BY H. B. PEIRCE AND D. HAMILTON HURD.
VOYAGE AND DISCOVERY.
The New World—First Discovered, A.D. 986—The Norsemen—Herjulfson—Lief Erickson and his Adventures—Thorwald Erickson—Thorfinn Karlsefne—Christopher Columbus—John Verrazzani—John Cabot—Spanish, French, and English Claims in Territory—The French and Indian War—Treaty of Peace.
The New World, or Western Continent, was first discovered by white men A.D. 986. Herjulfson, a Norse navigator, in sailing from Ireland to Greenland was driven by a storm to the coast of Labrador, or, as some historians see fit to claim, to Newfoundland. The coasts of the new land being low, rocky, and otherwise uninviting, no landing was attempted. Thus Herjulfson first saw the Western Continent, but it was reserved for other explorers to set foot upon its territory. The Norsemen returned to Greenland with wonderful stories of the land that they had seen, but no further attempt was made at discovery.
After the lapse of a few years, an Icelandic captain named Lief Erickson, who was possessed of a remarkable spirit of adventure, resolved to discover, if possible, the country concerning which Herjulfson and his companions had related such fabulous accounts, and in the year 1001 landed upon the shores of Labrador. He pursued his course southwest along the coast, and , finding the country pleasant and attractive, protracted his visit, and finally reached the territory embraced within the present State of Massachusetts, where the intrepid explorers remained one year. They proceeded along the coast bordering upon Long Island Sound, and it is claimed that the persevering band found their way to New York harbor. Whether these hardy explorers set foot upon the soil of New York is of but little consequence, as voyages were subsequently made to these shores, and discoveries carried as far south as Virginia.
The return of these adventurers to their native country, with a description of the land they had passed through, stimulated others with a desire to see the new country, and in 1002, Thorwald Erickson, a brother of the former explorer, made a voyage to the coast of Maine, and is said to have ended his days in the vicinity of the present town of Fall River, Mass.
In 1005, Thorstein Erickson, another brother, with a band of adventurers, landed upon our shores, and was followed, in 1007, by Thorfinn Karlsefne, a celebrated mariner, who proceeded along the coast as far as Virginia. The Norsemen were simply an erratic band of rovers. They made no settlements, nor left any records of importance concerning their discoveries. No real good whatever resulted from their voyages. The enthusiasm excited by first discovery gradually subsided, and as there were no spoils in the wilderness to fall prey to the Norse freebooters and pirates the further occupancy of the country was abandoned, and the shadows which had been dispelled for a moment gathered in, the curtain which had been lifted was again lowered from the sky to ocean, and the New World still lay hidden in the misty future. Until recently historians have been incredulous on the subject of the Norse discovery, but the fact is now generally conceded. We are in possession of no more reliable information than Humboldt’s "Cosmos," but that may be cited as conclusive:
"We are here on historical ground. By the critical and highly praiseworthy efforts of Professor Rafu and the Royal Society of Antiquafians in Copenhagen the sagas and documents in regard to the expeditions of the Norsemen in Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, and Vinland have been published and satisfactorily commented upon. The discovery of the northern part of America by the Norsemen cannot be disputed. The length of the voyage, the direction in which they sailed, the time of the sun’s rising and setting, are accurately given. While the caliphate of Bagdad was still flourishing America was discovered, about the year 1001, by Lief, the son of Eric the Red, at the latitude of forty-one and a half degrees north."
A period of four hundred and ninety-two years had elapsed from Lief Erickson’s discovery when Christopher Columbus, a native of Genoa, Italy, touched upon an island, subsequently San Salvador, about two hundred and fifty miles distant from the coast of the State of Florida, and, planting the banner of Castile, formally claimed possession of the land in the name of the noble Isabella, Queen of Spain. He returned to Spain, and subsequently made two successive voyages to the New World, each of which was fraught with great and lasting benefit to civilized Europe. In justice to Columbus this land should have borne his name, but through the artifice of a Florentine navigator named Americo Vespucci he was robbed of the honor, and it was bestowed on Vespucci, the least worthy of the many adventurers.
Not alone to Spain was left the control of the country which the genius and success of Columbus had brought to the knowledge of the world.
France, ever viewing with a jealous eye the success of her formidable neighbor, was not slow to profit by the discoveries of Columbus. As early as 1504 the Normandy fishermen began to ply their vocation on the Banks of Newfoundland, and in 1508 a number of the aborigines were taken to France. In 1523 a voyage of discovery was planned under the auspices of Francis I., and the command of the expedition was given to John Verrazzani, a native of Florence. After a perilous voyage he discovered the mainland, in the latitude of Wilmington. After a sojourn of a few days he headed his vessel northward, and sailed along the coast of Delaware and New Jersey, entered the harbor of New York, touched Massachusetts and Maine, and continued his course along the coast to Newfoundland. At several points the enterprising Florentine landed and opened a traffic with the Indians, being always received with every evidence of friendship. He returned to France and published an account of his remarkable discoveries, and, naming the country New France, boldly asserted his claims to the sea-girt coast in the name of Francis I.
England, enterprising, wealthy, and adventurous, lost no time and spared no money in fitting out an expedition of discovery to the Western Continent, and no day in the history of the New World was more important than the 5th of May, 1496.
On that day Henry VII, King of Great Britain, issued a commission to John Cabot, a Venetian, to make discoveries, and to take possession of all islands and continents, carry the English flag, and assert the title of the King of England. After a protracted voyage, the gloomy coast of Labrador was the cheerless sight that met the anxious gaze of the brave Cabot. This was the real discovery of the American continent. He explored the country for several hundred miles, and, in accordance with the terms of his commission, hoisted the flag and took possession in the name of the English king. An incident is related in connection with this act illustrative of the love man has for his native country. Near the flag of England he planted the banner of the republic of Venus, little thinking, doubtless, that as the centuries rolled on not the flag of proud Albion, but that of a republic, would float from ocean to ocean. Cabot returned to England and received all the adulations and honors that a proud nation could bestow upon an honored subject. This expedition was succeeded by others, all of which redounded to the honor and enterprise of England, and resulted in the founding of colonies which, under the fostering care of the mother-country, soon became prosperous and self-reliant.
The French and Indian war, which began in 1754, resulted from the conflicting territorial claims between France and England. At the close of an arduous struggle, lasting nine years, a treaty of peace was made at Paris, by the terms of which all the French possessions in North America eastward of the Mississippi, from its source to the river Herrville, and thence through Lake Maurepas and Pontchartrain, were relinquished to England. Spain, who had also been at war with Great Britain, ceded East and West Florida to the English Crown.
From the close of the French and Indian war to the beginning of the Revolution spanned a prosperous era in the history of the English colonists. The causes which led to the American Revolution and the history of that struggle are so well known that no mention is needed in this connection. Suffice it to say that the colonists, after a weary contest lasting nine years, were acknowledged by Great Britain free and independent States; and proud should Albion be to-day in the recollection that her sons planted the germ of the republic whose flag is honored and respected by all nations.