He was an explorer and also a founder of the Norse settlement on the western coast of North America. The settlement was called Vinland.
There are also some theories that Leif Erikson actually established the settlement in the Newfoundland area, which is in the territory of Canada.
Leif Erikson Day
As Leif was the founder of the settlement in North America, the United States issued a proclamation that stated the 9th of October to be marked as Leif Erikson Day.
Since the presidential proclamation was issued on the 9th of October 2000, Leif Erikson Day has been celebrated every year. The reason for this particular date is because, according to the Icelandic sagas, the exact date of Leif Erikson's coming to America is not known; however, texts indicate that it took place during the autumn.
Another reason for this particular date was that on the 9th of October, the ship "Restaurationen" came to New York, America, bringing the first organized group of Norwegian immigrants from Stavanger, Norway.
Some facts about Leif Erikson
Leif was the son of Erik the Red, who founded the first Norse settlement in Greenland. His place of birth is not precisely known, but he was probably born in Iceland, and his year of birth is either 970 AD or 980 AD.
He had two known sons, one of them was Thorgils, whom he had with Thorgunna, a member of the nobility, and Thorkell, who succeeded him in the Greenland settlement.
Leif Erikson was often described as a man of great wisdom and an attractive, very masculine appearance. He converted to Christianity during the reign of the Norwegian king Olaf, who gave Leif the task to go to Greenland to convert other settlers to Christianity.
There aren't many facts about his death, but some experts assume he died sometime between 1019 AD and 1025 AD. He was succeeded by his son Thorkell.
Leif Erikson got the task of going to Greenland and converting other settlers to Christianity. Illustration: Dylan Shaw / Unsplash
Leif Erikson and his explorations
As mentioned above, the Norwegian king at the time, Olaf, gave Leif the task to go to Greenland and convert other new settlers there to Christianity.
According to the Saga of Erik the Red, Leif's ship lost course, and he and his crew discovered what will soon become Vinland. This type of voyage, together with the task he got from the king, made him the first missionary to America, many years before Christopher Columbus set off.
According to the Saga of the Greenlanders, Leif Erikson wasn't the first to discover America. Bjarni Herjolfsson and his crew, whose ship lost course, discovered the new territory. However, they decided not to disembark and return to the starting point to share the story of what they discovered.
That was the moment when Leif purchased the ship from Bjarni and set off for a new journey. He discovered many new places, from rocky and cold areas, probably Labrador Bay, to an area with a much better climate and great supplies of fish, salmon in particular.
The crew decided to stay there for the winter and keep exploring. They found vines and grapes, so Leif Erikson decided to name the settlement Vinland (meaning "Wineland").
On his way back to Greenland, where he brought grapes and timber, he earned his nickname "Leif the Lucky" by rescuing a castaway and his crew. Leif Erikson never returned to Vinland.
Leif Erikson's accomplishments and legacy
Leif Erikson's voyages definitely encouraged other Norsemen to start exploring, so they were the first people who colonized America. The history at the time didn't seem to acknowledge the greatness of this accomplishment and mentioned it mainly in a rather casual tone.
However, according to some sources, Christopher Columbus visited Iceland before his voyage to America and might have heard the stories of this newly discovered land.
Leif's travels helped, in a way, a significant number of immigrants from the Nordic countries to America, or Nordic Americans, in building their identity and self-perception.
Along with Leif Erikson Day, multiple monuments have been built throughout America as a sign of respect for this great man.
Furthermore, the Leif Erikson Awards have been given each year by the Exploration Museum in Iceland, since 2015, for achievements in the area of exploration and in the study, promotion, and preserving the history of exploration.
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