Exploration and Settlement

The Vikings

Were the Vikings the first Europeans to reach North America?

It is believed that the sea-faring Norsemen, who are alternately called the Vikings, were in fact the first Europeans to see the Western Hemisphere (North and South America and the surrounding waters). Norwegian-born Leif Ericsson (c. 970–c. 1020) is generally credited with having been the first European to set foot on North American soil. Ericsson was the son of navigator Erik the Red, who founded a Norse settlement in Greenland and moved his family there in 985 or 986. About that same time another Norseman, Bjarni Herjolfsson, who was driven off course on his way from Iceland to Greenland, became the first European to sight North America, but he did not go ashore. It is believed that Ericsson decided he would follow up on Herjolfsson’s discovery. About 1001 Ericsson set out from Greenland with a crew of 35 men and probably landed on the southern end of Baffin Island, due north of the province of Quebec. The expedition likely made it to Labrador, Newfoundland (on the northeastern North American mainland), and later landed on the coast of what is today Nova Scotia or Newfoundland, Canada; this landfall may have been at L’Anse aux Meadows (on Newfoundland Island). Ericsson and his crew spent the winter of 1001–02 at a place he called Vinland, which was described as well wooded and produced fruit, especially grapes. He returned to Greenland in the spring of 1002.

The first authenticated European landing in North America was in 1500 when Portuguese navigator Gaspar de Côrte-Real (c. 1450–c. 1501) explored the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland. A year later, he made a second trip to North America but never returned home. In 1502 his brother Miguel went out in search of him; neither returned.


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