Gudridur Thorbjarnardottle

Iceland

Alternate spelling: Thorbjarnardottir

Achievement:
She gave birth to the first child of European decent in North America and walked to Rome to give the pope a first-person account of her journey.

Exploring wasn’t limited to men. Gudridur Thorbjarnardottir (or Thorbjarnardottle; it was spelled both ways) was born at Laugarbrkka, Iceland. Her parents were Thorbjarnar Vífilsson and Hallveig Einarsdóttir. Gudridur’s grandfather had come to Iceland as a slave of “Aud the Deep-Minded,” but eventually gained his freedom. Gudridur was also the foster-daughter of Orm and Halldís of Arnastapi, Iceland. She was staying with her foster parents when she became interested in a man, but was not able to marry him because he was a slave. This was ironic considering her own grandfather had once been a slave.

Gudridur’s father decided to take his family to Greenland. This was about ten years after Eric the Red had led a settlement group to the area. Gudridur’s foster parents also joined the family on the voyage to Greenland. The voyage was very difficult and had many deaths, including Gudridur’s foster parents. Eventually, Gudridur and the others landed in Greenland. Erik the Red was friends with Gudridur’s father, Thorbjarnar, and gave him some land near his own. Gudridur met and married Erik’s son, Thorsteinn. Thorsteinn and Gudridur went to Vinland after Thorsteinn’s brother Thorvaldur had been killed by natives. The journey took the entire summer and many died of disease, including Thorsteinn.

Some years later, Gudridur met and married another man. His name was Thorfinnur Karlsefni, a wealthy man of royal descent who came from Greenland to Iceland. After they married, they went on an expedition to explore and start a settlement in Vinland. There was said to be a total of 60 men and five women on Thorfinnur’s ship. The settlers took all kinds of livestock with them.

Thorfinnur got permission from Erik’s son Leif to use the house Leif had built in Vinland during his expedition there. In autumn of the year 1004, Gudridur gave birth to the first European born in North America. After three years in Vinland, the group may have traveled as far as Manhattan. After having unstable relations with the native population, the group made plans to go back to Greenland.

On their return to Greenland, the “Skaelings,” or natives killed Thorfinnur. After this tragedy, Gudridur went back to Iceland. Upon her return, she realized the religion in Iceland had gone from pagan to Christianity. Gudridur converted to Christianity and became a nun. During this time women didn’t travel alone, but Gudridur traveled by foot from Iceland to Rome and met with the pope. She reported of Christian life in Iceland and Greenland.