1000 A. D.—1682



No subsequent traces of the Norman colony in America are to be found until the year 1059, when it is said that an Irish or Saxon priest, named Jon or John, who had preached for some time as a missionary in Iceland, went to Vinland, for the purpose of converting the colonists to Christianity, where he was murdered by the heathens. A bishop of Greenland, named Erik, afterward (A.D. 1121) undertook the same voyage, for the same purpose, but with what success is uncertain. The authenticity of the Icelandic accounts of the discovery and settlement of Vinland were recognized in Denmark shortly after this period by King Svend Estrithson, or Sweno II, in a conversation which Adam of Bremen had with this monarch. But no further mention is made of them in the national annals, and it may appear doubtful what degree of credit is due to the relations of the Venetian navigators, the two brothers Zeni, who are said to have sailed in the latter part of the fourteenth century, in the service of a Norman prince of the Orcades, to the coasts of New England, Carolina, and even Mexico, or at least to have collected authentic accounts of voyages as far west and south as these countries. The land discovered and peopled by the Norwegians is called by Antonio Zeni, Estotoland, and he states among other particulars, that the princes of the country still had in their possession Latin books, which they did not understand, and which were probably those left by the bishop Erik during his mission.

Supposing these latter discoveries to be authentic, they could hardly have escaped the attention of Columbus, who had himself navigated in the arctic seas, but whose mind dwelt with such intense fondness upon his favorite idea of finding a passage to the East Indies, across the western ocean, that he might have neglected these indications of the existence of another continent in the direction pursued by the Venetian adventurers.

At all events, there is not the silghtest reason to believe that the illustrious Genoese was acquainted with the discovery of North America by the Normans five centuries before his time, however well authenticated that fact now appears to be by the Icelandic, records to which we have referred. The colony established by them probably perished in the same manner with the ancient establishments in Greenland. Some faint traces of its existence may, perhaps, be found in the relations of the Jesuit missionaries respecting a native tribe in the district of Gaspé, at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, who are said to have attained a certain degree of civilization, to have worshiped the sun, and observed the position of the stars. Others revered the symbol of the cross before the arrival of the French missionaries, which, according to their tradition, had been taught them by a venerable person who cured, by this means, a terrible epidemic which raged among them.

1From Mr. Wheaton's "History of the Northmen," published in 1831. Mr. Wheaton was a native of Providence, R. I., and died in Roxbury, Mass., in 1848, at the age of 63. He was an eminent lawyer and publicist and author of "Elements of International Law," a legal Classic.
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© 2002 by Lynn Waterman