The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Greenland

Edition of 1879. See also Greenland on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

GREENLAND (Dan. and Ger. Grönland; Fr. Groënland), an extensive region belonging to Denmark, lying N. E. of the mainland of North America, from which and its outlying islands it is separated by Davis strait, Baffin bay, and the northward extensions of the latter, known as Smith sound, Kennedy channel, and Robeson strait; pop. in 1871, 9,825. Cape Farewell, its S. extremity, is a point on a small island, in lat. 59° 49′ N., lon. 43° 54′ W., from which the E. coast extends N. E. to Cape Brewster, lat. 70°, where it takes a more northerly course and stretches toward the pole to an unknown distance. The S. part of this coast is washed by the Greenland sea, a portion of the N. Atlantic, and the N. part by the Arctic ocean. Iceland, which is distant about 160 m., is separated from it by Denmark strait. The W. coast pursues a N. N. W. direction to Cape Alexander, its westernmost extremity, about lat. 78° 10′, lon. 73° 30′, where it turns N. E. and extends beyond lat. 82°. According to the report of two of the crew of the Polaris, it terminates about lat. 83°, and trends thence E., thus indicating the insularity of Greenland. A channel about 60 m. wide, running E. and W., is said to have been seen on the north, and beyond it the lofty hills of a polar land. The E. coast is practically inaccessible on account of the drift ice, which, borne S. by the polar current, sometimes fills the entire sea between it and Iceland, and forms a barrier around Cape Farewell extending more than 100 m. seaward. The outline of this coast is rugged and barren, with cliffs and lofty precipices which are visible far out at sea. A number of inlets, the principal of which are Scoresby and Davy sounds, extend an unknown distance into the interior. Henry Hudson explored this coast in 1607, in an attempt to make the N. W. passage, and named a cape in lat. 73° 30′ Hold with Hope. It was visited by Scoresby in 1822, Clavering and Sabine in 1823, Graah in 1829 and 1830, and Hegeman in 1870, all of whom confirm the accounts of its ruggedness and inaccessibility. The W. coast is better known. It is generally rocky and high, but sometimes flattens into low valleys, penetrated by numerous inlets and fiords, some of which extend far inland. Into most of these come down glaciers from the great glacier which appears to cover the whole interior. About lat. 70° is Disco island, lying in the mouth of Disco bay, and numerous smaller islands line the entire coast. Melville bay is a large and wide indentation, usually filled with floating ice. Its N. shore is formed by Hayes peninsula, into which makes Wolstenholme sound. Inglefield gulf is the next indentation, N. of which lies Prudhoe land. In the W. extremity of this is Lifeboat cove, the winter quarters of the Polaris in 1872-'3. Further N. is the great Humboldt glacier, which extends over almost an entire degree of latitude, between lat. 79° and 80°. The whole coast here is a mer de glace formed by the crowding toward the sea of the glaciers, which, raised finally by the water beneath, break off with loud detonations, and floating free become icebergs. This is one of the principal sources of the icebergs of the N. Atlantic. Next is a peninsula called Washington land, with South fiord on its N. side, an inlet opening into Hall basin and extending far inland. Above Hall basin is Robeson strait, first explored in 1871 by Capt. Charles F. Hall, who named the several harbors along the coast Polaris bay, Thank God bay, Newman bay, and Repulse harbor. In Thank God bay, lat. 81° 38′, the Polaris made her winter quarters in 1871-'2. Dr. Pingel, a Danish naturalist, has established the fact that the W. coast from lat. 60° to 70° is gradually sinking at the rate of several feet in a century. At numerous places are submerged ruins, some not more than 75 years old, and the present Greenlanders avoid building near the water's edge. The interior is buried under a colossal mass of ice, which conceals all the minor ridges and valleys, and permits but a few steep mountains to protrude. This ice is continually moving seaward, a very small part of it eastward and the rest westward. The greatest discharge is through the large friths, down which the ice moves in masses several miles wide, until, reaching deep water in Baffin bay, it breaks up and forms icebergs. Rink counted 22 great ice streams on the coast, indicating as many concealed valleys. Large streams of muddy water pour out from under the ice, even when it is 2,000 ft. thick, showing that a powerful grinding action is going on upon the surface of the rocks beneath.—The rocks of the coast are chiefly granite, gneiss, porphyry, slate, and calcareous formations. On the E. coast Scoresby found the slates of the coal formation, containing impressions of extinct species of tropical plants, like those of the same strata in more southern latitudes. Good coal is mined in abundance on the island of Disco, and at various places on the mainland are found silver, copper, iron, tin, lead, zinc, plumbago, arsenic, molybdenum, and other metals. The Swedish scientific expedition of 1871 found immense masses of meteoric iron on the coast, between ebb and flow of the tide. One specimen weighing 49,000 lbs. Swedish, with a maximum sectional area of 42 sq. ft., is now in the royal academy at Stockholm, and another of 20,000 lbs. in the museum of Copenhagen. They contain 5 per cent. of nickel and from 1 to 2 per cent. of carbon. Asbestus, serpentine, zircon, gadolinite, tourmaline, iolite, rock crystal, and garnets also occur; but the only mineral exported is cryolite, from the mine at Iviktut, on the fiord of Arsut. About 100 miners are employed, and the annual product is from 10,000 to 12,000 tons, one half of which is sent to Denmark and the remainder to the United States, where it is made into commercial soda by the Pennsylvania salt company. A royalty of 20 per cent. is paid to the Danish government; and as the season of working is short and the navigation of the fiord is attended with danger on account of icebergs, the mine yields but little profit.—The climate is considered healthy by the Danes, and in S. Greenland is less rigorous than the high latitude and the immense fields of ice would indicate, the cold being greatly modified by the sea. On the E. coast the mean temperature is below the freezing point, but it is milder on the W. coast. Further N. the cold is intense, exceeding that of corresponding latitudes in Lapland. According to Dr. Hayes, the mercury stood at -68° F. in March, 1861, in lat. 70° 30′ but in 1871 Capt. Hall found a much milder climate at his winter quarters in lat. 81° 38′; the plain surrounding Thank God bay was free from snow in June, and the ground was covered with herbage, on which numerous herds of musk oxen found pasture, and rabbits and lemmings abounded. The wild flowers were brilliant, and large flocks of birds flew northward. This would indicate either an exceptional season, or that the climate is less rigorous toward the pole. Generally the winter cold is interrupted by thaws, which last sometimes for weeks. Through June and July the sun is constantly above the horizon. The earth begins to thaw in June, and in July the ice is melted away in the southern fiords, and small streams, flowing from the interior, feed a few unimportant lakes, which remain open for a brief season. But even in the heat of summer ice can always be found a short distance below the surface of the ground. Permanent springs are almost unknown, but Dr. Kane found one at Godhavn, Disco, which had a winter temperature of 33° F., and Giesecke speaks of a thermal spring which maintained a temperature of 104°. The heat of the long summer day evaporates the water left by the tide in the hollows and clefts of the rocks and leaves a fine salt. Fogs prevail from April to August. Little rain falls, especially in the north. Gales are infrequent, but in the autumn they rage sometimes for days with great fury. There is occasional lightning, but no thunder. The aurora borealis is often seen in winter, frequently so bright as to cause the stars to disappear, and mirage is common on the coast.—The vegetation is slight, but it exceeds that of high mountainous districts in warmer latitudes. Dr. Hooker noted that most of the 320 phænogams and vascular cryptogams which make up the flora of Greenland were of Scandinavian origin, and that few American types were found, notwithstanding the comparative nearness of the continent. A few additional species have since been discovered. Mosses, lichens, and a few grasses and stunted plants and shrubs grow even in the far north, and furnish food for the reindeer, bear, and musk ox. Dr. Hayes noticed at Proven, among other flowers, the golden-petalled poppy (papaver nudicaule), the dandelion (contodon palustre), the buttercup (ranunculus nivalis), the saxifrages, purple, white, and yellow, the potentilla, the purple pedicularis, and the andromeda. In sheltered places the pine, alder, and birch attain a height of barely 6 ft. and a stem of but 3 or 4 in. in thickness, and the willow becomes little more than a running vine. The scant soil is so full of fibrous roots that when cut and dried it is used for fuel. Attempts to raise oats and barley are unsuccessful, but potatoes are grown in the south. Turnips attain only the size of pigeons' eggs, and cabbages are very small. The radish is the only vegetable that is unchecked in its growth—The seas around Greenland abound with animal life. The great rorqual whale, which attains sometimes a length of 120 ft., the more valuable mysticetus, or true whale, and other varieties, make them their resort. The walrus, the narwhal, the porpoise, and the seal are found on all the coasts. The arctic shark (squalus borealis) abounds, and is taken for the sake of the oil extracted from its liver, which is preferred to the best seal oils. Smaller fish are found in all the bays, and various kinds of crabs and shrimps exist in great numbers. Sea fowl in vast flocks frequent the coast, among them the little auk, guillemot, petrel, gull, goose, and duck. There are traditions of the great auk, but it has not been seen by late explorers. The eider duck visits the most northern shores in the spring and raises its young. Other birds often seen are the raven, ptarmigan, grouse, tern, sandpiper, plover, dovekie, and snow bunting. In the more northerly parts the polar bear and the musk ox are found, but they are seldom seen in the south, excepting in severe winters, when it is difficult to paw the snow from the scant vegetation. In summer the bears live upon seals, which they catch on the ice. The reindeer, once abundant, are becoming scarce on the coast, the natives having hunted them with great persistency since the introduction of rifles; it is said that at least 10,000 have been killed in the past 30 years in the district of Omenak. Two species of fox, the white and the blue, abound. The skins of the blue fox are much sought after, the fur commanding a high price. The domestic animals are sheep, a few cattle, and dogs, the last of which constitute the chief wealth of the Greenlanders, who train them to draw sledges. They relapse sometimes into the savage state and roam in packs, hunting the reindeer.—With the exception of about 300 Europeans, mostly Danes, the population is composed entirely of Esquimaux, who live by hunting and fishing. A few live on the E. coast, below lat. 65°, but all the villages and settlements are on the W. coast, upon the low lands along the fiords. After years of discouraging effort on the part of the missionaries, all the natives have been converted to Christianity. They have given up their nomadic habits and enjoy the benefits of civilization, while they are afflicted with fewer of its vices than are the Indians who have come in contact with the white man elsewhere. Liquor is prohibited in all the settlements, and it is only once a year, on the king's birthday, that every man in Greenland is permitted to receive from the government storehouses a glass of schnapps, to drink the health of his sovereign. For administrative purposes the country is divided into two inspectorates, North and South Greenland. North Greenland is subdivided into seven districts, Upernavik, Omenak, Ritenbenk, Jacobshavn, Godhavn, Christianshaab, and Egedesminde, the last being the most southerly. Godhavn (Good Harbor), on the S. side of the island of Disco, in lat. 69°, has a population of 250, and is the residence of the inspector. The districts of South Greenland are, beginning with the most northerly, Holsteinborg, Sukkertoppen, Godthaab and Nye Herrnhut, Lichtenfels, Frederikshaab, and Julianeshaab. Godthaab, in lat. 64°, the residence of the inspector, has a population of 740. Each of these 13 districts has a director (colonibestyrere), who is assisted in his administrative duties by a parliament chosen from the principal men. Julianeshaab, the chief district, comprises all the coast from Cape Farewell to lat. 61°. The town is in lat. 60° 44′, on the fiord of Igalliko, a large inlet from the sea, from 2 to 5 m. in width, which is so shut in by the mountains that no glacier finds its way into it. Along its banks are still to be seen the ruins of the ancient Norse settlements. The town has a population, according to some authorities, of 2,600, but according to Dr. Hayes of only 800. The settlements of Nye Herrnhut, Lichtenfels, Frederiksdal, and Frederikshaab belong to the Moravian missions. The rest of the coast is in charge of the Lutheran missions, which are under the direct patronage of the government, and are administered by a board appointed by the Danish crown. The Moravians depend for their supplies upon private negotiations and the courtesy of Danish vessels.—The whole trade of Greenland is a monopoly of the crown of Denmark, and is carried on under the direction of the Greenland trading company (Kongelige Grönlandske Handel), an association founded in 1781, and controlled by a directory in Copenhagen. Each settlement is presided over by an agent, either a Dane or a half-breed, who keeps the company's accounts, disposes of stores, and gathers products. The stores are brought annually from Denmark to Julianeshaab, whence they are distributed to the various outposts. The chief exports from Greenland are stock fish (cod dried without salt), the skins of the seal, fox, and reindeer, whale and seal oil, blubber, eider down, and cryolite. The imports are grain, coffee, sugar, tobacco, brandy, and firewood. The expenses are so great that the trading company pays but a small sum annually into the royal treasury.—Greenland was discovered by the Northman Gunnbjörn, who saw its E. coast in 876 or 877; but he was wrecked on the rocks afterward called by his name, and did not land upon it. In 983 Eric the Red (so called from the color of his hair), son of a jarl of Jadar in Norway, set sail from Bredifiord, Iceland, in search of the land seen by Gunnbjörn, of which a tradition still lingered in Iceland. He doubled Cape Farewell and sailed up the W. coast to the present site of Julianeshaab, where he saw large herds of reindeer browsing on the meadow lands. The country pleased him, and he named it Greenland, and the inlet Ericsfiord. In 985 Eric returned to Iceland, and again set sail with 25 ships loaded with emigrants and the means of founding a colony. He reached Ericsfiord with 14 of these ships, the rest having been lost by the way or forced to put back, and built a settlement far up the fiord. The town grew and prospered, and in time the coast was explored and new plantations were founded. How far N. the Norsemen penetrated is not known, but an inscribed pillar, erected in 1135 on one of the Woman's islands on the E. shore of Baffin bay, and found there in 1824 by Sir Edward Parry, proves that one of their expeditions went as far as Upernavik, lat. 72° 50′, and “cleared ground” there. As no trees grow in that region now, it is probable that the land was then far more habitable than at present. The early chroniclers, too, make very little mention of ice, and there are evidences that the soil bore more generously in those days. Eric found no indigenous race, and he and his followers became the sole tenants of the land. The several settlements around Ericsfiord were called collectively Östre Bygd (East country), and the more northerly plantations Westre Bygd (West country). At one time there were more than 300 farms and villages between Disco and Cape Farewell. Churches and monasteries were built, and in the 12th century Greenland was erected into a bishopric, it having been previously a dependency of the see of Iceland. Seventeen successive bishops held the see of Gardar, the last of whom was consecrated in 1406. No Esquimaux (Skralinger) are mentioned by the chroniclers until the 14th century, when Thorwald saw them on the coast of Labrador. Toward the middle of this century a horde of Skralinger appeared on the borders of the Westre Bygd, and 18 Norsemen were killed in an encounter with them. When the news reached the Östre Bygd in 1349, Ivar Beer went with a force to the rescue; but he found only the ruins of the colony. Toward the close of the 14th century Greenland was visited by Nicolò Zeno, a Venetian navigator. In 1409 the bishop's see was abandoned. A letter from Pope Nicholas V. to the bishop of Iceland, written in 1448, mentions the descent of a hostile fleet on the coast about 30 years before, which laid waste the country with fire and sword, so that the organization of the colonies was destroyed; and we hear no more Greenland until the time of the Elizabethan navigators. In 1576 Martin Frobisher, sailing quest of a N. W. passage to China, came in jht of the E. coast in lat. 61°, and rounded Cape Farewell. Other navigators followed, and attempts were made to recover the lost colonies during the succeeding century; but it was not till 1721, when the Danish missionary Hans Egede established himself at Godthaab, that any success was attained. The Moravian missions were founded soon after, and the settlements have since continued to grow. Even the sites of the ancient colonies were unknown until a recent period. In 1829 the king of Denmark sent an expedition under Capt. Graah a determine the site of the Östre Bygd, which was supposed to be on the E. coast, the ruins Igalliko fiord being taken for those of the Westre Bygd. He found reasons for believing that both settlements were on the W. coast, and within a few years it has been demonstrated beyond a doubt that Igalliko fiord, or Ericsfiord, was the site of Eric's long lost colony.