When the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again. — Edith Hamilton

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

The Northmen in America

After Eric the Red had settled in Greenland, he sent word to one of his friends, Biarni, to come and visit him. Biarni gladly accepted the invitation, and although he had none of the instruments which sailors now use to guide them safely over the seas, he set out boldly, steering his course by the stars.

A Viking's ship

"Unfortunately for biarni, a storm soon came up. the stars could no longer be seen, and his ship was driven far out of its way. when the skies cleared biarni saw land before him, and fancied he had reached greenland. so he sailed slowly along the coast, looking for eric's settlement; but, as he could not find it, he soon turned around and went back to iceland.

Of course he told his adventures to his friends, and Leif the Lucky, hearing him describe the land he had seen, set out in search of it, in a large ship manned by a number of men. Sailing westward, Leif coasted along Labrador and Nova Scotia, came to Cape Cod, and landed, it is thought, somewhere in Rhode Island, in the year tool.

Map north America

Although Biarni and Leif did not know it, they had been the first white men to see North America, which, as you will see, did not receive this name till many years later. Leif the Lucky found so many wild grapes in this region that he called the country Vineland, and loading his ship with timber and grapes, he went home. But he, with another Northman, soon came back to spend a winter in the new country, where the climate was much milder than in Iceland or Greenland.

For some years ships sailed from Norway to Iceland, from Iceland to Greenland, and from Greenland to North America, where a Northman finally settled with about one hundred and forty men and women. Snorri, the son of this brave leader, was the first European child born in America. He lived to grow up, and the great sculptor Thorwaldsen, as well as several other noted men, claimed him as one of their ancestors.

The Northmen, however, had a very hard time in America, for they were soon attacked by the Indians, whom they called Skraelings. Even the women had to fight to defend themselves against the savages. But when they found that these attacks did not cease, they decided to leave the country, and went home in 1012.

As far as we know, after that no ships from the North visited America for several hundred years. But the story of Eric the Red and of Leif the Lucky was, fortunately, written down in one of the old Norse tales, or sagas. It is probable that the people went on talking for some time of the strange country their friends had visited, but after a while they forgot it entirely. Indeed, were it not for the old story, no one would now know that they were the first Europeans who set foot in our country, and you will still hear some people deny that they ever came here.

Now, it may seem very strange to you that the news of the Norse discovery of the new land was not made known everywhere; but you must remember that the people in Europe had no newspapers or printing presses, and that news traveled very slowly. No one but a few Northmen, therefore, were aware that land had been found in the West.

So America was forgotten until, according to an old story, a Welsh prince named Madoc was driven across the Atlantic by a storm, in the twelfth century. He was so well pleased with the new country he found that he is said to have left some of his men there, promising to return soon with more settlers. The story goes on to say that he sailed from Wales to keep this promise, but no one ever heard anything more of him, or of the men he left in America.

Some people think that he and his men perished in a storm, and that the settlers he left behind him were murdered by the Indians. Others insist that the whole story was made up by the Welsh, so they could claim the honor of having discovered America. Whether the Welsh ever came here or not,—and it is hardly likely they ever did,—the fact remains that our continent, after being discovered by Europeans, was lost again.


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