Leif Erikson was the son of Erik the Red, founder of the first European settlement on what is now called Greenland. Around A.D. 1000, Erikson sailed to Norway, where King Olaf I converted him to Christianity. According to one school of thought, Erikson sailed off course on his way back to Greenland and landed on the North American continent, where he explored a region he called Vinland. He may also have sought out Vinland based on stories of an earlier voyage by an Icelandic trader. After spending the winter in Vinland, Leif sailed back to Greenland, and never returned to North American shores. He is generally believed to be the first European to reach the North American continent, nearly four centuries before Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492.
Leif Erikson’s Early Life and Conversion to Christianity
Leif Erikson (spelling variations include Eiriksson, Erikson or Ericson), known as “Leif the Lucky,” was the second of three sons of the famed Norse explorer Erik the Red, who established a settlement in Greenland after being expelled from Iceland around A.D. 980. The date of Leif Erikson’s birth is uncertain, but he is believed to have grown up in Greenland. According to the 13th-century Icelandic Eiriks saga (or “Saga of Erik the Red”), Erikson sailed from Greenland to Norway around 1000. On the way, he was believed to have stopped in the Hebrides, where he had a son, Thorgils, with Thorgunna, daughter of a local chief. In Norway, King Olaf I Tryggvason converted Erikson to Christianity, and a year later sent him back to Greenland with a commission to spread the faith among the settlers there.