The Norse Discovery of America, by A.M Reeves, N.L. Beamish and R.B. Anderson, , at sacred-texts.com
THERE is no direct evidence on this subject, that is to say, there is no statement either by Columbus or by any one of his contemporaries that he possessed any knowledge of Norse voyages to, the Western continent. But there is a considerable amount of indirect or circumstantial evidence, and it is believed that circumstantial evidence, when a sufficient number of strong links are found, is even more to be relied on than direct evidence. In weighing the circumstantial proofs to be presented I would request my reader not to judge these proofs singly, but rather united. One of the wires in the Brooklyn bridge would not carry a horse, but the thousands of wires twisted together form the strong cables that sustain the great bridge and all that immense traffic between New York and Brooklyn. Thus either one of the arguments which I propose to present, though the steel in it is of excellent quality, may not, when considered alone, be of sufficient strength; but when the various arguments are twisted together by the reader I trust they
will constitute for him a cable of evidence strong enough to unite the voyages of Columbus with those of the Norsemen.
1. It will be remembered that in the year 1007 Thorfin Karlsefni and his gifted wife, Gudrid, undertook to colonize Vinland; that the emigrants from Greenland, more than 150 in number, remained in Vinland for three years, but that on account of frequent conflicts with the aborigines, making life a very precarious one, the colonists decided to return to Greenland. Some years after their return to Greenland Thorfin Karlsefni died, and then it is related in the sagas that his widow, Gudrid, in accordance with a well established custom in the North, made a pilgrimage to Rome. The sagas emphasize the fact that she was well received in that ancient city and greatly admired for her intelligence, courtesy and dignified manners. Now, does any one of my readers regard it as probable, or even possible, that Gudrid could spend a day, or a week, or a month in Rome and not tell how she had crossed the unexplored Western ocean, called the Sea of Darkness, and that she had spent no less than three years in a land washed by the western waves? Reports of Greenland, Helluland, Markland and Vinland may have come to Rome through other channels, but Gudrid brought personal evidence.
2. I stated in the preceding chapter that Bishop Erik Upse went to find Vinland in the year 1121. At this time the Church in the north of Europe, including Iceland, Greenland and the countries beyond Greenland, was under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Lund, in
[paragraph continues] Southern Sweden. Rome had been visited by Gudrid and had received information concerning Vinland from another important source, which I shall mention later on, and the Vatican paid much attention to geographical discoveries, and took pains to collect all possible information. Every new discovery meant an enlargement of Christendom--a new field for the preaching of the gospel. I therefore think it highly probable that Bishop Erik set out for Vinland in obedience to instructions from, the Vatican through the Archbishop of Lund.
3. If you will take your 'cyclopedia and look up the name Adam Bremensis, or Adam of Bremen, you will find that this Adam ranks away up as one of the most distinguished writers in Europe in the eleventh century. Adam was superintendent or master of schools in Bremen and a devoted student of history. Space does not permit me to give an extensive account of Adam's life and works. What I desire especially to call attention to here is the fact that he was deeply interested in the ecclesiastical history of the north of Europe, where the Christian religion had recently been introduced, in Denmark by St. Ansgar, in Norway by Olaf Trygvason, in Greenland by Leif Erikson, and he decided to write a book on the propagation of Christianity in the North. In order to equip himself properly for this work he visited Denmark. There he met the Danish king, Svend Estridson, a nephew of Canute the Great. King Svend was himself a very intelligent and scholarly man. "He knew the events of the barbarians by heart, as if they were written." That is to say, he was thoroughly familiar with the history
of the Norsemen. Adam not only received from the king a gracious and hospitable reception, but also an abundance of valuable information, and the king took pains to introduce him to the best-informed men near his court. On his return to Bremen, Adam wrote his book on the propagation of Christianity in the North of Europe, one of the best works on that subject extant. The volume consists of four books, the first three being devoted to a description of the introduction of Christianity in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, etc. But Adam, fearing that his readers might not be well up in the geography of the countries discussed, devotes the fourth book to a geographical description of the various lands in the North of Europe. In this book he first describes Denmark, then Sweden, then Norway, then Iceland, and then Greenland, and he gives a very satisfactory account of the climate, products and population of these countries. When he has described Iceland, he says that beyond Iceland is Greenland, and when he has completed his description of Greenland, he says, listen! "The same king (Svend Estridson) also informed me about the discovery of one more region in that ocean--a region named Vinland, because the grapes grow there spontaneously, producing the best of wine; and com, too, without being sown, grows there in abundance. This is no fabulous conjecture, but is based on positive statements of the Danes (hæc compermus non fabulosa opinione, sed certa relatione Danorum)." This book, written in Latin by Adam of Bremen, was published between the years 1072 and 1076. I say published. Of course, printing was
not yet invented, but the book was published in the same manner as other books before the invention of the art of printing. The book was read by intelligent people throughout Europe, it being scattered in numerous manuscripts, and we find evidence of its being discussed in the twelfth century by Helmold, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries by Albert of Stade and others, and in the beginning of the sixteenth century by Albert Krantz. Several manuscripts are now in existence, and since 1876 a new one has been found in Leyden and another in Vienna. The fact is that Adam's book was never forgotten between the time of its first publication and the introduction of printing. The biographers of Columbus inform us that he was deeply interested in geographical studies, that be searched with diligence every work within his reach, that in his study he was surrounded by the best historical and geographical works. Can the reader, therefore, for a moment doubt that one of the books read and studied by the distinguished Genoese navigator was this very book above described, and written by the great scholar, Adam of Bremen?
4. In my mind there is not a shadow of doubt that a copy of Adam of Bremen's work must have fallen into the hands of Christopher Columbus, and the reason for this conviction will appear in the next link in this remarkable chain of evidence. The life of Christopher Columbus was written by his own son, Ferdinand, in a volume published in 1521, a book easily found in every well-stocked library. From this book we know positively that while the design of attempting the discovery
in the West was maturing in his mind, Columbus made a voyage to the North of Europe and visited Iceland. This was in February, 1477, and in his conversation in Iceland with the Bishop, and other learned men there, he must have been informed of the extraordinary fact that their countrymen had discovered Greenland, Helluland, Markland, and Vinland, beyond the western ocean, and that Vinland seemed to extend southward indefinitely. This was a circumstance not likely to rest quietly in the active and speculative mind of the great navigator. My readers will observe that when Columbus was in Iceland, in the year 1477, fifteen years before he rediscovered America, only 130 years had elapsed since the last Norse expedition to Vinland. There were undoubtedly people still living whose grandfathers had crossed the Atlantic, and it would be altogether unreasonable to suppose that he who was constantly talking about geography and navigation could possibly visit Iceland and hear nothing about the land in the West. In the volume by Ferdinand Columbus is quoted a letter received by Ferdinand, the son, from Christopher, the father, narrating that in February, 1477, he had sailed from Bristol, in England, to Iceland. In it he gives his son considerable information in regard to the extent, climate, tides, etc., of Iceland. But Ferdinand does not quote the whole letter. He ends the quotation by "etc." The "etc." may have related to private matters between father and son, and hence of no interest to the public, but the reader will admit the possibility of its containing information in regard to Norse voyages that the son did not think best to publish.
5. If you will study the life of Columbus, you will find that he persistently maintained a firm conviction that there was land in the West. When, at the Rabida convent, he was forced to give the reasons for his conviction, he stated that he based this conviction, first, on the nature of things; second, on the reports of navigators; and third, on the authority of learned writers. The nature of things doubtless has reference to the rotundity of the earth. The reports of navigators may refer to information scattered throughout Europe concerning the Norse voyages, but more particularly to what Columbus gathered in conversation with people in Iceland. The authority of learned writers would seem to point directly to the work of Adam and Bremen, above described.
Columbus stated before he left Spain that he expected to find land soon after sailing about 700 leagues, hence he knew the breadth of the ocean, and must have had a pretty definite knowledge of the situation of Vinland. His biographers say that he underestimated the size of the earth, and hence guessed accurately the breadth of the ocean. May I ask, is it not equally logical when I say he knew the breadth of the ocean, and hence he underestimated the circumference of the earth? This reasoning will be plain when we consider that the Norsemen furnished no knowledge of the existence of the great Pacific ocean, and hence it was reasonable for Columbus to assume that the Vinland visited by the Norsemen was some part of Eastern Asia. The whole history of the rediscovery by Columbus proves that he must have possessed previous knowledge of America, and it
makes Columbus a greater man, in my estimation, that he formed his opinion in regard to land in the West by a chain of logical deductions based upon thorough study and research. It is to the credit of Columbus, I say, that he investigated the nature of things; that he paid the closest attention to all reports of navigators, and that he diligently searched the learned writers, including Adam of Bremen. The fact that he was a great genius enabled him to, gather up all those scattered gleams of knowledge that fell without effect upon ordinary minds. With all the above means of knowledge at his command, we can understand how the theory in regard to land in the West was fixed in the mind of Columbus with singular firmness. We can understand how he never spoke in doubt or hesitation, but with as much certainty as if his eyes had already beheld the promised land. It would be absurd for him to hold such firm conviction on merely presumptive evidence, and such a view of Columbus can not be maintained without great damage to him. I hold that I am vindicating the great name of the Genoese navigator by insisting that he based his certainty upon equally certain facts, which he possessed the ability and patience to study out, and the keenness of intellect to put together, and this view gives historical importance to the discovery of America by the Norsemen. Care should always be taken to vindicate great names from accident. The life of Columbus furnishes us an example of what human genius and laudable enterprise can accomplish.
A farmer on the prairies of South Dakota needs water for his cattle. He proceeds to dig a well. When he has
penetrated seventy-five or a hundred feet into the earth, his pick and shovel come in contact with brick and mortar. He calls the attention of a physician, a clergyman and a lawyer in his neighborhood to this fact. Extensive excavations are undertaken, and lo and behold! an ancient city of the size of Chicago is exhumed. The farmer stumbled on this discovery. It was a mere accident. There was a man in America who was anxious to find the location of ancient Troy. He visited every library in Christendom, examined every volume and manuscript that contained any reference to Troy. Having gathered all the light furnished by the libraries, he said to himself, not unlike our dear Horsford, "If I now search in that particular locality in Asia Minor, I shall find the remains of ancient Troy." This was Henry Schlieman. Guided by all the light supplied to his intelligence, by all the libraries in Christendom, he proceeded to a certain locality in Asia Minor, and lo, and behold! he found in his excavations the remains of the famous Troy. The Columbus in whom you have been believing is like my South Dakota farmer. He stumbles upon America by mere chance and accident, but the Columbus whom I preach unto you with all the ardor and sincerity of my nature is like our Henry Schlieman. He rediscovered America after a systematic study of every avenue of information; and the visit of Gudrid to Rome, the sending of Erik Upse as a bishop to Vinland, the perusal of Adam of Bremen's book, and his own remarkable journey to Iceland in 1477 gave him a torch that lighted his pathway across the Sea of Darkness.
Further investigations, particularly in the great Vatican library in Rome, has brought forth more evidence. Indeed, there are a number of other points bearing on Columbus' sources of knowledge which, I have not discussed. I have contented myself with giving the five strongest links in the chain of circumstantial evidence, and by these I hope to have made some converts among my readers. And while the knowledge of the discovery by the Norsemen, and of Columbus' relation thereto, lay for a long time hidden or neglected beneath the dust of unstudied libraries, let us take this lesson, that truth will conquer and that honor will at length be given to whom honor is due.
On my suggestion the Norsemen in America have adopted a Leif Erikson or Grape Festival, to be celebrated on the first Wednesday of October in each year. It is a festival to commemorate the first landing of white men upon our shores. It is a festival to commemorate the first chapter of Christian and civilized history in America. As Leif Erikson and his followers found grapes in abundance and called the country Vinland, so grapes are to be the chief emblem at these festivals. The tables are to be decorated with grape leaves and the guests are to feast on grapes. Many of these festivals have already been celebrated during the past seven years.
Let us remember Erik the Red, who founded a settlement in Greenland. Let us remember Bjarne Herjulfson, the first white man whose eyes beheld any part of the American continent. Let us remember Leif Erikson, the first white man and the first Christian who planted
his feet on American soil. Let us remember Thorwald Erikson, the first Christian buried beneath American sod. Let us remember Thorfin Karlsefni, the first white man who attempted to colonize America. Let us remember his wife Gudrid, the first white and Christian woman to visit our shores. And let us not forget her little son Snorre, the first white child to see the light of day on this continent. Let us recognize the Norsemen in their true capacity as navigators and discoverers, and as the first people to venture out upon the boundless ocean in ships. The Norsemen were the discoverers of pelagic navigation. It is my firm conviction that the more you study the history of the Norse voyages, the history of Columbus, and of the centuries between Leif Erikson and Columbus, the more you will become convinced that Columbus possessed knowledge of the Norse voyages. It certainly was the Norsemen who taught him pelagic navigation. When you rear a monument to Columbus, make the pedestal large enough to supply room for a description of his Norse forerunners. This will give the monument of Columbus a higher and more conspicuous position.
In the next chapter I shall attempt to show that America was visited by the Irish in the tenth and the eleventh centuries. I there propose to show that the subject of discovering in America can not be treated exhaustively without bringing back to the mind fond recollections of the Emerald Isle, which was at one time the school of Western Europe.