« PreviousContinue »
THE NORTHMEN IN NARRAGANSETT BAY
The Sea-pirates of Norway — Their Settlement of Iceland and Greenland
— Lief Ericsson on the North American Coast,— Professor Horsford's Theory — Discovery of Mount Hope and Narragansett Bays — Experience with the Indians — Opinions of Prof. Diman and Others
— Inscriptions at Bristol and Other Evidences.
THE history of Barrington includes its discovery by Europeans, its aboriginal occupation by the Indians, and the permanent settlement by the English Pilgrims since 1620. It is authentic history that the sea coast and the country of New England, including Narragansett Bay, had been explored long before the seventeenth century. While obscure tradition invests with interest the stories of discoveries of America by Europeans prior to the year 1000 A. D., the evidence is convincing that the Norse sea kings pushed their discoveries to Iceland, Greenland, and the coast of North America, certainly as far south as New England, and made temporary settlements on our southern and eastern shores, nearly nine hundred years ago. The dwellers on the Norway peninsula were the sea kings of Western Europe and the pioneers of maritime adventure and discovery, as early as the middle of the ninth century of the Christian era. They were a people of tough sinew and bold hearts, afraid of no perils by land or sea. They preferred the hardy life of the navigator to the peaceful pursuits of husbandry, and, pressed in the rear by the entrance into Europe of Eastern hordes of barbarians, they sought for lands beyond their western horizon. As early as the year 861, A. D., a Norwegian pirate or trader named Naddodd discoved Iceland, and in 875, Ingolf with a company of Northmen "cast their door-posts toward the Icelandic shores," and made permanent settlements on that island. More adventurous spirits sailed further westward and discovered and made permanent settlement on the eastern and southern shores of Greenland, where their descendants dwell today. The tenth century witnessed maritime adventures and discoveries extended still further to the west and south, and in the year 100o, A. D., or thereabouts, a land was found where grapes and other fruits grew in abundance in a wild state, where the climate was milder than that already occupied by their countrymen, to which the name of "Vineland the Good," was given. This much is well authenticated history and the names of Lief Ericsson, Thorfinn, and Gudrid his wife, are connected with the first attempts to make a settlement in Vineland. The part of the eastern shores of America visited by these bold seamen is not easily determined, but it is claimed by those who are most familiar with the Norse sagas that brief settlements were made on the coast, at points between the mouth of the St. Lawrence river on the north and Long Island on the south. Some Maine historians locate Norumbega, a traditional Norse settlement, near the Penobscot River. Professor E. N. Horsford, late of Cambridge, Mass., fixed the site of Norumbega on the Charles River, and has erected at considerable expense a tower at Watertown, on or near what he regards old Norse fortifications. In "The Problem of the Northmen," the scholarly professor writes of Lief's landfall and the site of his houses as follows: "He came, so we conceive, upon the northern extremity of Cape Cod, and set up his dwellings sbmewhere on an indentation of the shore of Massachusetts Bay," which he declares to be on the Charles River, near Longfellow's house in Cambridge. Speaking of Gudrid, the wife of Thorfinn, he says, "I may not fail to mention that this Gudrid was the lady who, after the death of her husband, made a pious pilgrimage to Rome (from Iceland), where she was received with much distinction, and where she told the Pope of the beautiful new country in the far
VINELAND, THE GOOD. 19
west, of "Vineland the Good," and about the Christian settlements made there by Scandinavians. Nor may I forget to mention that her son, Snorre, born in America at the site of Lief's houses,—and perhaps it may some day be possible to indicate the neighborhood of his birthplace with greater precision,—has been claimed to be the ancestor of Thorwaldsen, the Danish sculptor."
The hardy voyagers going on shore found water rather than wine in Vineland and one of their poets sang these verses.
"People told me when I came
Hither all would be so fine,
The good Vineland known to fame;
Rich in fruits and choicest wine;
Now the water-pail they send;
To the fountain I must bend,
Nor from out this land divine
Have I quaffed one drop of wine."
When about to depart and with sails hoisted the poet again sang,
"Let our trusty band
Of greater interest to the dwellers on Narragansett Bay is the story of the Northmen in New England by Mr. Joshua T. Smith, who interprets the sagas to mean that Thorhall the hunter and Thorfinn the sailor parted company at Martha's Vineyard or Straumiford in 1008, the latter sailing southward, entering Mount Hope Bay through Sekonet River, and wintering at some point on the bay. The narrative reads that "Thorfinn and his companions sailed up as far as the mouth of the river and called the place Hop."