Leif Erikson, Viking explorer
The best-known Viking to have set foot in America was Leif Erikson who did so in about 1000 AD. Leif was the son of another Viking explorer, Erik the Red (Leif’s surname is “Erik’s son.”) Leif was thought to have been born in Iceland in about 960 AD.
Leif described his point of arrival in America, according to The Saga of the Greenlanders, as a location where “a river flowed out of a lake” and where the streams teemed with salmon and there was plenty of timber for building dwellings. He also described lush pastureland for livestock and a climate so mild that the grass stayed green even in the winter.
Leif was not the first Viking to know about America. According to Icelandic sagas written in the 12th and 13th centuries (but based on much earlier oral tradition), in about 985 Bjarni Herjolfsson, a Norse settler in Greenland, was blown off course and sighted a continent west of Greenland, but he did not go ashore. Leif had learned about America from Bjarni. Leif later purchased Bjarni’s boat for his adventures to America. Leif had converted to Christianity before he set sail for America.
Statue of Leif Erikson at the State Capital Building, St. Paul, MN.