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THE NORTHMEN IN AMERICA.
CH A P I ER I.
ANCIENT ABORIGINAL RACES.—THE SCANDINAVIAN VOYAGER 8.
- DISCOVERY OF ICELAND. - EIREK TIE RED. - DISCOVERY AND I
HIS DEATH.-ATTEMPT OF THORSTEIN.
The history of those ancient races, which, before the coming of Europeans, for immemorial ages, inhabited our continent, is, for the most part, at this day dissolved in vague tradition, or locked up in inscrutable hieroglyphic. Excepting the two great semi-civilized empires of Mexico and Peru, (to be noticed in their appropriate place,) scarcely a record has survived of the nations, once so numerous and powerful, which, from limited but certain evidence, are known to have existed in the Western World. They “died and made no sign,” beyond rude and massive erections, the character of which might assign them to almost any race, that, after partially climbing the steep of civilization, has, from gradual decay or sudden destruction, lapsed into barbarism or vanished altogether. Occasional glimpses, as we proceed, will be caught of the monuments and traditions of these long.vanished communities; but the true history of the American continent may be said to date from the first arrival on its shores of European discoverers.
That arrival, for several centuries strangely ignored by the historical world, was much earlier than has been commonly supposed. By
manuscripts of unquestioned authenticity, by the most perfect consistence and coincidence of details, and by a host of corroborative facts, it has been made evident that the American continent, five centuries before the memorable voyage of Columbus, was discovered and frequently visited by men of European race. Without delaying to cite authorities or adduce evidence on a matter so fully elucidated by others, we shall proceed briefly to present the facts as accepted by the most exact and scrupulous antiquarians of our day.
Nine hundred years ago, the mariners of the Scandinavian penin sula were the most daring, skilful, and successful of their age. Their voyages, distinguished by a strange mixture of commerce, piracy, and discovery, added no little to the geographical knowledge of their day. In the year 861, they discovered Iceland, and, fourteen years afterwards, planted a colony there. The main stepping-stone to America thus gained, a century elapsed before any further progress was made in a western direction. At the end of that time, a Norwegian named Thorvald, with his son, the famous Eirek the Red, flying their country on account of homicide, took refuge in Iceland. Here Thorvald died, and Eirek, his hands again imbued with blood, was forced again to take refuge on the high seas. He sailed westward, in quest of certain islands, * and ere long fell in with the shores of Greenland (982). Coasting to its southern extremity, he selected the site for a colony at a harbour which he called Eireksfiord (Eirek's creek). He then returned to Iceland, and by his inviting descriptions of the newly-found land, (which he called Greenland) induced great numbers to join him in his projected settlement. With twentyfive vessels, in 985, he again set sail, but on account of foul weather, only eleven reached the destined harbour. A flourishing colony was soon established, and as it increased in numbers, fresh explorations, rivalling, and, considering the means, surpassing modern enterprise, were made in the icy seas of the Arctic regions. The monuments of these ancient explorers have been found as far north as latitude 73°, and it is supposed that their surveys extended much farther.
One Heriulf, a person of consideration, had sailed with Eirek in his second expedition. His son, named Biarni, was absent in Norway at the time, and on his return to Iceland, found that his father had departed for the newly-discovered region. He was a man of great courage and enterprise, and, vowing that he would spend the
* “The rocks of Gunnbiorn”-lost, for nine hundred years, to geography, and only recovered by a recent expedition.
winter with his father, as he had always done, set forth to find the little settlement on the unknown shores of Greenland. A northeast gale sprung up, and for many days he was driven before it, without seeing land. At last he fell in with a coast in the west, wooded and somewhat hilly. No landing was made, and the anxious mariners, sailing for two days to the north ward, found another land, low and level, and overgrown with woods. Not recognizing the mountains and the icebergs which he expected to find, Biarni, with a south-west wind, for three days more sailed northerly. He then came upon a great island, with high mountains and much ice, but made no attempt to land on its desolate and forbidding shores. Four days more, driven before a violent wind from the south-west, he continued his voyage to higher latitudes, and at the end of that time, by a piece of singular good fortune, chanced to light on the very location of the Icelandic settlement.
From the internal evidence afforded by the dates and the courses of this remarkable voyage, as well as from the corroboration of subsequent expeditions, it would appear that these tempest-driven mariners, long scudding before a north-east gale, yet heading to the westward as much as possible, finally brought up somewhere on the shores of New England. The first land seen, judging from the descriptions, was probably Nantucket or Cape Cod. Two-days' sailing would easily bring them to the level and forest-covered shores of Nova Scotia, and three more to the bleak and precipitous coast of Newfoundland. From that island to the southern extremity of Greenland, the distance is but six hundred miles, which a vessel, running before a favourable gale, might readily accomplish within the given time. To no other region of coast in the vicinity of Greenland will the dates and descriptions so accurately apply, and little doubt can exist that America, by this accidental voyage, was first laid open to men of European race.
About ten years afterwards, Biarni made a voyage to Norway, where the account of his discoveries excited much interest; and when Leif the son of Eric, four years later, went to the court of Olaf Tryggvason, king of that country, he heard the adventurer much blamed for neglecting to prosecute his discoveries. Stimulated by these conferences, he resolved to attempt a voyage in quest of the new lands; and having received baptism with all his crew, returned to Greenland, bearing with him the germ of northern Chris. tianity, and the spirit of enterprise and discovery.