Against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain. — Friedrich Schiller

Eric the Red - George Upton

Leif's Expedition to Vineland

After Biorn returned to Greenland from his visit to Earl Erik, in 995, many other persons shared the opinion of the Earl that the country which Biorn accidentally discovered in 986 ought to be thoroughly explored. After his father's death Biorn had succeeded to the inheritance and was no longer inclined to make explorations. He sold his ship to Leif, who was determined to conduct an expedition. He manned the vessel with thirty-five sailors, among them a German, named Tyrker, who had lived with Leif's father several years and to whom as a boy Leif had been very closely attached.


The projected expedition was undertaken in the year 1000. Leif earnestly urged his father to take command, but Erik at first declined because of his extreme age, which would render him inefficient, and also because he could not endure the fatigue and dangers of sea life as he used to when young. But when Leif set before him the great profit and advantage which would accrue to him and the family, he consented. After everything was in readiness Erik mounted his horse to ride to the bay where the vessel lay at anchor, but on the way the horse stumbled and fell in such a manner that Erik's foot was crushed. The accident caused him to change his mind and he said: "It is not my fortune to discover any other countries than the one in which I live and I will go no farther." Thereupon he returned to his house at Brattalid and Leif sailed in command of the expedition.

They first came to the country which Biorn had seen last (Newfoundland), dropped anchor and went ashore. There was no grass to be seen, but several mountains in the interior covered with perpetual snow. The soil was as unproductive as if it had been made of stone, from the coast to the snow-covered mountains. Then Leif said: "We have not done as Biorn did, who never set foot upon this land. Now I will give it a name and call it 'Helluland,' the land of the rocky plain or broad stones."

Thereupon they returned to their vessel, stood out to sea, and shortly after came to a new land (Nova Scotia) They did not sail up to the shore but cast anchor and landed in their boat. This region was flat and woody. As far as they went they found low beaches and white sand with a gradual rise of the coast. Here Leif said to his companions: "This country must be called after that which is found here in the greatest abundance, therefore we will call it 'Markland."' (Woodland) As a favoring breeze arose they hoisted sail and sailed before a northeast wind for two days before they espied land.

At last they perceived an island which lay to the north of the mainland and there they landed on a beautiful day. The dew lay upon the grass and to their great delight it tasted as sweet as honey. Returning to their vessel, they set sail and cruised along a bay between the island and a cape stretching northward. Then they went up a river flowing out of a lake and there they at last landed, carried their provisions and belongings ashore, and erected temporary huts.

They decided to make this place their winter quarters and erected large houses which later were called Leifshutten. In the river and lake as well as in the sea they found salmon in greater abundance than they had even known before. The soil produced fruit luxuriantly. They did not even have to provide winter fodder for their animals, for the grass did not wither and there was no ice there in the Winter.

After the houses were finished, Leif said to his companions: "Now we must divide into two companies, for I wish to explore the country. Alternately one-half shall remain at home while the others advance into the country, but do not go so far that you cannot return each evening, and keep together on the way." Thus considerable time was spent. Leif shared his people's duties, going out one day and remaining at home the next. He was a man of extraordinary intellectual ability as well as of physical strength and endurance, wise and moderate in every way, and thus well fitted for great undertakings.

One evening he found a man of his company missing, the German, named Tyrker, already mentioned. He was greatly concerned and after reproaching his people for their negligence, selected twelve men and set out to find the lost man. After going a short distance, they met Tyrker and were much delighted. Leif had had many proofs that his ward had more than usual ability and a good mind. Tyrker was of slight build, and had pleasant features and sharp, quick eyes, and was a skilled mechanician. Leif said to him: "Why do you come back so late and why did you stray away from your companions?"

Tyrker cast down his eyes, hesitated, and at last said in German: "I have not been far from here but I have something new to tell you of. I have found vines and grapes."

"Is that true, my old one?" said Leif.

"It is really true," Tyrker replied. "I should know, for where I was brought up there are plenty of vines and grapes."

That night they devoted themselves to sleep and on the following morning Leif said to his men: "We have now two matters to attend to, to gather grapes and fell timber, and have it ready for the loading of the vessel." All were delighted, and the ship's long boat was filled with grapes and the vessel with timber. They found fields of wheat which grew wild, and maple trees. They took samples of the one and enough of the timber to build a house. In the Spring preparations were made for departure, but before leaving, on account of its fruitfulness in grapes, he named the country "Vineland the Good."

They now put to sea and sailed with favoring winds until the icy mountains of Greenland came in sight. Then some of the sailors asked Leif why he steered the ship so hard against the wind. Leif answered: "I am attending to the steering but I keep a lookout also. Do you notice anything strange?"

They replied they could see nothing of any consequence. Then Leif answered: "I am not sure whether I see a vessel or a rock."

When they had sufficiently observed the situation they discovered a steep rock rising above the water. Leif, whose eyes were sharper than the others, espied several persons on the rock. Then he said to his people he would sail still closer to the wind and see if these unfortunates needed any help. As they neared the rock they cast anchor and sent out the small boat. Tyrker asked the shipwrecked men who was their leader. They replied, Thorer, of Norwegian birth. In return Thorer asked their names, and when he heard that of Leif, asked if he were the son of Erik the Red. Leif replied in the affirmative and informed him he would take him and his people on board, and all of their effects his vessel could carry. Thorer and his crew expressed their gratitude.

Once more they set sail and were soon at Brattalid, where their cargo was landed. Leif was very gracious to Thorer and invited him and his wife Gudrida and three of his companions to stay with him. The remainder of Thorer's men were accommodated elsewhere. In all, Leif rescued fifteen men from those rocks and for that noble deed he was known as Leif "the Lucky." In reality, Leif was not wealthy, but he had a good name and great influence among the people. In the following Winter they were attacked by an epidemic, which carried off Thorer and several of his men, as well as Erik the Red.