Explorers Resource Center
Norse Legends of the North - Series 18
The Selfless Captain who discovered the Great Lakes, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
Sheldrake, left, taught his Portuguese crew the Northern Norse art of skiing. Here they are seen with their mascot hound Shelby hunting for feral chickens near present-day Buffalo, New York.
The Golden Age of Explorers (1523-1605) brought the world numerous heroes and heroines from the great Northern Norse lands. Tales are told of Leif Erickson, the daring son of Iceland and Norway who explored the North American coast whilst searching for a safer route to France--one in which he could avoid the French entirely. His stepfather, Neil the Red, had gained similar notoriety leading the first group of Europeans to compromise Greenland. And, of course, who could forget Lady Krysta the 'Nightbird' who convinced Denmark's' King Olaf to provide her with funds so that she might sail to Switzerland and pursue triangular trade with the natives, only to 'accidentally' discover Halifax, Nova Scotia? However, few Norse explorers can compare with the legendary Sheldrake Gar Rahlenstocken, known to most as 'Sheldrake the Beneficent'. Who could have guessed that this unlikely explorer would someday conquer the Atlantic and infiltrate the backdoor passageway to 'Daar Gralaaken' or 'The Great Lakes' as we know them today?
Born to a wealthy middle class family in Naarsden, Iceland in 1507, Sheldrake was the son of Rolf Rahlenstocken, a former military southpaw lieutenant and wet/dry-goodsman. His stern mother Yarda, took care of the family while also working evenings maintaining the dustery at the local cheeseworks. Sheldrake, a child prodigy, captivated his parent's attention at the age of six when he crafted his fist model ship from local birch bark and piney tar. At age 14 he was sent to military school in Soorem, Norway. Sheldrake filled out nicely, finished school, and by the age of 22 had successfully purchased and operated his own feldspar mining facility. But industrial success alone would not satisfy young Sheldrake. Deep inside his mind, he harbored the burning desire to set assail (sic) and uncover the mysteries of some uncharted land.
In late 1534 Sheldrake pursued the consideration of Norway's Prince Ottokarka, who, after several toasts of claret and a lively game of charades, provided Sheldrake with enough Gold and Provisions to lease a pre-owned, late model Cutty Sark. On Feb 4, 1535 Sheldrake, who had never been aboard a ship of any kind, left dock with a rag-tag crew of Portuguese roofing contactors, sailing upon the 'Rotenskellaer' en route to Afrika - The Dark Continent. The next few months would be fraught with both adventure and promise.
Because of his negligible navigational skills, Sheldrake and his crew nearly ran aground four months later. It was not the Ivory Coast that his ship nearly struck, though. Instead, Shedrake the Beneficent had discovered what would later become Buffalo, New York. In a remarkable, nearly inexplicable, twist of fate, his ship somehow navigated into the world's largest cache of fresh water, The Great Lakes. History does not tell us whether Sheldrake's ship blew into the St. Lawrence by way of Newfoundland or if Sheldrake reached Buffalo using the yet undug Erie Canal. Some scatologists cite fossilized droppings from Sheldrake, his crew, and their little mascot "Shelby," which they were later forced to eat, that were found on a site near Rochester, New York as solid evidence that the latter is the case, but it is difficult to be certain. What is known is that Sheldrake and his crew definitely took refuge ashore in Buffalo briefly. A large black rock bearing a crude but clear inscription can still be found on Buffalo's west side in a neighborhood fittingly referred to as "Black Rock." The inscription translates as:
Sheldrake of the Northern Norse here did feast
On wings 'twere sever'd from feathery beast
If we dined upon one, we surely ate a flock
Then we 'scribed our monikers on this big black rock.
The rock then lists the names of the 17 surviving crewmen. It's estimated the men spent about a month in Buffalo, where they restored their scurvy-wracked bodies by feasting on the local fare favored by the indigenous peoples of the Western New York region, the maize-coated appendages of the feral chicken. The natives called the dish "Scajaqueda," and it is believed to be the direct antecedent of today's "Buffalo Wings."
Refreshed, the party then pushed on to conquer the Great Lakes region, discovering, as they did, Detroit, Chicago, Duluth, and Cleveland. All these cities now bear Portuguese names. Sheldrake, in a selfless gesture, allowed his faithful crew the honor of naming their favorite camping grounds, thus earning his respected title of 'Beneficent'. These modern-day cities owe their names and a large measure of their heritage to the brave crew of the ' Rotenskellaer' as well as their leader, this unlikely but beloved hero, Sheldrake the Beneficent.
This Page created and Maintained by Professor Carl LaFong, European Studies Faculty Chair, Universite de Papier - Montreal, Canada.