F Heritage History | Eric the Red by George Upton

Eric the Red - George Upton




Thorfinn Karlsefne Founds a Colony in Vineland


and Other Expeditions


In the Summer of the year 1006 two vessels came to Greenland from Iceland. The one was commanded by a man named Thorfinn Karlsefne, son of Thordun Hesthofdi. He was very wealthy and of distinguished family. Among those who accompanied him was Snorri Thorbrandson, also a man of famous lineage. The other vessel was under command of Bjarni, or Biarne, of Breidafjord and Thorhall Gamlason of Austfjord. They spent the Winter with Leif, son of Erik, and celebrated the Christmas festivities together. During this Winter Thorfinn and Gudrida, Thorstein's widow, became engaged and their nuptials were celebrated with Leif's consent. At all their gatherings the discoveries in Vineland were the most frequent topic of conversation.

All were agreed that Thorfinn was the most suitable man to undertake an expedition there and at last he was influenced to make a favorable decision. In the Spring of 1007, Karlsefne and Snorri fitted out their vessel for the voyage and Biarne and Thorhall did the same. A third vessel, in which Thorbjorn, Gudrida's father, had once come to Greenland, was under command of Thorward, who was married to Freydisa, daughter of Erik the Red.

Upon this vessel there was a man named Thorhall, who had been in Erik's service a long time as a hunter in Summer and steward in Winter, and who had the best knowledge of the uninhabited parts of Greenland. The whole expedition consisted of one hundred and sixty men. As it was their intention to found a permanent colony, they took with them all kinds of domestic animals. They first sailed to Westerbygd and thence to Disco.

Then they steered southerly to Helluland, where they found many foxes. Then for two days more they sailed southward and came to Markland, where they saw much timber and game. They next directed their course in a southwesterly direction until they came to Kjalarness, where they saw great sand dunes, sandy beaches, nothing but sand, which spot they called Furdustrand or Wonderstrand. After they had passed this spot they found the shore intersected by a bay.

Among their crew were two Scots, named Haken and Hekla, a woman who was very swift of foot. Leif had obtained them as thralls from Olaf Trygvasson, King of Norway. They were set ashore with instructions to run in a southwesterly direction and spy out the land. After an absence of three days they returned bringing with them grapes and ears of corn which grew wild in that region.

They went on board and the voyage was continued until they came to a place where another bay extended far into the mainland. At its entrance was an island where the currents on each side were exceedingly swift. On this island eider ducks were so plentiful that it was almost impossible to walk without treading upon their eggs. They called the island Straumey (Stream Island) and the bay Straumfjorder (Stream Firth).

They landed at this place and made preparations to winter there. As the region seemed exceedingly favorable they busied themselves in reconnoitring it. Thorhall was anxious to sail farther north and find Vineland, but Karlsefne was determined to go in a southwesterly direction. Thorhall took eight men with him and left the others. He sailed past Furdustrandir and Kjalarness, but was finally driven by the western storm winds to the coast of Ireland, where he and his men were captured and enslaved, according to the reports of merchants of that country.' Karlsefne, on the other hand, sailed with Snorri, Biarne, and the rest, in all one hundred and fifty-two men, in a southerly direction and came to a place where a river emptied from a lake into the sea. At the mouth of the river were several large islands. They sailed up the river and named the place Hop.

In the lower places they found fields of wild corn, and grapevines in the higher. On one fine morning they observed a large number of canoes and gave them friendly signals. The canoes came nearer and the natives regarded the newcomers with astonishment. At first they rowed away southwest around the point, but when Karlsefne raised a white shield as a sign of peace, they immediately approached and began bartering. For red cloth they exchanged furs and skins. They also wanted to purchase swords and spears, but Snorri and Karlsefne had forbidden their sale. For a whole hide they would take a piece of cloth a span in width to bind about their heads. This business was kept up for some time, but when the cloth was gone the women made porridge, which satisfied the natives quite as well.

One day while thus engaged, a bull belonging to Karlsefne suddenly rushed at them and bellowed so loudly that the terrified natives took to their canoes and rowed away to the south. A fortunate prize was secured by Karlsefne's men when a huge whale was carried far up on the beach by the waves. Karlsefne also had trees felled and dried upon the sand for ship-building. For greater security he had his houses surrounded by strong palisades. About this time Karlsefne's wife, Gudrida, had a son who was named Snorri.

At the beginning of the following Winter the Skraellings returned in great numbers and manifested by their loud outcries signs of hostility. One day a Skraelling was killed by one of Karlsefne's men, whose weapons he was about to appropriate. The others took to flight but soon came back. Karlsefne hung up a red shield and both parties rushed at each other for battle. Arrows flew, spears were hurled, and lances broken. The Skraellings had a kind of war sling, a large bladder filled with stones fastened to a pole. When hurled among Karlsefne's men it made such a frightful noise as it struck the ground that they were scared and fell back. One of the Skraellings had found a Greenland hatchet belonging to a dead man, which he used so dexterously that he felled those nearest him to the ground.

There was one man among them who was distinguished for his great size and strength whom Karlsefne took to be their chief. He seized the hatchet and threw it far away into the water. Thereupon the Skraellings gave up the fight and hurried off. Karlsefne came to the conclusion that notwithstanding the great value of the spot and the comfort of living there the liability to attacks from the natives was too great. Besides this, Thorbrann Snorrison had fallen in the battle. So they made preparations to leave the next spring and go back to their old home.

They sailed eastward and came to Stromfurth. Thence Karlsefne set out in quest of Thorhall while the others remained behind. They steered north past Kjalarness and were driven to the northwest, where the land was at their left. There were dense forests as far as they could see in every direction. Scarcely an open spot was visible. They believed that the heights of Hop and these which they had just seen constituted an unbroken range.

The third Winter was spent at Stromfurth. Snorri, Karlsefne's son, was now three years old. They sailed from Vineland before a south wind and came to Markland, where they met five Skraellings, two of whom were taken prisoners and brought to the ship. They were boys and were carried back to Greenland, where they learned the Norse speech and were baptized. The boys said their mother was named Vethilidi and their father Uvaege. They also said the Skraellings were ruled by two chieftains, one named Avaldaman and the other Valdidida, and that they had no houses but lived in caverns and the hollows of rock.

Biarne Grimolfson was driven to the Irish Sea and came into waters so invested with marine worms that his ship began to sink. Some of the crew were saved in the small boats, whose keels they smeared with the grease of seals as the best protection against worms. But Karlsefne took the direct course to Greenland and at last arrived safely.