Thursday, September 22, 2011

Freydis Ericsdotter, Who Murdered 5 Women in an Early American Viking Colony - 1010


Freydis Ericsdotter – Freydis was the daughter of Eirik the Red, the discoverer of Greenland.

This may not be a serial murder case, but rather a mass killing. It is nevertheless included here as an early example of multiple female murder of females.

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EXCERPT from 1906 book: In the year 1006 Thorfinn Karlsfne, a wealthy merchant of Iceland, visited Greenland and remained through the winter. He was accompanied by three other merchants, who, with him, felt such deep interest in the new country to the south-west that an expedition of three vessels was fitted out, including more than a hundred men and women. Among the latter was one named Freydis – a reputed daughter of Eric the Red – the wife of a Greenlander, Thorvard, who commanded one of the vessels. If a tenth part of what is said of her is true, she was one of the most terrible Amazons that ever lived.

The expedition sailed in the spring of 1007. It promised to be the most successful of all the enterprises of that kind, but it ended in disaster. There was much quarreling among the women, and naturally, in time, it involved their friends and husbands. They spent the first winter on the shores, it is supposed, of Buzzards’ Bay [present-day Massachusetts and Rhode Island], and suffered much for want of food. The following summer a number of discontented members deserted the colony, but they were driven across the ocean to the coast of Ireland, and were captured and reduced to slavery.

The two remaining ships made a long exploring expedition to the southward. Just where they passed the succeeding winter is not known. For a time, when they returned to their old settlement, or its neighborhood, all went well, and they drove a brisk trade with the natives. But trouble soon came; the Northmen were attacked by the savages in overwhelming numbers, and though the white men fought with great courage, they were put to flight. The natives rushed after them like a mountain torrent, and doubtless would have slain every one, but for Freydis, wife of Captain Thorvard. She seized a sword, and beating her breasts with rage, she shamed the men, who rallied about her and soon put their assailants to flight.

The colony was abandoned in 1010, against the protests of Freydis, who saw how vastly superior in every respect the new country was to Greenland. By her indomitable will she succeeded in organizing a new expedition, which set sail the following spring. Her ambition and terrific temper soon divided the colonists into two parties of mortal enemies. Those who opposed her were slain, and among them were five women she killed with her own hand. The winter which followed must have been unspeakably gloomy to the survivors. They toiled hard in felling timber and gathering a few other productions, with which they set sail for Greenland. Freydis threatened with death any one who should tell of the massacre, but the truth gradually leaked out. Neither she nor her accomplices were punished, however, for what was certainly one of the most frightful misdeeds that can be conceived.

[Edward Everett Hale, Oscar Phelps Austin, Nelson Appleton Miles, George Cary Eggleston, The United States of America: a pictorial history of the American Nation From The Earliest Discoveries And Settlements To The Present Time, Volume 1. Imperial Pub. Co., New York, 1909, p. 5]

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An account from 1993: North America’s first mass-slayer of European descent was Freydis, the sister-in-law of Viking explorer Leif Ericson. Records are sparse from the era of Norse exploration, but we know that Leif colonized Greenland and Iceland around 1000 A.D., moving on from there to explore “Vinland,” in the neighborhood of modern Nova Scotia and New England. Aboriginal natives, dubbed “skrellings,” were the first to be attacked and slain, but over time the Norsemen turned on one another with a vengeance … and in one dramatic scene, a spiteful woman was to blame.

As the wife of Lief’s brother Thorwald, Freydis accompanied her husband’s war party to Vinland, a few years after the Greenland colony was established. Harsh weather and resistance by the stubborn “skrellings” caused dissatisfaction early on, and Freydis stirred the pot by quarreling incessantly with two brothers, Helgi and Finnbogi, who claimed a substantial following of their own. By wintertime, dissent had split the Viking band in two, with Thorwald’s clique residing in one camp, followers of Helgi and Finnbogi in another. The two groups barely spoke, but they had managed to avoid overt hostilities so far.

One morning in the early morning, Freydis rose before husband, walking barefoot to the long house where the brothers lived. She woke Finnbogi, offering to swap his ship for Thorwald’s, and Finnbogi readily agreed. Returning to her husband’s bed, the scheming Freydis pressed her cold, wet feet against Thorwald’s back, rousing him from sleep. He asked where she had been, and Freydis spun a tale that sealed the fate of her opponents in the other camp.

“I went to see the brothers,” she explained, “to try to buy their ship, for I wished to have a larger vessel. They received my overture so ill that they struck me and handled me very roughly.”

Enraged by the mythical assault on Freydis, Thorwald called his men to arms and marched against his adversaries, catching Helgi and Finnbogi asleep, disarming their group and binding the men before they could defend themselves. One by one, the captives were led from their cabin, hacked to death on orders from Freydis, but Thorwald drew the line at murdering five women in the party.

“Hand me an ax!” commanded Freydis, and she set upon the women by herself, killing all five before her rage was exhausted. Finally, smeared with blood from head to foot, she turned to Thorwald and his warriors, persuading them to keep the massacre a secret from their countrymen to Greenland. Sailing home in the long ship stolen from Finnbogi’s party, Freydis and company informed Leif Ericson that the brothers and their followers had decided to stay on in Vinland. At the time, Leif accepted the lie with no questions asked.

[Michael Newton, Bad Girls Do It: An Encyclopedia of Female Murderers, Loompasnics Unlimited, Port Townsend, Wa., 1993, p. 77]

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