Eric the Red - George Upton

Discovery of Greenland by Erik the Red

In the first half of the tenth century, Thorwald, son of Oswald, with his son Erik the Red, fled from Jadar, in the western part of Rogaland in Norway, to Iceland, because of a murder the latter had committed, and settled at Dranga in the northwestern part of that country.

After the death of Thorwald, Erik married Thorbild, daughter of Jorund, left Dranga and settled at a place afterward named for him, Erikstad. On account of another murder he committed in Iceland he was forced to leave Erikstad and went westward to Oexnaga. He was finally declared guilty by the court at Thorsmes and a sentence of banishment for three years was issued.

Thereupon, in the Spring of 982 he set sail westward, accompanied by Styr, son of Thorgrim, with his people, toward a land which had been seen by Gunnbiorn, son of Ulv Kraka, when driven to the western ocean by a storm. Upon Gunnbiorn's return he urged his friends to go to this new land which he had found. Erik at this time was forty-seven years old. He reached the new country, Greenland, in Summer and spent the first Winter at Eriksaya, in the middle of the east coast. In the following Spring he went inland and settled at Eriksfjord. In the Summer of 983 he made an expedition to the west coast and named several places. The second Winter (983-984) he spent upon an island near Hafusquip, and in the third Summer returned to Iceland, landing at Breidafjord. As Pliny the Elder, and after him Bede the Venerable, had already named the sea surrounding Thule or Iceland the Mare Cronicum, Gunnbiorn, when he saw the new land, called it Cronland. Erik named it Grunland (Greenland) on account of the green meadows he found there, and, as he stated, because people would be induced to go there on account of the inviting name.

During his stay in Iceland (984-985) Erik must have been very actively engaged in circulating glowing descriptions of his new green home, for in the Summer of 985 the number of those who decided to go to Greenland was so great that the emigrants with their animals and domestic effects filled twenty-five vessels, which sailed from the two bays of Breidafjord and Borgafjord. They took with them horses, cows, and oxen, animals which do not exist in Greenland in our times. But of all these vessels only fourteen were fortunate enough to reach Greenland from the west coast of Iceland, a distance of not over two hundred English leagues. We have no further intelligence of the fate of the remaining vessels.

Arrived at their destination, Erik fixed his settlement at Brattalid on the Eriksfjord. After the rest of the colonists had established themselves, Erik was elected their protector and judge, and as the Chronicles affirm, managed their affairs very wisely. Some of the heads of families settled on the west coast of Greenland,—Ketil at Ketilsfjord; Rafn at Rafnsfjord; Solvius at Solvadal; Helgius, son of Thorbrand, at Alptafjord; Thorbjorn Glora at Siglafjord; Einar at Einarsfjord; Haugrim at Haugrimsfjord and Vatuahverf; Arnloeg at Arnloegsfjord; and Hjerulf at Hjerulfsfjord, which he named Hjerulfness.

Among the new colonists, the last named, Hjerulf, is a personality not to be overlooked. He came of a noble family in Iceland which owned valuable properties and exercised great power. By his wife Thorgerde he had a son named Biorn, or Bjarni, an account of whom will be found in the next chapter. In their new Greenland home, Hjerulf of Hjerulfness, next to Erik the Red, was the richest and most important man. Erik's daughter Freydisa married Thorward, who lived at Gardar, the subsequent seat of the Episcopate of Greenland.