Columbus was not the first European to reach the Western World. Probably the first explorers were the Norsemen who, during the Middle Ages, occupied the Scandinavian peninsula. These people were bold and warlike and were not satisfied with the settled portions of Europe, but sought adventure by sailing the distant seas, looking for unclaimed land. They made a settlement in Iceland near the end of the ninth century, and about a hundred years later they planted a colony in Greenland under the leadership of Eric the Red. The settlement at Greenland lasted about four hundred years, while the settlement of Iceland was permanent.
From these settlements as a base, further explorations were made to the west, and from tradition we learn that Leif Ericson, the son of Eric the Red, started on a voyage to his father’s settlement in Greenland for the purpose of spreading Christianity, but a contrary wind drove him from his course and he discovered a new country about the year 1000. In this new land he found grapes growing wild, and he called it Vinland. According to the description of Vinland, given in the Eric the Red saga, the place discovered was probably southern Nova Scotia. It seems that a Norse settlement was made there, but that it was difficult to sustain the colony at so great a distance, and that the attempt was finally given up.
While the Norsemen thus found America at this early period, their discovery was of little practical value because Europe was then not ready to expand and make permanent settlements. The records of these discoveries were practically forgotten; America did not remain discovered, and it is unlikely that Columbus knew of the voyages and discoveries of these people. The honor of discovering the New World belongs to Columbus.