Ridpath's History of the United States
Volume I

Part II
Voyage and Discovery
A.D. 1000-1607


Chapter I
The Icelanders and Norwegians in America

The first Euopean who is known to have discovered America was Lief Ericson. In the year 1000 Lief Ericson sailed from Norway for Greenland to carry Christianity to his father, who had made a settlement on that island. he was sent by the King of Norway, who had recently been converted to Christianity. Ericson, however, missed the way, steering too far southward, and landed on the coast of North America. He and his crew made a landing and remained for some months, reaching Greenland late in the year. The new country was called Vinland, because grapes were found growing wild. As the vine does not grow north of the fiftieth parallel, the Northmen must have landed south of that line; but the exact spot cannot be ascertained. It might have been Nova Scotia, or the coast of New England. In the following years other voyages were made to the same coast by the Northmen, and they may have planted colonies; but, if so, they wer soon abandoned. The Norse sagas inform us that the voyages continued at intervals for many years, but finally ceased altogether.

Little, however, was known or imagined by these rude sailors of the extent of the country which they had discovered. They supposed that it was only a portion of Western Greenland which, bending to the north around an arm of the ocean, had reappeared in the west. The settlements which were made were feeble and soon broken up. Commerce was an impossibility in a country where there were only a few wretched savages with no disposition to buy and nothing at all to sell. The spirit of adventure was soon appeased, and the restless Northmen returned to their own country.

An event is to be weighted by its consequences. From the discovery of America by the Norsemen, nothing whatever resulted. The world was neither wiser nor better. Among the Icelanders themselves the place and the very name of Vinland were forgotten. Historians have until late years been incredulous on the subject, and the fact is as though it had never been. The curtain which had been lifted for a moment was stretched again from sky to sea, and the New World still lay hidden in the shadows.


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