Leif Eriksson biography
The second son of Erik the Red, Leif Eriksson was on his way back home to Greenland, where Norway's King Olaf I had sent him to Christianize the natives, when he sailed off course and landed at what is now Nova Scotia, which he called Vinland. This account comes from the Icelandic Eiríks saga. Another account, the Groenlendinga saga, says he learned of Vinland from an Icelandic trader who had been there 14 years earlier. Regardless, Eriksson never colonized the land he discovered, and he would never return to it once he headed back to Greenland after the winter was over.
Leif Eriksson was a Norse explorer born shortly before 1000 A.D. Exploration was apparently in his family blood, as he was the second of three sons of Erik the Red, who was the founder of the first European settlement on what is now Greenland. Eriksson's story has been told in several accounts, but the veracity of any of them is not easily ascertained.
North America Awaits
By most accounts, Eriksson sailed from Greenland to Norway in 1000 and converted to Christianity under the guidance of the Norwegian king Olaf I Tryggvason.
The following year, Olaf commissioned Eriksson to proselytize across Greenland and spread Christianity to the settlers there. Eriksson made it to Greenland but, as one retelling has it, his ships went off course on the return voyage home, finding dry ground at last on the North American continent. What is now Nova Scotia is most likely where he disembarked, and he named this new land Vinland (perhaps because of the wild grapes his landing party saw there). Other accounts suggest that Eriksson had heard about "Vinland" from other seamen who had been there over a decade before, perhaps traders, and he headed there on purpose.
Whatever his motive (or lack thereof), he is generally regarded as the first European to set foot on the shores of North America, nearly five centuries before Christopher Columbus would arrive in 1492. According to 13th and 14th century Icelandic accounts of his life, and others that would follow, Eriksson was certainly a member of an early Viking voyage to North America, if not in fact the leader of that first expedition.
Return to Greenland and Legacy
Eriksson never colonized the region, however, and he left at the end of the winter and never returned. (Thorvald, one of Leif Eriksson's brothers, later revisited Vinland, as did the Icelander Thorfinn Karlsefni.) Back home in Greenland, Eriksson spent his efforts spreading Christianity. His mother became an early convert and built Greenland's first Christian church, at Brattahlid.
The exact location of Vinland is not known, but in 1963, ruins of a Viking-type settlement were discovered at L'Anse-aux-Meadows, in northern Newfoundland. The site has been labeled the oldest European settlement in North America, and more than 2,000 Viking objects have been recovered from it.