About Leif "The Lucky" Eriksson
Leif Ericson (Old Norse: Leifr Eiríksson) (c. 970 – c. 1020) was a Norse explorer who is regarded as the first European to land in North America (excluding Greenland), nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus. According to the Sagas of Icelanders, he established a Norse settlement at Vinland, which has been tentatively identified with the L'Anse aux Meadows Norse site on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.
It is believed that Leif was born about AD 970 in Iceland, the son of Erik Thorvaldsson, known as Erik the Red (Old Norse: Eiríkr inn rauði), a Norse explorer from Western Norway, an outlaw and himself the son of an outlaw, Thorvald Asvaldsson. Leif's mother was Thjodhild (Þjóðhildr). Erik the Red founded two Norse colonies in Greenland, the Western Settlement and the Eastern Settlement, as he named them. In both Eiríks saga rauða and Landnáma, Leif's father is said to have met and married Leif's mother Thjodhild in Iceland; the site of Leif's birth is not known.
Leif Ericson had two brothers, Thorvald and Thorsteinn, and one half sister, Freydís. He married a woman named Thorgunna, and they had one son, Thorkell Leifsson.
Exploring west of Greenland
During a stay in Norway, Leif converted to Christianity, like many Norse of that time, at the behest of the King of Norway, Olaf I. When he returned to Greenland, he bought Bjarni Herjólfsson's boat and set out with 35 men to explore the land that Bjarni had seen to the west of Greenland, which was likely coastal Canada.
The Saga of the Greenlanders tells that Leif set out in the year 1002 or 1003 to follow Bjarni's route with 35 crew members, but going north.
The first land he went to was covered with flat rocks (Old Norse hella). He therefore called it Helluland ("Land of the Flat Stones"). This was possibly Baffin Island. Next he came to a land that was flat and wooded, with white sandy beaches. He called this Markland ("Wood-land"), which is possibly Labrador.
Settlement in Vinland
Discovery of America: Leif Erikson
Leif and his crew left Markland and again found land, which they named Vinland. They landed and built a small settlement which they called Leifsbúdir, meaning Leif's storage houses, suggesting the settlement was temporary. They found the area pleasant as there were wild grapes and plenty of salmon in the river. The climate was mild, with little frost in the winter and green grass year-round. They remained in the region over the winter and returned to Greenland in spring carrying a cargo of timber.
On the return voyage, Leif rescued an Icelandic castaway named Þórir and his crew – an incident that earned Leif the nickname Leif the Lucky (Old Norse: Leifr hinn heppni) because he got to keep Þórir's cargo.
Research done in the 1950s and 1960s by explorer Helge Ingstad and his wife, archaeologist Anne Stine Ingstad, identified a Norse settlement located at the northern tip of Newfoundland, known as L'Anse aux Meadows, which has been suggested as Leifsbúdir. Norwegian researcher Johannes Kr. Tornöe instead suggested Waquoit Bay in Massachusetts as the location of Leif's settlement, since that area better matches the description of a settlement on the tip of an isthmus or peninsula overlooking a bay.
Return to Greenland
After contacting Olaf Tryggvason, King of Norway, Leif became a Christian, and was later sent back to Greenland to spread Christianity, with the help of a priest and a teacher. When Leif returned to Greenland, he stayed at Brattahlid with his father Eric. Upon hearing the nickname "Leif the Lucky", Eric told him it was controversial, because although Leif saved the castaway, he had brought a priest to Greenland.
Leif Erikson Day
In 1964 the United States Congress authorized and requested the president to proclaim October 9 of each year as "Leif Erikson Day". That date was chosen for its connection to the first organized immigration from Norway to the United States (the ship Restauration, coming from Stavanger, Norway, arrived in New York Harbor on October 9, 1825), not for any event in the life of the explorer. The day is also an official observance of several U.S. states.