The Norse Discovery of America, by A.M Reeves, N.L. Beamish and R.B. Anderson, , at sacred-texts.com
DISCOVERY AND COLONIZATION OF GREENLAND.
A. D. 985.
In presenting the historical evidences, and results that attended the independent investigations of Professors Reeves, Rafn and Beamish, there is necessarily much repetition, but it is nevertheless essential, because not only are the translations, in many instances, different, but the interpretations of text, and the conclusions reached therefrom are at times widely dissimilar. The importance of bringing the relations, arguments, and proofs of these distinguished authorities into apposition will, therefore, readily appear. The value of the submitted record from so many sources will be appreciated by those who have a sincere desire to know all the grounds upon which are based the claim that Norsemen discovered and made a settlement upon what are now America's shores as early as about the year 1000-3.
THE first important document that appears in Professor Rafn's collection, is the Saga or narrative of Erik the Red, the first settler in Greenland. This manuscript forms part of the celebrated Flatobogen, or Codex Flateyensis, and the language, construction and style of the narrative, together with other unerring indications, prove it to have been written in the 12th century.
Although the main object of the writer of this narrative appears to have been to enumerate the deeds and adventures of Erik and his sons, short accounts are also given of the discoveries of succeeding voyagers, the most distinguished of whom was Thorfinn Karlsefne; but as a more detailed narrative of the discoveries of this remarkable personage is contained in the manuscript entitled the Saga of Thorfinn Karlsefne, which is also translated, the
following selections are principally confined to the voyages of Erik and his immediate followers.
Thorvald hight (name) a man, a son of Osvald, a son of Ulf-Oxne-Thorersson. Thorvald and his son Erik the Red removed from Jæder 1 to Iceland, in consequence of murder. At that time was Iceland colonized wide around. 2 They lived at Drange on Hornstand; there died Thorvald. Erik then married Thorhild, the daughter of Jærunda and Thorbjorg Knarrarbringa, who afterwards married Thorbjorn of Haukadal.
Then went Erik northwards and lived at Erikstad near Vatshorn. The son of Erik and Thorhild hight Leif. But after Eyulf Soers and Rafn the duellists' murder, was Erik banished from Haukadal, and he removed westwards to Breidafjord, and lived at Oexney at Erikstad. He lent Thorgest his seat-posts, and could not get them back again; he then demanded them; upon this arose disputes and frays between him and Thorgest, as is told in Erik's saga. Styr Thorgrimson, Eyulf of Svinoe, and the sons of Brand of Alptafjord, and Thorbjorn Vifilson assisted Erik in this matter, but the sons of Thorgeller and Thorgeir of Hitardal stood by the Thorgestlingers. Erik was declared outlawed by the Thornesthing, and he then made ready his ship in Erik's creek, and when he was ready, Styr and the others followed him out past the islands.
[paragraph continues] Erik told them that he intended to go in search of the land, which Ulf Krages son Gunnbjorn saw, when he was driven out to the westward in the sea, the time when he found the rocks of Gunnbjorn. 1 He said he would come back to his friends if he found the land. Erik sailed out from Snæfellsjokul; he found land, and came in from the sea to the place which he called Midjokul; it is now hight Blaserkr. He then went southwards to see whether it was there habitable land. The first winter he was at Eriksey, nearly in the middle of the eastern settlement; the spring after repaired he to Eriksfjord, and took up there his abode. He removed in summer to the we-stern settlement, and gave to many places names. He was the second winter at Holm in Hrafnsgnipa, but the third summer went he to Iceland, and came with his ship into Breidafjord. He called the land which he had found Greenland, because, quoth he, "people will be attracted thither, if the land has a good name." Erik was in Iceland for the winter, but the summer after, went he to colonize the land; he dwelt at Brattahlid in Eriksfjord. Informed people say that the same summer Erik the Red went to colonize Greenland, thirty-five ships sailed from Breidafjord and Borgafjord, but only fourteen arrived; some were driven back, and others were lost. This was fifteen winters before Christianity was established by law in Iceland. The following men who went out with Eirik took land in Greenland: Herjulf took Herjulfsfjord (he lived at Herjulfsness), Ketil Ketilsfjord, Rafn Rafnsfjord,
[paragraph continues] Slve Slvedal, Helge Thorbrandsson Alptefjord, Thorbjornglora Siglefjord, Einar Einarsfjord, Hafgrim Hafgrimsfjord and Vatnahverf, Arnlaug Arnlaugsfjord, but some went to the western settlement.
A. D. 986.
Herjulf was the son of Bard Herjulfson; he was kinsman to the colonist Ingolf. To Herjulf gave Ingolf land between Vog and Reykjaness. Herjulf lived first at Drepstock; Thorgerd hight his wife, and Bjarne was their son, a very hopeful man. He conceived, when yet young, a desire to travel abroad, and soon earned for himself both riches and respect, and he was every second winter abroad, every other at home with his father. Soon possessed Bjarne his own ship, and the last winter be was in Norway, Herjulf prepared for a voyage to Greenland with Erik. In the ship with Herjulf was a Christian from the Hebrides, who made a hymn respecting the whirlpool, in which was the following verse:--
O thou who triest holy men!
Now guide me on my way,
Lord of the earth's wide vault, extend
Thy gracious hand to me!
Herjulf lived at Herjulfsness; he was a very respectable man. Erik the Red lived at Brattahlid; he was the most looked up to, and every one regulated themselves by him. These were Erik's children: Leif, Thorvald and Thorstein, but Freydis hight his daughter; she was married
to a man who Thorvard hight; they lived in Garde, where is now the Bishop's seat; she was very haughty, but Thorvard was narrow-minded; she was married to him chiefly on account of his money. Heathen were the people in Greenland at this time. Bjarne carne to Eyrar with his ship the summer of the same year in which his father had sailed away in spring. These tidings appeared serious to Bjarne, and he was unwilling to unload his ship. Then his seamen asked him what he would do; he answered that he intended to continue his custom, and pass the winter with his father; "and I will," said he, "bear for Greenland if ye will give me your company." All said that they would follow his counsel. Then said Bjarne: "Imprudent will appear our voyage since none of us has been in the Greenland ocean." However, they put to sea so soon as they were ready and sailed for three days, until the land was out of sight under the water; but then the fair wind fell, and there arose north winds and fogs, and they knew not where they were, and thus it continued for many days. After that saw they the sun again, and could discover the sky; they now made sail, and sailed for that day, before they saw land, and counselled with each other about what land that could be, and Bjarne said that he thought it could not be Greenland. They asked whether he wished to sail to this land or not. "My advice is," said he, "to sail close to the land;" and so they did, and soon saw that the land was without mountains, and covered with wood, and had small heights. Then left they the land or their larboard side, and let the stern turn from the land. Afterwards they
sailed two days before they saw another land. They asked if Bjarne thought that this was Greenland, but he said that he as little believed this to be Greenland as the other; "because in Greenland are said to be very high ice hills." They soon approached the land, and saw that it was a flat land covered with wood. Then the fair wind fell, and the sailors said that it seemed to them most advisable to land there; but Bjarne was unwilling to do so. They pretended that they were in want of both wood and water. "Ye have no want of either of the two," said Bjarne; for this, however, he met with some reproaches from the sailors. He bade them make sail, and so was done; they turned the prow from the land, and, sailing out into the open sea for three days, with a southwest wind, saw then the third land; and this land was high, and covered with mountains and ice-hills. Then asked they whether Bjarne would land there, but he said that he would not: "for to me this land appears little inviting." Therefore did they not lower the sails, but held on along this land, and saw that it was an island; again turned they the stern from the land, and sailed out into the sea with the same fair wind; but the breeze freshened, and Bjarne then told them to shorten sail, and not sail faster than their ship and ship's gear could hold out. They sailed now four days, when they saw the fourth land. Then asked they Bjarne whether he though that this was Greenland or not. Bjarne answered: "This is the most like Greenland, according to what I have been told about it, and here will we steer for land." So did they, and landed in the evening under a ness; and there was a boat by the
ness, and just here lived Bjarne's father, and from him has the ness taken its name, and is since called Herjulfsness. Bjarne now repaired to his father's, and gave up seafaring, and was with his father so long as Herjulf lived, and afterwards he dwelt there after his father.
Such is the simple detail of the first voyage of the Northmen to the western hemisphere, and Professor Rafn shews that there are sufficient data in the ancient Icelandic geographical works to determine the position of the various coasts and headlands thus discovered by Bjarne Herjulfson. A day's sail was estimated by the Northmen at from twenty-seven to thirty geographical miles, and the knowledge of this fact, together with that of the direction of the wind, the course steered, the appearance of the shores, and other details contained in the narrative itself, together with the more minute description of the same lands given by succeeding voyagers,--leave no doubt that the countries thus discovered by Bjarne Herjulfson, were Connecticut, Long Island, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland, and the date of the expedition is determined by the passage in the preliminary narrative which fixes the period of Herjulf's settlement at Herjulfsness in Iceland.
It may, perhaps, be urged in disparagement of these discoveries that they were accidental,--that Bjarne Herjulfson set out in search of Greenland, and fell in with the eastern coast of North America; but so it was, also, with Columbus.--The sanguine and skilful Genoese navigator set sail in quest of Asia, and discovered the West Indies; even when in his last voyage, he did reach the eastern shore of Central America, he still believed it to be Asia, and continued under that impression to the day of his
death 1. Besides, how different were the circumstances under which the two voyages were made? The Northmen, without compass or quadrant, without any of the advantages of science, geographical knowledge, personal experience, or previous discoveries,--without the support of either kings or governments,--which Columbus, however discouraged at the outset, eventually obtained,--but guided by the stars, and upheld by their own private resources, and a spirit of adventure which no dangers could deter--cross the broad northern ocean, and explore these distant lands! Columbus, on the other hand, went forth with all the advantages of that grand career of modern discovery which had been commenced in the preceding century, and which, under Prince Henry of Portugal, had been pushed forward to an eminent position in the period immediately preceding his first voyage.
The compass had been discovered and brought into general use; maps and charts had been constructed; astronomical and geographical science had become more diffused, and the discoveries of the African coast from Cape Blanco to Cape de Verde, together with the Cape de Verde and Azore Islands, had produced a general excitement amongst all who were in any way connected with a maritime life, and filled their minds with brilliant images of fairer islands and more wealthy shores amidst the boundless waters of
the Atlantic. It should also be recollected that Columbus ever ready to gather information from veteran mariners, had heard of land seen far to the west of Ireland and of the island of Madeira; had been assured that, four hundred and fifty leagues east of Cape St. Vincent, carved wood, not cut with iron instruments, had been found in the sea, and that a similar fragment, together with reeds of an immense size, had drifted to Porto Santo from the west: added to this, was the fact of huge pine trees, of unknown species, having been wafted by westerly winds to the Azores, and human bodies of wondrous form and feature cast upon the island of Flores. Nor should it be forgotten that Columbus visited Iceland in 1477, 1 when, having had access to the archives of the island, and ample opportunity of conversing with the learned there, through the medium of the Latin language, he might easily have obtained a complete knowledge of the discoveries of the Northmen, sufficient at least to confirm his belief in the existence of a western continent. How much the discoveries of the distinguished Genoese navigator were exceeded by those of the Northmen, will appear from the following narratives.
192:1 S. W. coast of Norway.
192:2 Iceland was colonized by Ingolf, a Norwegian, in 874. The discovery of the island has been erroneously given to Nadodd in 862, but Finn Magnusen and Rafn have shewn that it had been previously visited by Gardar, a Dane of Swedish descent about the year 860, and was first called Gardarsholm (Gardar's island), nor can the arrival of Nadodd, who called it Sneeland (Snowland) be fixed at an earlier period than 864. But both the Norwegian and Swedo-Dane must give place to the Irish monks, who, it will be shewn, visited and resided in Iceland sixty-five years before the discovery of Gardar.
193:1 Gunnbjarnasker, stated by Bjorn Johnson to have been about midway between Iceland and Greenland, but now concealed, or rendered inaccessible by the descent of Arctic ice.
198:1 "With all the visionary fervour of his imagination, its fondest dreams fell short of reality. He died in ignorance of the real grandeur of his discovery. Until his last breath, he entertained the idea that he had merely opened a new way to the old resorts of opulent commerce, and had discovered some of the wild regions of the East. He supposed Hispaniola to be the ancient Ophir, which had been visited by the ships of King Solomon, and that Cuba and Terra Firma were but remote parts of Asia." Irving's Columbus, Fam. Lib. No. XI, p. 359.
"He imagined that the vast stream of fresh water which poured into the gulf of Paria, issued from the fountain of the tree of life, in the midst of the Garden of Eden."--Ib. p. 219.
"He fancied that he had actually arrived at the Aurea Chersonesus, from whence, according to Josephus, the gold had been procured for the building of the Temple of Jerusalem. "--Ib. p. 291.
199:1 "While the design of attempting the discovery in the west was maturing in the mind of Columbus, he made a voyage to the northern seas, to the island of Thule, to which the English navigators, particularly those of Bristol, were accustomed to resort on account of its fishery. He even advanced, he says, one hundred leagues beyond, penetrated the polar circle, and convinced himself of the fallacy of the popular belief, that the frozen zone was uninhabitable. The island thus mentioned by him as Thule is generally supposed to have been Iceland."