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Leif Ericson,— later known as “Leif the Lucky,” -a son of Eric the Red, set out from Greenland in quest of a land which a storm-driven mariner had seen in the southwest. He discovered a beautiful country which abounded in wild grapes. “ From its products, Leif gave the land a name, and called it Vinland."2 Here the Northmen planted a colony, and carried on trade with Greenland. In 1347 the Norse records mention a ship's going to this southern colony after a load of timber. That is the last that we hear of the settlement. The Northmen ceased to make voyages to the west, the colonies they had planted died out, all records of them were forgotten, and we have no evidence that Columbus ever heard of the discovery of Vinland.
2. The locality of « Vinland"; the Northmen and American history. - In recent years repeated attempts have been made to determine the locality of Vinland, but without acknowledged success. Many have supposed that Leif Ericson landed on some part of the New England coast. The descriptions of the country given by the records fail to throw any decisive light on this point, and no Norse graves, inscriptions, or ruins have been found on the mainland of America, although the ruins of buildings erected by the Northmen are still standing in Greenland. The conclusion of most eminent scholars respecting the settlements of the Northmen is that “the soil of the United States has not one vestige of their presence." Granting that those bold sailors did establish colonies on the mainland of America, as it is certain they did on the coast of Greenland, still their work had no permanent results, and no direct connection with American history. It was simply a match struck in the dark, sending out a momentary flash of light, but nothing more.
Later, however, after Columbus had made his great voyage, the English descendants of the Northmen of the Scandinavian peninsula came to the front. As colonists of the New World, they set their lasting mark on this continent.
Hence we may
say that the old Norse daring, which braved the tempests of the Northern Atlantic centuries before Columbus was born, and which conquered and settled a large part of Britain, stands forth a powerful and permanent factor in the making of America."
3. A new search for lands beyond the Atlantic; European trade with the Indies. — Nearly five hundred years after Leif Ericson feasted on wild grapes in Vinland, the project of crossing the Atlantic in quest of distant lands again came up. This time it was not a Northman, but an Italian, who was to make the attempt. His venture was suggested by the demands of commerce.
In the latter part of the fifteenth century Venice had gained control of the lucrative trade between Europe and the Indies.
That trade, however, was seriously hampered by the fact that it could not follow a direct and continuous water route. The Isthmus of Suez barred the way. For this reason, the spices, silks, and drugs brought from the far East up the Red Sea had to be unloaded, transported across the desert to the Nile, and reshipped to Alexandria for the Mediterranean. Europe, in the interest of trade, called for an all-sea route to the Indies.
4. The work of “Prince Henry the Navigator"; Bartholomew Diaz. - Prince Henry of Portugal, commonly known as “ Prince Henry the Navigator," undertook to find the required route. For forty years (1420-1460) his captains were exploring the seemingly endless western coast of Africa, endeavoring to discover a way round that mysterious continent into the waters of the Indian Ocean. Year after year the Portuguese ships crept down that coast, but found no passage to the East. The problem was unsolved when Henry died, but nearly thirty years later success was practically gained. Bartholomew Diaz (1487) succeeded in doubling the formidable Cape of Storms. Then it was seen that at last the way to the Indies was almost as good as opened; for that reason the Cape of Storms received the auspicious name of the Cape of Good Hope. But the length of the new route was a serious drawback, since every bale of goods shipped from the East would have to make a voyage of at least twelve thousand miles in order to reach the European market. The question arose, might it not be possible to find a better way?
5. Columbus proposes a new and shorter route to the Indies. — Christopher Columbus, a native of Genoa, was ready to answer that question. He was an experienced mariner, and believed that he could discover a far shorter and more direct all-water route to the much-coveted Indies. The leading geographers of that day regarded the earth as a globe. Columbus held the same idea, but he considered the globe to be much smaller than it actually is. It embraced, as he supposed, but one ocean the Atlantic · which surrounded the three continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa. These three continents, with their outlying islands, he believed constituted all the land there was. He imagined that the Indies faced Europe at a distance of less than four thousand miles. His plan for reaching the far East was very simple ; he would
SAILING OF COLUMBUS.
Light arrows show voyages made up to 1492 ; (light track, Da Gama's voyage, 1497).
White area, including western coast of Africa, the world as known shortly before the sailing of Columbus.