Vinland

 

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Map of Vinland

Vinland, a name given to a portion of North America discovered by the Scandinavian navigators, because of the abundance of grapes found there. See NORTHMEN IN AMERICA.
The famous Saga of Eric the Red, which gives the original accounts of the Northmen's voyages to Vinland, exists in two different versions, that known as the Hauksbok, written by Ralik Erlendsson between 1305 and 1334, and that made about 1387 by the priest Jon Thordharson, contained in the compilation known as the Flateyarbok, or " Flat Island Book." Jon used parts of the original saga, and added a considerable amount of material concerning the Vinland voyages derived from other sources, to us unknown. It is this second version which is reproduced, almost in its entirety.

The Vinland voyages belong to about the year 1000. These Icelandic chronicles belong therefore to a date three centuries later. They were doubtless based upon earlier writings which had come down from the times of Leif and Thorfinn, subject to the various influences which affected similar writings at that period the world over. An interesting and valuable confirmation of the simple fact of the visit of the Northmen to " Vinland " is given us by Adam of Bremen, who visited Denmark between 1047 and 1073, when the voyages would have been within the memory of living men and natural subjects of conversation. In speaking of the Scandinavian countries, in his book, Adam describes the colonies in Iceland and Greenland, and says that there is another country or island beyond, which is called Vinland, on account of the wild grapes that grow there. He makes the assertion that corn also grows in Vinland without cultivation; and, thinking this may seem strange to European readers, he adds that his statement is based upon "trustworthy reports of the Danes."

The great work of Professor Charles Christian Rafn, of Copenhagen, Antiquitates Americanae, published in 1837, first brought these Icelandic sagas prominently before modern scholars. Professor Rafn's work was most elaborate and thorough, and very little in the way of new material has been given us since his time, although his theories and the general subject of the Northmen's voyages and the whereabouts of Vinland have been discussed in numberless volumes during the fifty years since he wrote. Perhaps the most valuable work is that by Arthur Middleton Reeves. The title of Mr. Reeves's work is The Finding of Wineland the Good: The History of the Icelandic Discovery of America (London, 1890). This work contains phototype plates of the original Icelandic vellums, English translations of the two sagas, and very thorough historical accounts and critical discussions. The translation used here is that of Mr. Reeves. De Costa's Precolumbian Discovery of America by the Northmen and Slafter's Voyages of the Northmen to America  are earlier works of high authority, going over the same ground and also containing translations of the sagas. Dr. Slafter's book has an added value from its critical accounts of all the important works on the subject which had appeared up to that time (1877). A completer bibliography, now accessible, is that by Justin Winsor, appended to his chapter on " Pre-Columbian Explorations " in the Narrative and Critical History of America, vol. i.

The best popular account of the Norsemen and their voyages is that by Mr. Fiske, in his Discovery of America, vol. i., chap. ii. Mr. Fiske is refreshingly sound and sane in his treatment of the whole subject, which with so many writers has been a field for the wildest speculations. He shows the absurdity of the earlier writers who used to associate the Old Mill at Newport and the inscriptions on the Dighton rock with the Northmen, and the slight grounds on which, at the present time, enthusiasts like Professor Horsford have attempted to determine details so exactly as to claim that Leif Erikson settled on the banks of Charles River. " On the whole," concludes Mr. Fiske, " we may say with some confidence that the place described by our chroniclers as Vinland was situated somewhere between Point Judith and Cape Breton; possibly we may narrow our limits, and say that it was somewhere between Cape Cod and Cape Ann. But the latter conclusion is much less secure than the former. In such a case as this, the more we narrow our limits, the greater our liability to error."

ROCK AT DIGHTON, MASS., BEARING A SUPPOSED VIKING INSCRIPTION.

It should be said that many scholarly investigators hold that all the conditions of the descriptions of Vinland in the sagas are met by the shores of Labrador and Newfoundland, although the weight of opinion is in favor of the New England coast. The accounts themselves make any exacter determination impossible; and no genuine Norse remains have ever been discovered in New England.

The claim that Columbus knew of these discoveries of the Northmen is quite improbable. He simply set out to find a western route to Asia. The course of his voyage was not such as he would have taken had he had in mind the Vinland of the Northmen; and he made no mention of Vinland in favor of his expedition at the Spanish Court. Had he known of it, he certainly would have mentioned it; for, as Colonel Higginson so well says (see his Larger History of the United States), for the purpose of his argument, " an ounce of Vinland would have been worth a pound of cosmography."

The Voyages to Vinland.

From the saga of Eric the Red.

Translated by Arthur Middleton Reeves.

Viking Ship

After that sixteen winters had elapsed, from the time when Eric the Red went to colonize Greenland, Leif, Eric's son, sailed out from Greenland to Norway. He arrived in Drontheim in the autumn, when King Olaf Tryggvason was come down from the North, out of Halagoland. Leif put into Nidaros with his ship, and set out at once to visit the king. King Olaf expounded the faith to him, as he did to other heathen men who came to visit him. It proved easy for the king to persuade Leif, and he was accordingly baptized, together with all of his shipmates. Leif remained throughout the winter with the king, by whom he was well entertained.

Heriulf was a son of Bard Heriulfsson. He was a kinsman of Ingolf, the first colonist. Ingolf allotted land to Heriulf between Vag and Reykianess, and he dwelt at first at Drepstokk. Heriulf's wife's name was Thorgerd, and their son, whose name was Biarni, was a most promising man. He formed an inclination for voyaging while he was still young, and he prospered both in property and public esteem. It was his custom to pass his winters alternately abroad and with his father. Biarni soon became the owner of a trading-ship; and during the last winter that he spent in Norway [his father] Heriulf determined to accompany Eric on his voyage to Greenland, and made his preparations to give up his farm. Upon the ship with Heriulf was a Christian man from the Hebrides, he it was who composed the Sea - Roller's Song, which contains this stave:

" Mine adventure to the Meek One, Monk-heart-searcher, I commit now ;  He, who heaven's halls doth govern, Hold the hawk's-seat ever o'er me !"

Heriulf settled at Heriulfsness, and was a most distinguished man. Eric the Red dwelt at Brattahlid, where he was held in the highest esteem, and all men paid him homage. These were Eric's children: Leif, Thorvald, and Thorstein, and a daughter whose name was Freydis; she was wedded to a man named Thorvard, and they dwelt at Gardar, where the episcopal seat now is. She was a very haughty woman, while Thorvard was a man of little force of character, and Freydis had been wedded to him chiefly because of his wealth. At that time the people of Greenland were heathen.

Viking Ship Rock

VIKINGS' WAR-SHIP, ENGRAVED ON A ROCK IN NORWAY.

Biarni arrived with his ship at Eyrar [in Iceland] in the summer of the same year, in the spring of which his father had sailed away. Biarni was much surprised when he heard this news, and would not discharge his cargo. His shipmates inquired of him what he intended to do, and he replied that it was his purpose to keep to his custom, and make his home for the winter with his father; " And I will take the ship to Greenland, if you will bear me company." They all replied that they would abide by his decisien. Then said Biarni, " Our voyage must be regarded as foolhardy, seeing that no one of us has ever been in the Greenland Sea." Norse Ruins in GreenlandNevertheless, they put out to sea when they were equipped for the voyage, and sailed for three days, until the land was hidden by the water, and then the fair wind died out, and north winds arose, and fogs, and they knew not whither they were drifting, and thus it lasted for many " doegr." Then they saw the sun again, and were able to determine the quarters of the heavens ; they hoisted sail, and sailed that " doegr " through before they saw land. They discussed among themselves what land it could be, and Biarni said that he did not believe that it could be Greenland. They asked whether he wished to sail to this land or not. " it is my counsel " [said he] " to sail close to the land." They did so, and soon saw that the land was level, and covered with woods, and that there were small hillocks upon it. They left the land on their larboard, and let the sheet turn toward the land. They sailed for two " doegr " before they saw another land. They asked whether Biarni thought this was Greenland yet. He replied that he did not think this any more like Greenland than the former, because in Greenland there are said to be many great ice mountains." They soon approached this Iand, and saw that it was a flat and wooded country. The fair wind failed them then, and the crew took counsel together, and concluded that it would be wise to land there, but Biarni would not consent to this. They alleged that they were in need of both wood and water. " Ye have no lack of either of these," says Biarni, a course, forsooth, which won him blame among his shipmates. He bade them hoist sail, which they did, and turning the prow from the land, they sailed out upon the high seas, with south-westerly gales, for three " doegr," when they saw the third land; this land was high and mountainous, with ice mountains upon it. They asked Biarni then whether he would land there, and he replied that he was not disposed to do so, " because this land does not appear to me to offer any attractions." Nor did they lower their sail, but held their course off the land, and saw that it was an island. They left this land astern, and held out to sea with the same fair wind. The wind waxed amain, and Biarni directed them to reef, and not to sail at a speed unbefitting their ship and rigging. They sailed now for four " doegr," when they saw the fourth land. Again they asked Biarni whether he thought this could be Greenland or not. Biarni answers, " This is likest Greenland, according to that which has been reported to me concerning it, and here we will steer to the land." They directed their course thither, and landed in the evening, below a cape upon which there was a boat, and there, upon this cape, dwelt Heriulf, Biarni's father, whence the cape took its name, and was afterwards called Heriulfsness. Biarni now went to his father, gave up his voyaging, and remained with his father while Heriulf lived, and continued to live there after his father.

Next to this is now to be told how Biarni Heriulfsson came out from Greenland on a visit to Earl Eric, by whom he was well received. Biarni gave an account of his travels [upon the occasion] when he saw the lands, and the people thought that he had been lacking in enterprise, since he had no report to give concerning these countries; and the fact brought him reproach. Biarni was appointed one of the Earl's men, and went out to Greenland the following summer. There was now much talk about voyages of discovery. Leif, the son of Eric the Red, of Brattahlid, visited Biarni Heriulfsson and bought a ship of him, and collected a crew, until they formed altogether a company of thirty-five men. Leif invited his father, Eric, to become the leader of the expedition, but Eric declined, saying that he was then stricken in years, and adding that he was less able to endure the exposure of sea life than he had been. Leif replied that he would nevertheless be the one who would be most apt to bring good luck, and Eric yielded to Leif's solicitation, and rode from home when they were ready to sail. When he was but a short distance from the ship, the horse which Eric was riding stumbled, and he was thrown from his back and wounded his foot, whereupon he exclaimed, " It is not designed for me to discover more lands than the one in which we are now living, nor can we now continue longer together." Eric returned home to Brattahlid, and Leif pursued his way to the ship with his companions, thirty-five men. One of the company was a German, named Tyrker. They put the ship in order; and, when they were ready, they sailed out to sea, and found first that land which Biarni and his shipmates found last. They sailed up to the land, and cast anchor, and launched a boat, and went ashore, and saw no grass there. Great ice mountains lay inland back from the sea, and it was as a [tableland of] flat rock all the way from the sea to the ice mountains; and the country seemed to them to be entirely devoid of good qualities. Then said Leif, " It has not come to pass with us in regard to this land as with Biarni, that we have not gone upon it. To this country I will now give a name, and call it Helluland." They returned to the ship, put out to sea, and found a second land. They sailed again to the land, and came to anchor, and launched the boat, and went ashore. This was a level wooded land; and there were broad stretches of white sand where they went, and the land was level by the sea. Then said Leif, " This land shall have a name after its nature; and we will call it Markland." They returned to the ship forthwith, and sailed away upon the main with northeast winds, and were out two " doegr " before they sighted land. They sailed toward this land, and came to an island which lay to the northward off the land. There they went ashore and looked about them, the weather being fine, and they observed that there was dew upon the grass, and it so happened that they touched the dew with their hands, and touched their hands to their mouths, and it seemed to them that they had never before tasted anything so sweet as this. They went aboard their ship again and sailed into a certain sound, which lay between the island and a cape, which jutted out from the land on the north, and they stood in westering past the cape. At ebb-tide there were broad reaches of shallow water there, and they ran their ship aground there, and it was a long distance from the ship to the ocean; yet were they so anxious to go ashore that they could not wait until the tide should rise under their ship, but hastened to the land, where a certain river flows out from the lake. As soon as the tide rose beneath their ship, however, they took the boat and rowed to the ship, which they conveyed up the river, and so into the lake, where they cast anchor and carried their hammocks ashore from the ship, and built themselves booths there. They afterward deter-mined to establish themselves there for the winter, and they accordingly built a large house. There was no lack of salmon there either in the river or in the lake, and larger salmon than they had ever seen before. The country thereabouts seemed to be possessed of such good qualities that cattle would need no fodder there during the winters. There was no frost there in the winters, and the grass withered but little. The days and nights there were of more equal length than in Greenland or Iceland. On the shortest day of winter the sun was up between " eyktarstad " and " dagmalastad." When they had completed their house, Leif said to his companions, " I propose now to divide our company into two groups, and to set about an exploration of the country. One-half of our party shall remain at home at the house, while the other half shall investigate the land; and they must not go beyond a point from which they can return home the same evening, and are not to separate [from each other]. Thus they did for a time. Leif, himself, by turns joined the exploring party, or remained behind at the house. Leif was a large and powerful man, and of a most imposing bearing, a man of sagacity, and a very just man in all things.

Norse Weapons

It was discovered one evening that one of their company was missing; and this proved to be Tyrker, the German. Leif was sorely troubled by this, for Tyrker had lived with Leif and his father for a long time, and had been very devoted to Leif when he was a child. Leif severely reprimanded his companions, and prepared to go in search of him, taking twelve men with him. They had proceeded but a short distance from the house, when they were met by Tyrker, whom they received most cordially. Leif observed at once that his foster-father was in lively spirits. Tyrker had a prominent forehead, restless eyes, small features, was diminutive in stature, and rather a sorry-looking individual withal, but was, nevertheless, a most capable handicraftsman. Leif addressed him, and asked, " Wherefore art thou so belated, foster-father mine, and astray from the others ?" In the beginning Tyrker spoke for some time in German, rolling his eyes and grinning, and they could not understand him; but after a time he addressed them in the Northern tongue: " I did not go much further [than you], and yet I have something of novelty to relate. I have found vines and grapes." " Is this indeed true, foster-father ?" said Leif. " Of a certainty it is true," quoth he, " for I was born where there is no lack of either grapes or vines." They slept the night through, and on the morrow Leif said to his shipmates, " We will now divide our labors, and each day will either gather grapes or cut vines and fell trees, so as to obtain a cargo of these for my ship." They acted upon this advice, and it is said that their after-boat was filled with grapes. A cargo sufficient for the ship was cut, and when the spring came they made their ship ready, and sailed away ; and from its products Leif gave the land a name, and called it Wineland. They sailed out to sea, and had fair winds until they sighted Greenland, and the fellsbelow the glaciers. Then one of the men spoke up and said, " Why do you steer the ship so much into the wind?" Leif answers: " I have my mind upon my steering, but on other matters as well. Do ye not see anything out of the common ?" They replied that they saw nothing strange. " I do not know," says Leif, " whether it is a ship or a skerry that I see." Now they saw it, and said that it must be a skerry; but he was so much keener of sight than they that he was able to discern men upon the skerry. " I think it best to tack," says Leif, " so that we may draw near to them, that we may be able to render them assistance if they should stand in need of it; and, if they should not be peaceably disposed, we shall still have better command of the situation than they." They approached the skerry, and, lowering their sail, cast anchor, and launched a second small boat, which they had brought with them. Tyrker inquired who was the leader of the party. He replied that his name was Thori, and that he was a Norseman; " but what is thy name ?" Leif gave his name. " Art thou a son of Eric the Red of Brattahlid?" says he. Leif responded that he was: " It is now my wish," says Leif, " to take you all into my ship, and likewise so much of your possessions as the ship will hold." This offer was accepted, and [with their ship] thus laden they held away to Ericsfirth, and sailed until they arrived at Brattahlid. Having discharged the cargo, Leif invited Thori, with his wife, Gudrid, and three others, to make their home with him, and procured quarters for the other members of the crew, both for his own and Thori's men. Leif rescued fifteen persons from the skerry. He was afterwards called Leif the Lucky. Leif had now goodly store both of property and honor. There was serious illness that winter in Thori's party, and Thori and a great number of his people died. Eric the Red also died that winter. There was now much talk about Leif's Wineland journey; and his brother, Thorvald, held that the country had not been sufficiently explored. Thereupon Leif said to Thorvald, " If it be thy will, brother, thou mayest go to Wineland with my ship; but I wish the ship first to fetch the wood which Thori had upon the skerry." And so it was done.

Now Thorvald, with the advice of his brother, Leif, prepared to make this voyage with thirty men. They put their ship in order, and sailed out to sea; and there is no account of their voyage before their arrival at Leifs-booths in Wineland. They laid up their ship there, and remained there quietly during the winter, supplying themselves with food by fishing. In the spring, however, Thorvald said that they should put their ship in order, and that a few men should take the after-boat, and proceed along the western coast, and explore [the region] thereabouts during the summer. They found it a fair, well-wooded country. It was but a short distance from the woods to the sea, and [there were] white sands, as well as great numbers of islands and shallows. They found neither dwelling of man nor lair of beast; but in one of the westerly islands they found a wooden building for the shelter of grain. They found no other trace of human handiwork; and they turned back, and arrived at Leifs-booths in the autumn. The following summer Thorvald set out toward the east with the ship, and along the northern coast. They were met by a high wind off a certain promontory, and were driven ashore there, and damaged the keel of their ship, and were compelled to remain there for a long time and repair the injury to their vessel. Then said Thorvald to his companions, " I propose that we raise the keel upon this cape, and call it Keelness "; and so they did. Then they sailed away to the eastward off the land and into the mouth of the adjoining firth and to a headland, which projected into the sea there, and which was entirely covered with woods. They found an anchorage for their ship, and put out the gangway to the land; and Thorvald and all of his companions went ashore. " It is a fair region here," said he; " and here I should like to make my home." They then returned to the ship, and discovered on the sands, in beyond the headland, three mounds: they went up to these, and saw that they were three skin canoes with three men under each. They thereupon divided their party, and succeeded in seizing all of the men but one, who escaped with his canoe. They killed the eight men, and then ascended the headland again, and looked about them, and discovered within the firth certain hillocks, which they concluded must be habitations. They were then so overpowered with sleep that they could not keep awake, and all fell into a [heavy] slumber from which they were awakened by the sound of a cry uttered above them; and the words of the cry were these: " Awake, Thorvald, thou and all thy company, if thou wouldst save thy life; and board thy ship with all thy men, and sail with all speed from the land!" A countless number of skin canoes then advanced toward them from the inner part of the firth, whereupon Thorvald exclaimed, " We must put out the warboards on both sides of the ship, and defend ourselves to the best of our ability, but offer little attack." This they did; and the Skrellings, after they had shot at them for a time, fled precipitately, each as best he could. Thorvald then inquired of his men whether any of them had been wounded, and they informed him that no one of them had received a wound. " I have been wounded in my armpit," says he. " An arrow flew in between the gunwale and the shield, below my arm. Here is the shaft, and it will bring me to my end. I counsel you now to retrace your way with the utmost speed. But me ye shall convey to that headland which seemed to me to offer so pleasant a dwelling-place: thus it may be fulfilled that the truth sprang to my lips when I expressed the wish to abide there for a time. Ye shall bury me there, and place a cross at my head, and another at my feet, and call it Crossness forever after." At that time Christianity had obtained in Greenland: Eric the Red died, however, before [the introduction of] Christianity.

Thorvald died: and, when they had carried out his injunctions, they took their departure and rejoined their companions, and they told each other of the experiences which had befallen them. They remained there during the winter, and gathered grapes and wood with which to freight the ship. In the following spring they returned to Greenland, and arrived with their ship in Ericsfirth, where they were able to recount great tidings to Leif.

 

 

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