America's First Immigrants

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Voyages to Vinland (c. 1000)
Vol. 43, pp. 14-20 of The Harvard Classics

The shadow of a phantom cast upon the cradle of Snorri, the first white child born in America, was a warning of an Indian attack on the settlement of courageous Norsemen who had risked the terrors of unknown seas to visit "Wineland."

Of the Wineland Voyages of Thorfinn and His Companions

  THAT same summer a ship came from Norway to Greenland. The skipper’s name was Thorfinn Karlsefni. He was a son of Thord Horsehead, and a grandson of Snorri, the son of Thord of Hofdi. Thorfinn Karlsefni, who was a very wealthy man, passed the winter at Brattahlid with Leif Ericsson. He very soon set his heart upon Gudrid, and sought her hand in marriage. She referred him to Leif for her answer, and was subsequently betrothed to him; and their marriage was celebrated that same winter. A renewed discussion arose concerning a Wineland voyage; and the folk urged Karlsefni to make the venture, Gudrid joining with the others. He determined to undertake the voyage, and assembled a company of sixty men and five women, and entered into an agreement with his shipmates that they should each share equally in all the spoils of the enterprise. They took with them all kinds of cattle, as it was their intention to settle the country, if they could. Karlsefni asked Leif for the house in Wineland; and he replied that he would lend it, but not give it. They sailed out to sea with the ship, and arrived safe and sound at Leifs-booths, and carried their hammocks ashore there. They were soon provided with an abundant and goodly supply of food; for a whale of good size and quality was driven ashore there, and they secured it, and flensed it, and had then no lack of provisions. The cattle were turned out upon the land, and the males soon became very restless and vicious: they had brought a bull with them. Karlsefni caused trees to be felled and to be hewed into timbers wherewith to load his ship, and the wood was placed upon a cliff to dry. They gathered somewhat of all of the valuable products of the land,—grapes, and all kinds of game and fish, and other good things. In the summer succeeding the first winter Skrellings were discovered. A great troop of men came forth from out the woods. The cattle were hard by, and the bull began to bellow and roar with a great noise, whereat the Skrellings were frightened, and ran away with their packs, wherein were gray furs, sables, and all kinds of peltries. They fled towards Karlsefni’s dwelling, and sought to effect an entrance into the house; but Karlsefni caused the doors to be defended [against them]. Neither [people] could understand the other’s language. The Skrellings put down their bundles then, and loosed them, and offered their wares [for barter], and were especially anxious to exchange these for weapons; but Karlsefni forbade his men to sell their weapons, and, taking counsel with himself, he bade the women carry out milk to the Skrellings, which they no sooner saw than they wanted to buy it, and nothing else. Now the outcome of the Skrellings’ trading was that they carried their wares away in their stomachs, while they left their packs and peltries behind with Karlsefni and his companions, and, having accomplished this [exchange], they went away. Now it is to be told that Karlsefni caused a strong wooden palisade to be constructed and set up around the house. It was at this time that Gudrid, Karlsefni’s wife, gave birth to a male child, and the boy was called Snorri. In the early part of the second winter the Skrellings came to them again, and these were now much more numerous than before, and brought with them the same wares as at first. Then said Karlsefni to the women, “Do ye carry out now the same food which proved so profitable before, and nought else.” When they saw this, they cast their packs in over the palisade. Gudrid was sitting within, in the doorway, beside the cradle of her infant son, Snorri, when a shadow fell upon the door, and a woman in a black namkirtle entered. She was short in stature, and wore a fillet about her head; her hair was of a light chestnut color, and she was pale of hue, and so big-eyed that never before had eyes so large been seen in a human skull. She went up to where Gudrid was seated, and said, “What is thy name?” “My name is Gudrid, but what is thy name?” “My name is Gudrid,” says she. The housewife Gudrid motioned her with her hand to a seat beside her; but it so happened that at that very instant Gudrid heard a great crash, whereupon the woman vanished, and at that same moment one of the Skrellings, who had tried to seize their weapons, was killed by one of Karlsefni’s followers. At this the Skrellings fled precipitately, leaving their garments and wares behind them; and not a soul, save Gudrid alone, beheld this woman. “Now we must needs takes counsel together,” says Karlsefni; “for that I believe they will visit us a third time in great numbers, and attack us. Let us now adopt this plan. Ten of our number shall go out upon the cape, and show themselves there; while the remainder of our company shall go into the woods and hew a clearing for our cattle, when the troop approaches from the forest. We will also take our bull, and let him go in advance of us.” The lie of the land was such that the proposed meeting-place had the lake upon the one side and the forest upon the other. Karlsefni’s advice was now carried into execution. The Skrellings advanced to the spot which Karlsefni had selected for the encounter; and a battle was fought there, in which great numbers of the band of the Skrellings were slain. There was one man among the Skrellings, of large size and fine bearing, whom Karlsefni concluded must be their chief. One of the Skrellings picked up an axe; and, having looked at it for a time, he brandished it about one of his companions, and hewed at him, and on the instant the man fell dead. Thereupon the big man seized the axe; and, after examining it for a moment, he hurled it as far as he could out into the sea. Then they fled helter skelter into the woods, and thus their intercourse came to an end. Karlsefni and his party remained there throughout the winter; but in the spring Karlsefni announces that he is not minded to remain there longer, but will return to Greenland. They now made ready for the voyage, and carried away with them much booty in vines and grapes and peltries. They sailed out upon the high seas, and brought their ship safely to Ericsfirth, where they remained during the winter.

Freydis Causes the Brothers to be Put to Death

  THERE was now much talk about a Wineland voyage, for this was reckoned both a profitable and an honorable enterprise. The same summer that Karlsefni arrived from Wineland a ship from Norway arrived in Greenland. This ship was commanded by two brothers, Helgi and Finnbogi, who passed the winter in Greenland. They were descended from an Icelandic family of the East-firths. It is now to be added that Freydis, Eric’s daughter, set out from her home at Gardar, and waited upon the brothers, Helgi and Finnbogi, and invited them to sail with their vessel to Wineland, and to share with her equally all of the good things which they might succeed in obtaining there. To this they agreed, and she departed thence to visit her brother, Leif, and ask him to give her the house which he had caused to be erected in Wineland; but he made her the same answer [as that which he had given Karlsefni], saying that he would lend the house, but not give it. It was stipulated between Karlsefni and Freydis that each should have on ship-board thirty able-bodied men, besides the women; nut Freydis immediately violated this compact by concealing five men more [than this number], and this the brothers did not discover before they arrived in Wineland, they now put out to sea, having agreed beforehand that they would sail in company, if possible, and, although they were not far apart from each other, the brothers, arrived somewhat in advance, and carried their belongings up to Leif’s house. Now, when Freydis arrived, her ship was discharged and the baggage carried up to the house, whereupon Freydis exclaimed, “Why did you carry your baggage in here?” “Since we believed,” said they, “that all promises made to us would be kept.” “It was to me that Leif loaned the house,” says she, “and not to you.” Whereupon Helgi exclaimed, “We brothers cannot hope to rival thee in wrong dealing.” They thereupon carried their baggage forth, and built a hut, above the sea, on the bank of the lake, and put all in order about it; while Freydis caused wood to be felled, with which to load her ship. The winter now set in, and the brothers suggested that they should amuse themselves by playing games. This they did for a time, until the folk began to disagree, when dissensions arose between them, and the games came to an end, and the visits between the houses ceased; and thus it continued far into the winter. One morning early Freydis arose from her bed and dressed herself, but did not put on her shoes and stockings. A heavy dew had fallen, and she took her husband’s cloak, and wrapped it about her, and then walked to the brothers’ house, and up to the door, which had been only partly closed by one of the men, who had gone out a short time before. She pushed the door open, and stood silently in the doorway for a time. Finnbogi, who was lying on the innermost side of the room, was awake, and said, “What dost thou wish here, Freydis?” She answers, “I wish thee to rise and go out with me, for I would speak with thee.” He did so; and they walked to a tree, which lay close by the wall of the house, and seated themselves upon it. “How art thou pleased here?” says she. He answers, “I am well pleased with the fruitfulness of the land; but I am ill-content with the breach which has come between us, for, methinks, there has been no cause for it.” “It is even as thou sayest,” says she, “and so it seems to me; but my errand to thee is that I wish to exchange ships with you brothers, for that ye have a larger ship than I, and I wish to depart from here.” “To this I must accede,” says he, “if it is thy pleasure.” Therewith they parted; and she returned home and Finnbogi to his bed. She climbed up into bed, and awakened Thorvard with her cold feet; and he asked her why she was so cold and wet. She answered with great passion: “I have been to the brothers,” says she, “to try to buy their ship, for I wished to have a larger vessel; but they received my overtures so ill that they struck me and handled me very roughly; what time thou, poor wretch, wilt neither avenge my shame nor thy own; and I find, perforce, that I am no longer in Greenland. Moreover I shall part from thee unless thou wreakest vengeance for this.” And now he could stand her taunts no longer, and ordered the men to rise at once and take their weapons; and this they yield. And they then proceeded directly to the house of the brothers, and entered it while the folk were asleep, and seized and bound them, and led each one out when he was bound; and, as they came out, Freydis caused each one to be slain. In this wise all of the men were put to death, and only the women were left; and these no one would kill. At this Freydis exclaimed, “Hand me an axe.” This was done; and she fell upon the five women, and left them dead. They returned home after this dreadful deed; and it was very evident that Freydis was well content with her work. She addressed her companions, saying, “If it be ordained for us to come again to Greenland, I shall contrive the death of any man who shall speak of these events. We must give it out that we left them living here when we came away.” Early in the spring they equipped the ship which had belonged to the brothers, and freighted it with all of the products of the land which they could obtain, and which the ship would carry. Then they put out to sea, and after a prosperous voyage arrived with their ship in Ericsfirth early in the summer. Karlsefni was there, with his ship all ready to sail, and was awaiting a fair wind; and people say that a ship richer laden than that which he commanded never left Greenland.

Concerning Freydis

  FREYDIS now went to her home, since it had remained unharmed during her absence. She bestowed liberal gifts upon all of her companions, for she was anxious to screen her guilt. She now established herself at her home; but her companions were not all so close-mouthed concerning their misdeeds and wickedness that rumors did not get abroad at last. These finally reached her brother, Leif, and he thought it a most shameful story. He thereupon took three of the men, who had been of Freydis’ party, and forced them all at the same time to a confession of the affair, and their stories entirely agreed. “I have no heart,” says Leif, “to punish my sister, Freydis, as she deserves, but this I predict of them, that there is little prosperity in store for their offspring.” Hence it came to pass that no one from that time forward thought them worthy of aught but evil. It now remains to take up the story from the time when Karlsefni made his ship ready, and sailed out to sea. He had a successful voyage, and arrived in Norway safe and sound. He remained there during the winter, and sold his wares; and both he and his wife were received with great favor by the most distinguished men of Norway. The following spring he put his ship in order for the voyage to Iceland; and when all his preparations had been made, and his ship was lying at the wharf, awaiting favorable winds, there came to him a Southerner, a native of Bremen in the Saxonland, who wished to buy his “house-neat.” “I do not wish to sell it,” says he. “I will give thee half a ‘mork’ in gold for it,” says the Southerner. This Karlsefni thought a good offer, and accordingly closed the bargain. The Southerner went his way with the “house-neat,” and Karlsefni knew not what wood it was, but it was “mösur,” come from Wineland.

  Karlsefni sailed away, and arrived with his ship in the north of Iceland, in Skagafirth. His vessel was beached there during the winter, and in the spring he bought Glaumboeiar-land, and made his home there, and dwelt there as long as he lived, and was a man of the greatest prominence. From his and his wife, Gudrid, a numerous and goodly lineage is descended. After Karlsefni’s death Gudrid, together with her son Snorri, who was born in Wineland, took charge of the farmstead; and, when Snorri was married, Gudrid went abroad, and made a pilgrimage to the South, after which she returned again to the home of her son Snorri, who had caused a church to be built at Glaumboeiar. Gudrid then took the veil and became an anchorite, and lived there the rest of her days. Snorri had a son, named Thorgeir, who was the father of Ingveld, the mother of Bishop Brand. Hallfrid was the name of the daughter of Snorri, Karlsefni’s son: she was the mother of Runolf, Bishop Thorlak’s father. Biorn was the name of [another] son of Karlsefni and Gudrid: he was the father of Thorunn, the mother of Bishop Biorn. Many men are descended from Karlsefni, and he has been blessed with a numerous and famous posterity; and of all men Karlsefni has given the most exact accounts of all these voyages, of which something has now been recounted.


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