Claim to Fame:
She gave birth to the first child of European descent in North America and walked to Rome to give the pope a first-person account of her journey.
Cause of Death: Natural Causes
Gudridur Thorbjarnardottir was born at Laugarbrekka, Iceland. Gudridur’s grandfather had come to Iceland as a slave of “Aud the Deep-Minded,” but eventually gained his freedom. Gudridur’s parents were named Thorbjorn Vífilsson and Hallveig Einarsdóttir. Gudridur was also the foster-daughter of Orm and Halldís of Arnastapi, Iceland. About 10 years after Erik the Red had led a settlement group there, Gudridur’s father decided to take his family to Greenland. Gudridur’s foster parents also joined the family on the voyage to Greenland. The voyage was very difficult; many people died including Gudridur’s foster parents, but eventually they arrived in Greenland.
Erik the Red was friends with Gudridur’s father, Thorbjorn, and gave him some land near his own. Gudridur met and married Erik’s son, Thorsteinn. When Thorsteinn’s brother Thorvaldur was killed by Native Americans, Thorsteinn and Gudridur decided to go to Vinland, the Viking settlement in North America. On the long trip from Greenland to North America, Thorsteinn and many fellow travelers died of disease. Gudridur returned to Iceland.
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 were said to be a total of 60 men and five women on Thorfinnur’s ship. The settlers took many types of livestock with them. Thorfinnur received permission from Erik’s son Leifr to use the house Leifr 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 south as Manhattan. Unstable relations with the Native American population, who the Vikings called “skrælings,” forced the group to return to Greenland.
On their return to Greenland, the native people there killed Thorfinnur. After this tragedy, Gudridur went back to Iceland. Upon her return, found that Christianity had become the main religion there. Gudridur converted to Christianity and became a nun.
In the eleventh century, women almost never traveled alone. But Gudridur traveled by foot from Iceland to Rome and supposedly met with the pope and reported of Christian life in Iceland and Greenland.
For over 500 years, Gudridur Thorbjarnardottir was the most widely-traveled woman in the world. Her son, Snorri Thorfinnsson, was the first child of European descent born in North America.