Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas. — Joseph Stalin

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

Where the Northmen Went

As you have seen in the first chapters of this book, America was once a very different country from what it is to-day. Now you are going to learn how it changed, little by little, from the wild land where Indians roamed about in the huge forests covering the greater part of the country, into a civilized country.

We are told that in all the wide territory now occupied by the United States, there were, four hundred and fifty years ago, about two hundred thousand Indians. These were very few inhabitants for so big a country, for now there are many cities here which count many more citizens.

The Indians then little suspected that on the other side of the great ocean there was another country, occupied by a race of white men, who knew much more than they did, and who were soon coming to take possession of their land.

But the people in Europe, wise as they were, did not know many things which everybody knows now. That was not their fault, however, for they had been trying for several centuries to learn all they could. In the middle of the fifteenth century Europe was already an old country, where long series of kings and queens had ruled over the people. There were then in Europe cities more than two thousand years old, ancient temples and castles, and many of the beautiful Christian churches which people still admire, because none finer have ever been built.

The people in Europe had long been great travelers by land and sea, although it was not so easy to get about then as it is now. Indeed, on land they could go only in wagons, in litters, on horseback, or on foot; and on the water they used nothing but rowboats or sailboats, because no one had yet imagined that one could use steam or electricity. On the sea, even the boldest sailors did not dare venture far out of sight of land, for fear they would not be able to find their way back.

The best seamen in Europe were the Northmen, or Vikings. Already in the eighth century they used to sail out of the viks, or bays, in Norway, every spring, to go in search of adventures. These Northmen, Norsemen, or Normans, little by little explored the coast of the North Sea, and of the Atlantic Ocean, and finally came to the Strait of Gibraltar. Passing through this opening, they came to the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, where they cruised about, even visiting the Greek islands and the renowned city of Constantinople.

As you will see by looking at your maps, this was a very long journey for men who had nothing but sailboats or rowboats, such as very few sailors would dare to use nowadays. But the Northmen were afraid of nothing, and when the wind blew, and the great waves tossed their little vessels up and down like cockleshells, they held tight to the rudder and steered on, singing one of their famous songs.

Sometimes, however, the tempest raged so fiercely that they were driven far out of their course. Thus, in the middle of the ninth century, one of these hardy seamen, after tossing about on the stormy seas several days, landed on an island which he had never seen before.

A Viking

This new place was Iceland, and he was so pleased with his discovery that he sailed home and persuaded his family and friends to go back there with him to settle down. In a few years other Northmen came to live in Iceland, sailing across the Atlantic from time to time to visit their old homes and friends. Soon the colony grew so large that its seamen kept up a lively trade with different ports in Europe.

One of these Icelandic seamen, Gunnbiorn, on his way home, was once overtaken by a violent storm. It drove him far out of his course, and finally brought him in sight of a new land, covered with snow, which he called the White Land. When he reached home he told the Icelanders what he had seen; but no one cared then to go and see if there really was a land west of Iceland, as he had said.

About a hundred years later another man, Eric the Red, was driven out of Iceland for murder. Remembering what Gunnbiorn had said, he sailed westward, and went to settle in the new country, which he called Greenland, so as to attract other settlers. A number of them soon joined him there, and began to trade with the Eskimos, a race of Indians who lived in the coldest part of the country, where they hunted white bears and fished for cod and seals.


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell