Bay of Exploits, in the island now called Newfoundland. It could not be on the northern coast of the Gulf of St Lawrence; as in that case, they must have navigated through the straits of Belleisle, which could not have escaped their notice. In this place they erected several huts for their accommodation during winter; and they one day found in the thickets a German named Tyrker, one of their own people, who had wandered among the woods and been missing for some time. While absent, he had subsisted upon wild grapes, from which he told them that in his country they used to make wine; and from this circumstance Lief called the country Winland det gode, or Wine-land the good.[3]

In the following spring they returned to Greenland; and Thorwald, Lief's maternal grandfather, made a trip with the same crew that had attended his grandson, in order to make farther advances in this new discovery; and it is not at all to be wondered at, if people of every rank were eager to discover a better habitation than the miserable coast of Greenland, and the little less dreary island of Iceland. In this voyage the coast of the newly discovered land was examined towards the west, or rather the north-west. Next summer Lief sailed again to Winland, and explored the coast to the east or south-east. The coast was so much covered with wood and beset with islands, that they could not perceive a human creature, or animals of any kind. In the third summer they examined the islands on the coast of Winland, and so damaged their ship that they found it necessary to build a new one, laying up their old vessel on a promontory, to which they gave the name of Kiaeler-ness. In their new vessel they proceeded to examine the eastern or south-eastern shore of Winland, and in their progress they fell in with three boats covered with hides, having three men in each. These they seized, but one man found means to escape from them, and they wantonly butchered all the rest. Soon after this they were attacked by a great number of the natives, armed with bows and arrows, from which they screened themselves in their ship with a fence of planks; and they defended themselves with so much spirit that their enemies were forced to retire, after giving them battle for an hour. Thorwald received a severe wound from an arrow in this skirmish, of which he died; and over his grave, on a cape or promontory, two crosses were erected at his request; from which the cape was called Krossa-ness, or Cross Point.

To the natives of Winland, the Icelanders gave the name of Skraellinger, signifying cuttings or dwarfs, on account of their being of very low stature. These were probably the ancestors of the present Eskimaux, who are the same people with the Greenlanders, and are called Eskimantsik in the language of the Abenaki, on account of their eating raw fish; in the same manner as the Russians, in their official state papers, call the Samojeds Sirojed'zi, because they also eat raw and frozen fish and flesh.

In the same year Thorstein, the third son of Eric-raude, set sail for Winland, taking with him his wife, Gudridthe daughter of Thorbern, with his children and servants, amounting in all to twenty-five persons; but they were forced by a storm on the western coast of Greenland, where they were obliged to spend the winter, and where Thorstein died, with a large proportion of his retinue, probably of the scurvy. Next spring Gudrid took the dead body of her husband home; and Thorfin, surnamed Kallsefner, an Icelander of some consequence, descended from King Regner-Lodbrok, married the widow of Thorstein, from which he considered himself entitled to the possession of the newly discovered country. He accordingly sailed for Winland with a vast quantity of household furniture, implements of all kinds, and several cattle, and accompanied by sixty-five men and five women, with whom he began to establish a regular colony. He was immediately visited by the Skraellingers, who bartered with him, giving the most valuable furs for such wares as the Icelanders had to give in exchange. The natives would willingly have purchased the weapons of the Icelanders, but this was expressly and judiciously forbidden by Thorfin. Yet one of them found means to steal a battle-ax, of which he immediately made a trial on one of his countrymen, whom he killed with one blow; on which a third person seized the mischievous weapon and threw it into the sea. During a stay of three years, Thorfin acquired a large stock of rich furs and other merchandize, with which he returned to Greenland; and at length removing to Iceland, he purchased an estate in the northern part of Syssel, and built a very elegant house which he called Glaumba. After his death, his widow Gudrid made a pilgrimage to Rome, whence she returned, and ended her days in a nunnery in Iceland, which was built for her by her son Snorro, who was born in Winland.

Sometime afterwards, Finbog and Helgo, two Icelanders, fitted out two ships, carrying thirty men, with which they made a voyage to Winland. In this expedition they were accompanied by Freidis, the daughter of Eric-raude; but by the turbulence of her disposition, she occasioned many divisions and quarrels in the infant colony, in one of which Finbog and Helgo were both killed, together with thirty of their followers. Upon this Freidis returned to Greenland, where she lived for some time universally detested and despised, and died in the utmost misery. The remaining colonists were dispersed, and nothing farther that can be depended on remains on record concerning them. Even the Icelandic colony in Greenland has disappeared, and the eastern coast, on which especially it was settled, has become long inaccessible, in consequence of the immense accumulation of ice in the straits between it and Iceland. To this it may be added, that, in the beginning of the fifteenth century, a prodigious number of people were carried off in Norway and Iceland by a disease or pestilence called the Black Death; probably the scurvy in its worst state, occasioned by a succession of inclement seasons and extreme scarcity, impelling the famished people to satisfy the craving of hunger upon unwholesome food. Deprived of all assistance from Iceland and Norway, the colonists of Greenland and Winland were in all probability extirpated by the continual hostilities of the Skraellingers, or Eskimaux; and the fabulous idea of any remnant of those in Winland having still an existence in the interior of Newfoundland, is entirely unworthy of any consideration.

[1] Forster, Hist. of Disc. in the North, 82.
[2] Every quality must be judged of by comparison; and, contrasted with the inhospitable regions of Iceland and Greenland, in lat. 65°, this country, which was as far south as even beyond the south of England, must have appeared admirable.--E.
[3] It is true that grapes grow wild in Canada which are very good to eat, yet no one has ever been able to make good wine from their juice. Whether these wild grapes are found in Newfoundland I know not. The species of vines which grow in North America, are named by Linnaeus, Vitis labrusca, vulpina, and arborea.--Forst.
The propriety of the names imposed by the Norwegians on their new discoveries is admirable. Iceland, Greenland, Helleland, Markland, Winland, and many others; which are perfectly philosophical, excellently systematic, and infinitely preferable to the modern clumsy appellations, New Britain, New France, New England, New Holland, Sandwich Islands, Society islands, and a multitude of much worse names.--E.


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