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Leif Ericson (Old Norse: Leifr Eiríksson) (c. 970 – c. 1020) was a Norse explorer who is currently regarded as the first European to land in North America (excluding Greenlandmarker), nearly five hundred years before Christopher Columbus. According to the Sagas of Icelanders, he established a Norse settlement at Vinland, which has been tentatively identified with the L'Anse aux Meadowsmarker Norse site on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundlandmarker in Newfoundland and Labradormarker, Canadamarker.

It is believed that Leif was born about AD 970 in Icelandmarker, the son of Erik the Red (Old Norse: Eiríkr inn rauði), a Norse explorer from Western Norway, an outlaw and himself the son of an outlaw, Þorvaldr Ásvaldsson. Leif's mother was Thjodhild (Þjóðhildr). Erik the Red founded two Norse colonies in Greenland, the Western Settlement and the Eastern Settlement, as he named them. In both Eiríks saga rauða and Landnáma, Ericson's father is said to have met and married Leif's mother Þjóðhildur in Iceland; no official site is known for Leif's birth.

Leif Ericson had two brothers, Thorvald and Thorsteinn, and one half sister, Freydís. He married a woman named Thorgunna, and they had one son, Thorkell Leifsson.

Exploring west of Greenland


During a stay in Norway, Leif converted to Christianity, like many Norse of that time, at the behest of the King of Norway, Olaf I. When he returned to Greenland, he bought Bjarni Herjólfsson's boat and set out to explore the land that Bjarni had seen to the west of Greenland, which was likely coastal Canada.

The Saga of the Greenlanders tells that Leif set out in the year 1002 or 1003 to follow Bjarni's route with 35 crew members, but going north.

The first land he went to was covered with flat rocks (Old Norse hella). He therefore called it Helluland ("Land of the Flat Stones"). This was possibly Baffin Islandmarker. Next he came to a land that was flat and wooded, with white sandy beaches. He called this Markland ("Wood-land"), which is possibly Labrador.

Settlement in Vinland

Leif and his crew left Markland and again found land, which they named Vinland. They landed and built a small settlement. They found the area pleasant as there were wild grapes and plenty of salmon in the river. The climate was mild, with little frost in the winter and green grass year-round. They remained in the region over the winter.

On the return voyage, Leif rescued an Icelandic castaway named Þórir and his crew – an incident that earned Leif the nickname Leif the Lucky (Old Norse: Leifr hinn heppni).

Research done in the 1950s and 1960s by explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, identified a Norse settlement located at the northern tip of Newfoundland, known as L'Anse aux Meadowsmarker, which has been connected to Leif's settlement.

Return to Greenland

After contacting Olaf Tryggvason, King of Norway, Leif became a Christian, and was later sent back to Greenland to spread Christianity, with the help of a priest and a teacher. When Leif returned to Greenland, he stayed at Brattahlidmarker with his father Eric. Upon hearing the nickname "Leif the Lucky", Eric told him it was controversial, because although Leif saved the castaway, he had brought a priest to Greenland.

Leif Erikson Day

In 1964 the United States Congress authorized and requested the president to proclaim October 9 of each year as "Leif Erikson Day". That date was chosen for its connection to the first organized immigration from Norway to the United States (the ship Restauration, coming from Stavangermarker, Norwaymarker, arrived in New York Harbor on October 9, 1825), not for any event in the life of the explorer. The day is also an official observance of several U.S. states.

See also


  1. In modern Icelandic the first name is Leifur and in modern Norwegian Leif or Leiv. The patronym is Anglicized in various ways, such as Ericson, Eriksson, Ericsson, Erickson, Erikson and Eiriksson.
  2. Vísindavefurinn: Shouldn't Leifr Eiríksson ('Leif the Lucky') really be viewed as a Greenlander with family roots in Iceland and Norway?
  3. Sanderson, Jeanette. (2002) Explorers, Teaching Resources/Scholastic. p. 14. ISBN 0-439-25181-8.
  5. [1] Leif Eriksson Encarta Encyclopedia]. Archived 2009-10-31.
  6. Another saga, The Saga of Eric the Red, relates that Leif discovered the American mainland while returning from Norway to Greenland in 1000 (or possibly 1001), but does not mention any attempts to settle there. However, the Saga of the Greenlanders is usually considered the more reliable of the two.
  7. Snorre Sturlason, Heimskringla Or the Lives of the Norse Kings, Kessinger Publishing, 2004, p.188 ISBN 0766186938

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