500 years before Christopher Columbus set foot on the Americas, Icelandic explorer, Leif Erikson had reached in modern day Newfoundland in Canada.
Leif Erikson was a Norse explorer from Iceland, and the first known European to have discovered continental North America (excluding Greenland).
Life of Leif Erikson
In old Norse, he’s Leifr Eiriksson, in Icelandic he’s Leifur Eiriksson, in Norwegian he’s Leiv Eiriksson.
Leif is from Norwegian blood, but born in Iceland (around 970 CE). He was the second of three sons of Erik the Red who was the founder of the first Norse settlement in Greenland and Thjodhild. Both Erik the Red and Leif’s Grandfather spent a lot of their time in Norway and eventually Greenland.
Erik the Red first moved to Iceland but was banished for three years, during which time he moved on to Greenland, where the young Leif was born.
The young Leif grew up in a superstitious family, his father having been banished for similar reasons. In Iceland, his father (Erik the Red) had been so superstitious that he helped to start a landslide and killing some people, convinced that their father had stolen some magical beans that belonged to him.
Leif’s lineage seemed to be of banishing. It wasn’t only Leif’s father who was ever banished, but also his Grandfather- Thorvald Asvaldsson, who was in the first place banished from Norway for manslaughter.
Leif Erikson was thus born and grew up in Greenland. He went on to become a great sailsman- Viking, having learned many skills from a great friend and fellow Viking, Bjarni. Having heard a lot of great tales from Bjarni, he bought his ship off of him and set off in the direction of the mysterious Newland.
His father did not join his crew, after falling off his horse on his way to board the ship that was about to start its North America expedition. His father took it as a bad omen, and chose to stay behind. Leif and his crew however continued on their journey.
They first landed on a rocky island which he later called “Helluland” (Baffin Island today). From here they headed straight to a place he later called “Markland” (Labrador today), before venturing to his Vinland.
Erik’s bad omen a side, Leif and his crew stayed in Vinland for a winter before returning to Greenland in the spring.
Leif later died in 1020 CE, and is considered the very first European to ever set foot on the Americas.
This however to many, sharply contrasts the widely accepted belief that Christopher Columbus, instead was the first European to set foot on the American soil.
However, it should clearly be understood that Leif’s story happened 500 years, even before Columbus ever set foot on any ship. Archeologists have also found evidence of the Viking settlements in North America, and dating back to the same period of time when Leif and his colleagues first landed on America.
Life of Christopher Columbus
Columbus was born in 1451 Genoa Italy. He however spent most of his adult life in Spain where he lived under the auspices of the Catholic Monarchs.
Being an explorer though, life wasn’t easy for Columbus. He spent nearly a decade lobbying European monarchies to bankroll his quest to discover a western sea route to Asia. He lobbied Portugal, England and France with no success. He said his calculations were wrong and that the voyage would take much longer than he thought.
Even Royal advisors in Spain raised similar concerns to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, but luckily for Columbus who it turns out indeed underestimated the earth’s circumference and size of the ocean, he unknowingly ran into the uncharted Americas, thinking he had successfully landed in Asia.
This was in October 12, 1492, and little did he know that he had set foot on the fine white sand of an Island in the Caribbean which he was later to name Hispaniola.
Columbus never admitted he had reached a continent previously unknown to Europeans, rather than the East Indies for which he had set course. He called the inhabitants of the land which he visited Indios (Spanish for “Indians”).
Columbus governance of Hispaniola could be brutal and tyrannical. Native islanders who did not collect enough Gold would have their hands cutoff and rebel Spanish colonists were executed at the gallows. Colonists complained to the monarchy about mismanagement, and a royal commissioner who was dispatched to Hispaniola, arrested Columbus in August 1500 and brought him back to Spain. Although Columbus was stripped of his governorship, King Ferdinand granted the explorer his freedom.
Christopher Columbus later died in 1506 and was buried in Valladolid in Spain and then moved to Seville. But later at the request of his daughter in- law, the bodies of Columbus and his son Diego were shipped across the Atlantic to Hispaniola and interred in a Santo Domingo Cathedral.