Everyone credits explorer Christopher Columbus with discovering the Americas, but did you know that Leif Ericson was actually the very first European to have discovered North America, a full 500 years earlier?
Leif Ericson was a Norse explorer, born in Iceland around 970. His father, Erik the Red, was also a keen explorer and also an outlaw, banished to Greenland, where he established the very first community there.
Leif and his crew journeyed to ‘Vinland’ which is the old name given to North America by the Norse Vikings. Archaeological surveys have proven that the Vikings ‘discovered’ North America around the year 1000, specifically Baffin Island and Labrador, which is nearly five hundred years earlier than the journey made by Christopher Columbus in 1492.
Leif Ericson Day: 9 October
Leif Ericson is widely credited as the very first person to bring Europeans to North America. And each year on 9 October the USA celebrates ‘Leif Ericson Day’, although it is not a federal holiday.
In 1925 President Calvin Coolidge officially recognised Leif Ericson as the ‘Discoverer of America’ after overwhelming research. In 1930, the state of Wisconsin became the first to mark an official state holiday for Leif Ericson. Minnesota followed in 1931 and a total of seven states had adopted the holiday by 1956. Just last year, Las Vegas also decided to make the holiday official.
Curiously the 9th of October has no relevance to Leif Ericson’s life or achievements. Rather it marks the date that the ship ‘Restauration’ docked in New York after sailing from Stavanger in Norway. It docked on 9 October in 1925 and the events is regarded historically as the beginnings of organised immigration into the USA from Scandinavia to the USA.
The Voyages of both Ericson and other Norse travellers were widely circulated around Europe and it’s believed that knowledge of the specific sighting of Vinland by Ericson spread around medieval Europe. These stories remained popular for centuries and may have even inspired Christopher Columbus. He claims to have visited Iceland in 1477 and heard the local folklore surrounding Leif Ericson and his achievements.
Image credit; Mulad