While Tropical America is separated from Europe and Africa by a vast
tract of intervening ocean, and even the advanced posts of the Azores and Cape
de Verde Islands are far distant from the western shores of the Atlantic, Iceland and
Greenland appear to us in the north as stations linking at comparatively easy distances
the Old World and the New. It is therefore not surprising that the discovery of
Iceland by the Norwegian Viking or pirate Nadod, and the somewhat
later colonisation of the island by Ingolf, in the year 875, should in the
following century have led the Norsemen to the discovery of America.
Discovery of Greenland by Gunnbjorn
Greenland, discovered by Gunnbjorn in the year 876
or 877, was indeed not colonised by the Icelanders
Three years after the latter date, we already find Bjorne Herjulfson
undertaking a cruise from the new settlement to the south-west, and successively
discovering Nantucket, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland without making any
attempts to land.
Bjorne was followed about the year 1000 by Leif, a
son of Erick the Red, the founder of the Greenland
colony; who, sailing along the American coast as far as 41,5
north lat. discovered the Winland, which received its name from
the wild wines which Tyrker, a German who accompanied
the expedition, found growing there in abundance.
The fertility and mild climate of this coast, when compared with that of Labrador
and Greenland, induced the discoverers to settle, and to found the first European
colony on the American continent. Frequent wars with the Eskimos
or Skrelingers (dwarfs), who at that time extended far more to the south than at
present, soon however destroyed the colony. The last account of Norman America
we find in the old Scandinavian records is the mention of a ship which, in the year 1347,
had sailed from Greenland to Markland (Nova Scotia) to gather wood, and
was driven by a storm to Stamfjord on the west coast of Iceland.
About this time also the colonies in Greenland, which until then had
enjoyed a tolerable phase of prosperity, decayed and ultimately perished because of
wars with the aborigines, and above all of the black death during years of 1347-1351.
That horrible plague of the fourteenth century, which, after having depopulated Europe,
vented its fury even upon those remote wilds.
The knowledge of the Norman discovery of America
gradually faded from the memory of man, and also the names and deeds of Leif
and Bjorne Herjulfson remained totally unknown to the southern
navigators, who at that time had little intercourse with the nations of Northern Europe.
John Vaz Cortereal
Besides his well-authenticated Norman predecessors, Columbus
may possibly have had others. Traces of early Irish and Welsh discoveries
are pointed out by the Northern historians. John Vaz Cortereal, a Portuguese
navigator, is said to have visited the coasts of Newfoundland some time previous to
the voyages of Columbus and Cabot.
Back to Maritime Discovery