The Full Wiki

John Cabot: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

John Cabot

John Cabot in traditional Venetian garb by Giustino Menescardi (1762). A mural painting in the Sala dello Scudo in the Palazzo Ducale, Venice.
Born c.1450
Died 1499
Nationality Venetian
Occupation Maritime explorer
Religion Roman Catholic
Spouse(s) Mattea
Children Ludovico, Sebastian, and Sancto[1]

Giovanni Caboto (known in English as John Cabot; c. 1450 – c. 1508) was an Italian navigator and explorer whose 1497 discovery of North America is commonly held to be the first European voyage to the continent since Norse exploration of the Americas in the early eleventh century. The Canadian and United Kingdom governments' official position is that he landed on the island of Newfoundland.


Name and origins

Cabot's birthplace and name are both matters of much controversy. In Italy he is known today as Giovanni Caboto, in Spain as Juan Caboto and in England as John Cabot. The Spanish and English forms are not wrong as such, they merely reflect the way contemporary 15th-century documents described him. As for the way he described himself, only one set of documents has been found bearing his signature. These are Venetian testamentary documents of 1484, on which he signed himself as "Zuan Chabotto", Zuen being a form of John typical to Venice.[2] That he continued to use this form in England, at least among Italians, is supported by two letters written from London in 1497. One, from a London-based Venetian, gives Cabot's first name as Zuam.[3] Another, from the Milanese Ambassador, spells his name Zoane.[4]

Gaeta or Castiglione Chiavarese have both been proposed as birthplaces.[5] The main evidence for Gaeta is that there are records of a Caboto family dwelling there until the mid-15th century but ceasing to be traceable after 1443.[6] On the other hand, Pedro de Ayala, Cabot's contemporary in London, described him in 1498 as "another Genoese like Columbus".[7] John Cabot's son, Sebastian, also appears to have believed that his father originally came from Genoa. What is certain is that in 1476 Cabot was made a Venetian citizen, which required a minimum of fifteen years residency in the city. He must therefore have lived in Venice since at least 1461. [8]

Life until 1499

John Cabot first appears in the Venetian records in 1470 when he was accepted into the religious confraternity of St John the Evangelist. Since this was one of the city's great confraternities, this suggests that he was already a respected member of the community at this stage. Given this, it seems likely that he was born somewhat earlier than 1450, which is the approximate date most commonly given for his birth.

Following Cabot's acquisition of full Venetian citizenship in 1476, he would have become eligible to engage in maritime trade, including the trade to the eastern Mediterranean, which was the source of much of Venice's wealth. He presumably became engaged in this trade shortly thereafter and is certainly mentioned in a document of 1483 selling a slave in Crete that he had acquired while in the territories of the Sultan of Egypt, which at that time included Palestine, Syria and the Lebannon.[9] By itself, this does not prove Cabot's later assertion that he had visited Mecca, made in 1497 to the Milanese ambassador in London.[10] It does, however, suggest that he would have had much better knowledge of the origins of the oriental merchandise he would have been dealing in (such as spices and silks) than most Europeans at that time.

"Zuan Cabotto" (i.e. John Cabot) is mentioned in a variety of Venetian records of the 1480s. These indicate that by 1484 he was married to Mattea and already had at least two sons.[11] Cabot's sons are named in his 1496 royal patent as Ludovico, Sebastian, and Sancto.[12] The Venetian sources also contain references to Cabot being involved in house building during his time there. This may be how he acquired the experience that later allowed him to promote himself as a civil engineer in Spain.[13]

Cabot appears to have got into financial trouble in the late 1480s and had left Venice as an insolvent debtor by 5 November 1488. He moved to Valencia where his creditors attempted to have him arrested by sending a lettere di raccomandazione a giustizia ("a letter of recommendation to justice") to the authorities.[14] While in Valencia, "John Cabot Montecalunya" (as he referred to in local documents) proposed plans for improvements to the harbour. These proposals were rejected, however.[15] Early in 1494 he moved on to Seville, where he proposed, was contracted to build and, for five months, worked on the construction of a stone bridge over the Guadalquivir river. This project was abandoned following a decision of the City Council on 24 December 1494.[16] After this Cabot appears to have sought support for an Atlantic expedition in Seville and Lisbon, before moving on to England.[17] It therefore seems likely that he would have arrived in England around the middle of 1498.


Like other Italian explorers, including Christopher Columbus, Cabot was commissioned by another country. Once Henry the Navigator began searching for a route around Africa, the Iberian peninsula (Portugal and Spain) began to attract Italian navigational talent, especially after Columbus's discovery of "the Indies" (as all Asia was called at the time) by sailing west. After that voyage, a number of explorers headed in that direction; Cabot had a simple plan, to start from a northerly latitude where the longitudes are much closer together, and where, as a result, the voyage would be much shorter.[18]

Historians have generally assumed that, on arrival in England, Cabot went straight to Bristol to seek backers.[19] This seemed logical, given that his expeditions did, indeed, set out from this port and it was the only English city to have had a prior history of undertaking exploration expeditions out into the Atlantic. Moreover, since Cabot's royal patent (1496), stated that all expeditions should be undertaken from Bristol, it seemed that his primary supporters were likely to have come from that city. Yet, while Bristol may have seemed like the logical place for Cabot to go to seek funding, Dr Alwyn Ruddock, claimed to have found evidence that Cabot actually went first to London and received backing from the Italian community there. In particular, she suggested he found a patron in the form of Fr. Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis, an Augustinian friar who was also the deputy to the papal tax collector Adriano Castellesi. Ruddock suggested that it was Carbonariis, who certainly accompanied Cabot's 1498 expedition and who was on good terms with the King, who introduced the explorer to Henry VII. While some of Ruddock's claims in this respect have now been verified, her research notes can no longer be consulted, since they were all destroyed following her death in 2005.[20]

On 5 March 1496 King Henry VII of England gave Cabot letters patent with the following charge: authority, faculty and power to sail to all parts, regions and coasts of the eastern, western and northern sea, under our banners, flags and ensigns, with five ships or vessels of whatsoever burden and quality they may be, and with so many and with such mariners and men as they may wish to take with them in the said ships, at their own proper costs and charges, to find, discover and investigate whatsoever islands, countries, regions or provinces of heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed, which before this time were unknown to all Christians.[21]

Like his contemporary, King Francis I of France, who would send Giovanni da Verrazzano to reconnoiter the eastern seaboard of North America, Henry VII may in part have been motivated by the perceived insolence of the division of the world into two halves by Pope Alexander VI in the Bull Inter Caetera in 1493, which followed the success of Columbus's first voyage. In the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), this division had been modified slightly. Nevertheless, the treaty still retained the principal that rights of exploration and exploitation of the non-Christian world were to be split between Spain and Portugal, with the Portuguese getting the eastern half and the Spanish the western half.


Cabot Tower in St. John's, Newfoundland.
Monument at Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland.

Cabot went to Bristol to make the preparations for his voyage. Bristol was the second-largest seaport in England, and during the years from 1480 onwards several expeditions had been sent out to look for Hy-Brazil, an island said to lie somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean according to Celtic legends.[22] Bristol may have been particularly interested in seeking this island because it appears to have been believed that Bristol men had discovered the island at earlier date but then lost it. Since it was said to be a source of brazilwood (from which a valuable red dye could be obtained) the merchants had a sound economic motive for seeking the isle.[23]


First voyage

In 1496 Cabot set out from Bristol with one ship, but was forced to turn back following a dispute with his crew.[24]

Second voyage—reaching the new world

Nearly everything that is known about the 1497 voyage comes from four short letters and a brief chronicle entry. The chronicle entry, which dates from 1565, states in its entry for 1496/7 that "This year, on St. John the Baptist's Day [24 June 1497], the land of America was found by the Merchants of Bristow in a shippe of Bristowe, called the Mathew; the which said the ship departed from the port of Bristowe, the second day of May, and came home again the 6th of August next following."[25] Although the source is late, some of the details can be corroborated from sources that the Bristol chronicler cannot have known about. It is thus generally considered that he had copied the main details from some earlier chronicle entry, perhaps merely substituting "new found land", or something similar, for "America", which had become a common term by 1565. Given that various of the details in the chronicle can be corroborated, it is generally assumed to be reliable.

If the 1565 chronicle is helpful when it comes to the key dates and the name of the ship, the four letters add more colour. The first is a letter from a Venetian merchant on 23 August 1497.[26] The letter has a slightly gossipy air to it, written by a man who may or may not have talked to Cabot directly.

The author of the second letter is unknown, but would appear from the general content to be from a diplomatic source. It was written on 24 August, apparently to the Duke of Milan.[27] Cabot's voyage is only mentioned very briefly.

The third letter is from Raimondo de Raimondi de Soncino, Milanese ambassador in London to the Duke of Milan on 18 December.[4] It is more serious in tone than Pasqualigo's and is clearly based on conversations the ambassador had with both Cabot, whom the writer claims to have "made friends with" and his Bristol compatriots, who are said to be the "leading men in this enterprise...and great seamen".

The fourth letter is the "John Day letter", which was written during the winter of 1497/8 by a Bristol merchant, John Day (alias Hugh Say of London) to a man who can almost certainly be identified as Christopher Columbus.[28] The letter is useful in that it is written by a man who would presumably have had access to all the key players and had assembled all the detail of the voyage that he could. Columbus was presumably interested in the voyage because, if the lands Cabot had discovered lay west of the meridian laid down in the Treaty of Tordesillas, or if the Venetian intended to sail further west, then the English voyages would have represented a direct challenge to the monopoly rights Columbus possessed for westwards exploration.

In addition to these letters, Dr Alwyn Ruddock claimed to have found another, written on 10 August 1497 by the London-based bankers of Fr. Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis. This letter has yet to be found, since the archive in which Ruddock located it is unknown. From various comments made by Ruddock it seems, however, that the letter, which appears to have been from a Venetian bank, did not contain a detailed account of the voyage. On the other hand, she did claim that it contained "new evidence supporting the claim that seamen of Bristol had already discovered land across the ocean before John Cabot's arrival in England."[29] This would make the letter a valuable find. On the other hand, even if the letter does demonstrate that the Venetian bankers believed that Cabot had merely re-discovered a land previously found by men from Bristol, this does not necessarily mean that this belief was correct.

As is often the case, the known sources do not agree with each other on all aspects of the events and none can be assumed to be entirely reliable. Nevertheless, drawing the main points, they suggest that, as on the 1496 voyage, Cabot again used only one "little ship",[4] of 50 tons burden,[30] called the Matthew of Bristol (according to the 1565 chronicle). It was said to be laden with sufficient supplies for "seven or eight months".[30] The ship departed in May (the sources do not agree on the precise date), with a crew of either eighteen men according to Soncino[4] or twenty, according to the John Day letter.[30] The crew included Cabot, an unnamed Burgundian and a Genoese barber,[4] who had presumably accompanied the expedition as the ship's surgeon, rather than as a hairdresser. There were also Bristol companions who were of sufficient status to join Cabot at court in London,[4] which suggests that at least two Bristol merchants had accompanied the expedition. One of these was probably William Weston, given that he received a reward from the King in January 1498 and Weston is known to have undertaken an independent voyage to the New Found Land, probably under Cabot's patent, in 1499. The typical working crew for a fifty-ton vessel in this period would have been about ten men, although it might have been deemed wise to take a few extra mariners on such a long voyage.

Leaving Bristol, the expedition sailed past Ireland and across the Atlantic making landfall somewhere on the coast of North America on June 24, 1497. The exact location of the landfall has long been a matter of great controversy, with different communities vying for the status of being the location of the landing. At various times historians have proposed Bonavista, St. John's in Newfoundland, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Labrador, and Maine as possibilities. Cape Bonavista in Newfoundland, however, is the location recognised by the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom as being Cabot's "official" landing place. As such, it was chosen, for instance, as the place where Queen Elizabeth II along with members of the Italian and Canadian governments greeted the replica Matthew of Bristol, following its celebratory crossing of the Atlantic in 1997. Wherever Cabot landed, it is, at any rate, generally supposed that they were the first Europeans to set foot in North American since the Vikings, whose voyages half a millennium earlier were probably unknown to the Bristol explorers.

Cabot is only reported to have landed once during the expedition and did not advance "beyond the shooting distance of a crossbow".[30] Both Paqualigo and Day agree that no contact was made with any native people, but they found the remains of a fire, a human trail, nets and a wooden tool. The crew only appeared to have remained on land long enough to take on fresh water and to raise the Venetian and Papal banners and claim the land for the King of England.[31] By so doing they claimed the land in the name of England, while recognising the religious authority of the Roman Catholic church. After this landing, Cabot spent some weeks "discovering the coast".[30] Day's letter suggests that "most of the land was discovered after turning back", which suggests the landfall was some way to the west / south of the most easterly point of North America. Both Day's letter and that of Soncino comment on the vast multitude of codfish in the sea, Soncino reporting that "the sea there is swarming with fish, which can be taken not only with the net, but in baskets let down with a stone, so that it sinks in the water."[4] John Day's letter states that the expedition left the New World once they reached a cape said to lie "1800 miles west of Dursey Head, which is in Ireland".[30] Given that the latitude of Dursey Head is 51° 35' N, this implies that, wherever Cabot made landfall, his departure point was at the northern tip of the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland (51° 36' N). On the homeward voyage Cabot's crew incorrectly thought they were going too far north, so they took a more southerly course, reaching Brittany instead of England. On August 6 the expedition returned to Bristol.

A replica of the Matthew in Bristol.

Final voyage

Back in England, Cabot appears to have ridden directly to see the King, who was then hunting at Woodstock Palace. On 10 August, he was given a reward of £10 — equivalent to about two-years pay for an ordinary labourer or craftsman.[32] The explorer was initially feted, Soncino commenting on 23 August that Cabot "is called the Great Admiral and vast honour is paid to him and he goes dressed in silk, and these English run after him like mad".[4] Such adulation was short-lived, however, for over the next few months the King's attention was occupied entirely by the Second Cornish Uprising of 1497, led by Perkin Warbeck. Nevertheless, once Henry's throne was secure he gave some more thought to Cabot. In December 1497 the explorer was awarded a pension of £20 per year and in February 1498 he was given an additional patent to help him prepare a second expedition.[33] In March and April the King also advanced a number of loans to Lancelot Thirkill of London, Thomas Bradley and John Cair, who were all to accompany Cabot's new expedition.[34] The Great Chronicle of London reports that Cabot departed with a fleet of five ships from Bristol at the beginning of May, one of which had been prepared by the King. Some of the ships were said to be carrying merchandise, including cloth, caps, lace points and other "trifles".[35] This implies that they hoped to engage in trade. The Spanish envoy in London reported in July that one of the ships had been caught in a storm and been forced to land in Ireland, but the other ships had kept on their way.[36]

Nothing more has been found (or at least published) that relates to this expedition and it has often been assumed from this that Cabot's fleet was lost at sea. On the other hand, it has long been known that at least one of the men who had been scheduled to accompany the expedition, Lancelot Thirkill of London, is recorded as living in London in 1501.[37] More recently it has been revealed that Alwyn Ruddock apparently found evidence to suggest that Cabot and his expedition returned to England in the Spring of 1500. She claimed that this followed an epic two-year exploration of the east coast of North America, which took Cabot and his compatriots right down into the Spanish territories in the Caribbean. Meanwhile, she suggested that a religious colony was established in Newfoundland by Fr. Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis and the other friars who a accompanied the 1498 expedition. That Carbonariis had accompanied the expedition has long been known and his missionary intent can be inferred from a rather disparaging reference to him, by the Spanish Ambassador in London, as being "another Friar Buil", this being a reference to Bernardo Buil, who accompanied Columbus on his 1493 expedition and celebrated the first mass in the Americas. On the other hand, if Ruddock's belief that Carbonariis did establish a settlement in North America is correct, this would certainly be the first Christian settlement on the continent, complete with the first (and only) medieval church to be built there. It appears this church may have been named after San Giovanni a Carbonara in Naples, which was the mother church of the "Carbonara", a group of reformed Augustinian friars.[38] A search to find the evidence on which these claims rested is now being undertaken by Dr Evan Jones and Margaret Condon of the University of Bristol.[39] Condon and Jones claim to have found further evidence to support aspects of Ruddock's case, particularly in relation to the return of the 1498 expedition, with documents having been located that appear to place John Cabot back in London by May 1500. The evidence for this has, however, yet to be published.

Alwyn Ruddock also claimed that William Weston of Bristol, a supporter of Cabot, undertook an independent expedition to North America in 1499, sailing north from Newfoundland up to the Hudson Strait.[40] If correct, this was probably the first North West Passage expedition. That William Weston (who was not previously known to have been involved in the expeditions) did lead an expedition to the "new found land" in 1499 has now been confirmed.[41] This underlines the point that Dr. Ruddock's claims about Cabot's 1498-?1500 expedition need to be treated seriously.

Sebastian's voyage

John's son, Sebastian Cabot, later made at least one voyage to North America, looking for the hoped for Northwest Passage (1508), as well as another to repeat Magellan's voyage around the world, but which instead ended up looking for silver along the Río de la Plata (1525-8).

Reception and memorialisation

Examples of the memorialisation of John Cabot and his expeditions include:

  • A 1762 painting of "Giovanni Caboto" on the walls of the Ducal Palace in Venice.[42]
  • Cabot Tower in St. John's, Newfoundland, constructed in 1897 to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of Cabot's voyage.
  • Cabot Tower, in Bristol, England. This is a 30-metre tall red sandstone tower begun in 1897 to mark the 400th anniversary of the landing. It is located on Brandon Hill near the city centre and was begun as a fraternal response to the earlier decision of Newfoundland to construct their tower.
  • The Giovanni Caboto Club, an Italian club located in Windsor, Ontario, established in 1925.[43]
  • A 1952 statue of the explorer at the entrance to Bristol's Council House — albeit one that the city council decided in 1956 to designate as a "symbolic figure of an Elizabethan seaman". This was despite the fact that the sculptor Charles Wheeler exhibited the work in the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition of 1952 as "Number 1423, John Cabot — sketch model for the statue on the New Council House, Bristol". In addition, it may be noted that the figure is dressed in fifteenth-century clothing, has a fifteenth-century navigational instrument (astrolabe) hanging from his belt and is clutching what is clearly meant to be John Cabot's letters patent. Despite all this, the Council still "maintains that the statue does not represent the city's renowned explorer, John Cabot."[44] The reason for the Council's "re-designation" of the statue is not recorded, but may be related to its decision to name the new council house after Elizabeth II, who opened the building in April 1956.[45]
  • John Cabot University is an American university established in 1972 in Rome, Italy.
  • A 1985 bronze statue of the explorer by Stephen Joyce, located on the Bristol Harbour side .
  • A replica of the Matthew of Bristol built to commemorate the five-hundredth anniversary of the 1497 voyage.
  • The scenic Cabot Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands is named after the explorer.
  • John Cabot Academy is an independent school in Bristol.
  • Cabot Ward is an electoral district in Bristol, albeit one that gets its name from Cabot Tower, which lies in the ward, rather than directly from the explorer.
  • Cabot Square in London and the smaller Cabot Square, Montreal.
  • Cabot Circus, a shopping mall opened in Bristol in 2008 was named following a city-wide poll, thus demonstrating the enduring popularity of the explorer in Bristol
  • John Cabot Road in north Phoenix, Arizona.
  • Cabot Street in St. John's Newfoundland.
  • A bronze statue of the explorer is located at St. John's front of the Confederation Building.
  • A bronze statue of the explorer is located at Cape Bonavista


  • Evan T. Jones, Alwyn Ruddock: John Cabot and the Discovery of America, Historical Research Vol 81, Issue 212 (2008), pp. 224-254. This 15,000-word article can be downloaded for free, courtesy of Wiley-Blackwell. It provides the most up-to-date introduction to Cabot's life and voyages currently available.
  • Evan T. Jones, Henry VII and the Bristol expeditions to North America: the Condon documents, Historical Research, 27 Aug 2009. Also freely available from Wiley-Blackwell, this relates primarily to the 1499 voyage of William Weston.
  • J.A. Williamson, The Cabot Voyages and Bristol Discovery Under Henry VII (Hakluyt Society, Second Series, No. 120, CUP, 1962). This is the essential source-book for those interested in researching Cabot and his voyages. However, it does not contain reference to any of the documents that have been unearthed since 1962 in the Italian, Spanish and English archives.
  • R. A. Skelton, "CABOT (Caboto), JOHN (Giovanni)", Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online (1966). A short and sensible introduction from a good scholar, which is freely available online. However, it is quite dated.
  • H.P. Biggar (ed.), The Precursors of Jacques Cartier, 1497-1534: a collection of documents relating to the early history of the dominion of Canada (Ottawa, 1911). Remains a useful addition to Williamson, in that it contains transcriptions of many of the original documents in their original languages - i.e. Latin, Spanish and Italian.
  • O. Hartig, "John and Sebastian Cabot", The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908). Freely available but very dated.
  • P D'Epiro, M.D. Pinkowish, "Sprezzatura: 50 ways Italian genius shaped the world" 1st Anchor Book Edition, later printing edition Oct 2 2001), pp.179-180.


  1. ^ "Catholic Encyclopedia "John & Sebastian Cabot"" (HTML). newadvent. 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-17. 
  2. ^ Edoardo Giuffrida, "New documents on Giovanni Caboto" in R. Mamoli Zorzi (ed.), Attraversare gli Oceani: Da Giovanni Caboto al Canada Multiculturale (Venice, 1999), 61.
  3. ^ Lorenzo Pasqualigo to his brothers at Venice, 23 August 1497
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Raimondo de Raimondi de Soncino, Milanese Ambassador in England, to Ludvico Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, 18 December 1497
  5. ^ "SCHEDA TECNICA DOCUMENTARIO “CABOTO”: I CABOTO E IL NUOVO MONDO" (in Italian) (PDF). Press release.  (TECHNICAL DOCUMENTARY "CABOTO": I and Catalan origins have been proved to be without foundation."CABOT" (HTML). Canadian Biography. 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-17. 
  6. ^ Roberto Almagiá, Commemorazione di Sebastiano Caboto nel IV centenario della morte (Venezia, 1958), pp. 37-8.
  7. ^ Pedro de Ayala, the Spanish envoy in London, to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in Spain, 25 July, 1498
  8. ^ J.A. Williamson, The Cabot Voyages and Bristol Discovery Under Henry VII (Hakluyt Society, Second Series, No. 120, CUP, 1962), pp. 33-4
  9. ^ Giuffrida, "New documents on Giovanni Caboto" pp. 62-3
  10. ^ Raimondo de Raimondi de Soncino, Milanese Ambassador in England, to Ludvico Maria Sforza, Duke of Milan, 18 December 1497
  11. ^ Williamson, The Cabot Voyages, pp. 93, 192-95
  12. ^ First Letters Patent granted by Henry VII to John Cabot, 5 March 1496
  13. ^ Giuffrida, "New documents on Giovanni Caboto" pp. 69
  14. ^ M. F. Tiepolo, "Documenti Veneziani su Giovanni Caboto", Studi Veneziani, xv (1973), pp. 585–97
  15. ^ M. Balesteros-Gaibrois, "Juan Caboto en España: nueva luz sobre un problema viejo", Revista de Indias, iv (1943), 607–27
  16. ^ John Cabot in Seville, 1494
  17. ^ Pedro de Ayala, the Spanish envoy in London, to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in Spain, 25 July, 1498
  18. ^ Derek Croxton (2007). "The Cabot Dilemma:John Cabot's 1497 Voyage &the Limits of Historiography" (HTML). University of Virginia. Retrieved 2008-05-17. 
  19. ^ "The Matthew of Bristol and the financiers of John Cabot's 1497 voyage to North America", English Historical Review (2006)
  20. ^ Evan T. Jones, Alwyn Ruddock: John Cabot and the Discovery of America, Historical Research Vol 81, Issue 212 (2008), pp. 231-34.
  21. ^ First Letters Patent granted by Henry VII to John Cabot, 5 March 1496
  22. ^ Williamson, The Cabot Voyages, pp. 187-9
  23. ^ Salazar's account of Bristol's discovery of the Island of Brasil (pre 1476)
  24. ^ Evan T. Jones, Alwyn Ruddock: John Cabot and the Discovery of America, pp. 237-9.
  25. ^ Fustnsert Manuscript: The Chronicle of Maurice Toby, 1565
  26. ^ 'Lorenzo Pasqualigo to his brothers at Venice, 23 August 1497
  27. ^ News sent from London to the Duke of Milan, 24 August 1497
  28. ^ John Day letter to the Lord Grand Admiral, Winter 1497/8
  29. ^ Evan T. Jones, Alwyn Ruddock: John Cabot and the Discovery of America, pp. 237-40.
  30. ^ a b c d e f John Day letter
  31. ^ P D'Epiro, M.D. Pinkowish, "Sprezzatura: 50 ways Italian genius shaped the world" pp. 179-180
  32. ^ Williamson, The Cabot Voyages, p. 214
  33. ^ Williamson, The Cabot Voyages, pp. 217-19, 226-7
  34. ^ Williamson, The Cabot Voyages, pp. 214-15
  35. ^ Williamson, The Cabot Voyages, pp. 220-23
  36. ^ Pedro de Ayala, the Spanish envoy in London, to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in Spain, 25 July, 1498
  37. ^ Williamson, The Cabot Voyages, pp. 92-4
  38. ^ Evan T. Jones, Alwyn Ruddock: John Cabot and the Discovery of America, pp. 242-9.
  39. ^ The Cabot Project
  40. ^ Evan T. Jones, Alwyn Ruddock: John Cabot and the Discovery of America, pp. 245-9.
  41. ^ Evan T. Jones, Henry VII and the Bristol expeditions to North America: the Condon documents, Historical Research, 27 Aug 2009
  42. ^ Painting of Giovanni Caboto by Giustino Menescardi
  43. ^ Giovanni Caboto Club History
  44. ^ Douglas Merritt, Sculpture in Bristol (Bristol, 2002), p. 90
  45. ^ Photograph: Statue of John Cabot / Elizabethan Seaman

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

JOHN CABOT [GIOVANNI CABOTO] (1450-1498), Italian navigator and discoverer of North America, was born in Genoa, but in 1461 went to live in Venice, of which he became a naturalized citizen in 1476. During one of his trading voyages to the eastern Mediterranean, Cabot paid a visit to Mecca, then the greatest mart in the world for the exchange of the goods of the East for those of the West. On inquiring whence came the spices, perfumes, silks and precious stones bartered there in great quantities, Cabot learned that they were brought by caravan from the north-eastern parts of farther Asia. Being versed in a knowledge of the sphere, it occurred to him that it would be shorter and quicker to bring these goods to Europe straight across the western ocean. First of all, however, a way would have to be found across this ocean from Europe to Asia. Full of this idea, Cabot, about the year 1484, removed with his family to London. His plans were in course of time made known to the leading merchants of Bristol, from which port an extensive trade was carried on already with Iceland. It was decided that an attempt should be made to reach the island of Brazil or that of the Seven Cities, placed on medieval maps to the west of Ireland, and that these should form the first halting-places on the route to Asia by the west.

To find these islands vessels were despatched from Bristol during several years, but all in vain. No land of any sort could be seen. Affairs were in this state when in the summer of 1493 news reached England that another Genoese, Christopher Columbus, had set sail westward from Spain and had reached the Indies. Cabot and his friends at once determined to forgo further search for the islands and to push straight on to Asia. With this end in view application was made to the king for formal letters patent, which were not issued until March 5, 1496. By these Henry VII. granted to his " well-beloved John Cabot, citizen of Venice, to Lewis, Sebastian and Santius, 1 sonnes of the said John, full and free authority, leave and power upon theyr own proper costs and charges, to seeke out, discover and finde whatsoever isles, countries, regions or provinces of the heathen and infidels, which before this time have been unknown to all Christians." Merchandise from the countries visited was to be entered at Bristol free of duty, but one-fifth of the net gains was to go to the king.

Armed with these powers Cabot set sail from Bristol on Tuesday the 2nd of May 1497, on board a ship called the " Mathew " manned by eighteen men. Rounding Ireland they headed first north and then west. During several weeks they were forced by variable winds to keep an irregular course, although steadily towards the west. At length, after being fifty-two days at sea, at five o'clock on Saturday morning, June 24, they reached the northern extremity of Cape Breton Island. The royal banner was unfurled, and in solemn form Cabot took possession of the country in the name of King Henry VII. The soil being found fertile and the climate temperate, Cabot was convinced he had reached the north-eastern coast of Asia, whence came the silks and precious stones he had seen at Mecca. Cape North was named Cape Discovery, and as the day was the festival of St John the Baptist, St Paul Island, which lies opposite, was called the island of St John.

Having taken on board wood and water, preparations were made to return home as quickly as possible. Sailing north, Cabot named Cape Ray, St George's Cape, and christened St Pierre and Miquelon, which then with Langley formed three separate islands, the Trinity group. Hereabout they met great schools of cod, quantities of which were caught by the sailors merely by lowering baskets into the water. Cape Race, the last land seen, was named England's Cape.

The return voyage was made without difficulty, since the prevailing winds in the North Atlantic are westerly, and on Sunday, the 6th of August, the " Mathew " dropped anchor once more in Bristol harbour. Cabot hastened to Court, and on Thursday the 10th of August received from the king £10 for having " found the new isle." Cabot reported that 700 leagues beyond Ireland he had reached the country of the Grand Khan. Although both silk and brazil-wood could be obtained there, he intended on his next voyage to follow the coast southward as far as Cipangu or Japan, then placed near the equator. Once Cipangu had been reached London would become a greater centre for spices than Alexandria. Henry VII. was delighted, and besides granting Cabot a pension of £2¦ promised him in the spring a fleet of ten ships with which to sail to Cipangu.

On the 3rd of February 1498, fresh letters patent were issued, whereby Cabot was empowered to " take at his pleasure VI. englisshe shippes and theym convey and lede to the londe and iles of late founde by the seid John." Henry VII. himself also advanced considerable sums of money to various members of the expedition. As success seemed assured, it was expected the returns would be high.

In the spring Cabot visited Lisbon and Seville, to secure the services of men who had sailed along the African coast with 1 Nothing further is known of Lewis and Santius.

Cam and Diaz or to the Indies with Columbus. At Lisbon he met a certain Joao Fernandes, called Ilavrador, who about the year 1492 appears to have made his way from Iceland to Greenland. Cabot, on learning from Fernandes that part of Asia, as they supposed Greenland to be, lay so near Iceland, determined to return by way of this country. On reaching Bristol he laid his plans accordingly. Early in May the expedition, which consisted of two ships and 300 men, left Bristol. Several vessels in the habit of trading to Iceland accompanied them. Off Ireland a storm forced one of these to return, but the rest of the fleet proceeded on its way along the parallel of 58°. Each day the ships were carried northward by the Gulf Stream. Early in June Cabot reached the east coast of Greenland, and as Fernandes was the first who had told him of this country he named it the Labrador's Land.

In the hope of finding a passage Cabot proceeded northward along the coast. As he advanced, the cold became more intense and the icebergs thicker and larger. It was also noticed that the land trended eastward. As a result on the 11th of June in latitude 67° 30' the crews mutinied and refused to proceed farther in that direction. Cabot had no alternative but to put his ships about and look for a passage towards the south. Rounding Cape Farewell he explored the southern coast of Greenland and then made his way a certain distance up the west coast. Here again his progress was checked by icebergs, whereupon a course was set towards the west. Crossing Davis Strait Cabot reached our modern Baffin Land in 66°. Judging this to be the Asiatic mainland, he set off southward in search of Cipangu. South of Hudson Strait a little bartering was done with the Indians, but these could offer nothing in exchange but furs. Our strait of Belle Isle was mistaken for an ordinary bay, and Newfoundland was regarded by Cabot as the main shore itself. Rounding Cape Race he visited once more the region explored in the previous summer, and then proceeded to follow the coast of our Nova Scotia and New England in search of Cipangu. He made his way as far south as the thirty-eighth parallel, when the absence of all signs of eastern civilization and the low state of his stores forced him to abandon all hope of reaching Cipangu on this voyage. Accordingly the ships were put about and a course set for England, where they arrived safely late in the autumn of 1498. Not long after his return John Cabot died.

His son, Sebastian Cabot (1476-1557), 2 is not independently heard of until May 1512, when he was paid twenty shillings " for making a carde of Gascoigne and Guyenne," whither he accompanied the English army sent that year by Henry VIII. to aid his father-in-law Ferdinand of Aragon against the French. Since Ferdinand and his daughter Joanna were contemplating the dispatch of an expedition from Santander to explore Newfoundland, Sebastian was questioned about this coast by the king's councillors. As a result Ferdinand summoned him in September 15 12 to Logrono, and on the 30th of October appointed him a captain in the navy at a salary of 50,000 maravedis a year. A letter was also written to the Spanish ambassador in England to help Cabot and his family to return to Spain, with the result that in March 1514 he was again back at Court discussing with Ferdinand the proposed expedition to Newfoundland. Preparations were made for him to set sail in March 1516; but the death of the king in January of that year put an end to the undertaking. His services were retained by Charles V., and on the 5th of February 1518 Cabot was named Pilot Major and official examiner of pilots.

In the winter of1520-1521Sebastian Cabot returned to England 2 The dates are conjectural. Richard Eden (Decades of the Newe Worlde, f. 255) says Sebastian told him that when four years old he was taken by his father to Venice, and returned to England "after certeyne yeares: wherby he was thought to have bin born in Venice "; Stow (Annals, under year 1498) styles " Sebastian Caboto, a Genoas sonne, borne in Bristow." Galvano and Herrera also give England the honour of his nativity. See also Nicholls, Remarkable Life of Sebastian Cabot (1869), a eulogistic account, with which may be contrasted Henry Harrisse's John Cabot and his son Sebastian (1896). and while there was offered by Wolsey the command of five vessels which Henry VIII. intended to despatch to Newfoundland. Being reproached by a fellow Venetian with having done nothing for his own country, Cabot refused, and on reaching Spain entered into secret negotiations with the Council of Ten at Venice. It was agreed that as soon as an opportunity offered Cabot should come to Venice and lay his plans before the Signiory. The conference of Badajoz took up his time in 1524, and on the 4th of March 1525 he was appointed commander of an expedition fitted out at Seville " to discover the Moluccas, Tarsis, Ophir, Cipango and Cathay." The three vessels set sail in April, and by June were off the coast of Brazil and on their way to the Straits of Magellan. Near the La Plata river Cabot found three Spaniards who had formed part of De Solis's expedition of 1515. These men gave such glowing accounts of the riches of the country watered by this river that Cabot was at length induced, partly by their descriptions and in part by the casting away of his flag-ship, to forgo the search for Tarsis and Ophir and to enter the La Plata, which was reached in February 1527. All the way up the Parana Cabot found the Indians friendly, but those on the Paraguay proved so hostile that the attempt to reach the mountains, where the gold and silver were procured, had to be given up. On reaching Seville in August 1530, Cabot was condemned to four years' banishment to Oran in Africa, but in June 1533 he was once more reinstated in his former post of Pilot Major, which he continued to fill until he again removed to England.

As early as 1538 Cabot tried to obtain employment under Henry VIII., and it is possible he was the Sevillian pilot who was brought to London by the king in 1541. Soon after the accession of Edward VI., however, his friends induced the Privy Council to advance money for his removal to England, and on the 5th of January 1549 the king granted him a pension of £166, 13s. 4d. On Charles V. objecting to this proceeding, the Privy Council, on the 21st of April 1550, made answer that since " Cabot of himself refused to go either into Spayne or to the emperour, no reason or equitie wolde that he shulde be forced or compelled to go against his will." A fresh application to Queen Mary on the 9th of September 1553 likewise proved of no avail.

On the 26th of June 1550 Cabot received X200 " by waie of the kinges Majesties rewarde," but it is not clear whether this was for his services in putting down the privileges of the German Merchants of the Steelyard or for founding the company of Merchant Adventurers incorporated on the 18th of December 1 55 1. Of this company Cabot was made governor for life. Three ships were sent out in May 1553 to search for a passage to the East by the north-east. Two of the vessels were caught in the ice near Arzina and the crews frozen to death. Chancellor's vessel alone reached the White Sea, whence her captain made his way overland to Moscow. He returned to England in the summer of 155 4 and was the means of opening up a very considerable trade with Russia. Vessels were again despatched to Russia in 1555 and 1556. On the departure of the " Searchthrift " in May 1556, " the good old gentleman Master Cabot gave to the poor most liberal alms, wishing them to pray for the good fortune and prosperous success of the ` Searchthrift '; and then, at the' sign of the Christopher, he and his friends banqueted and made them that were in the company good cheer; and for very joy that he had to see the towardness of our intended discovery, he entered into the dance himself among the rest of the young and lusty company." On the arrival of King Philip II. in England Cabot's pension was stopped on the 26th of May 1557, but three days later Mary had it renewed. The date of Cabot's death has not been definitely discovered. It is supposed that he died within the year.

See G. P. Winship, Cabot'Bibliography, with an Introductory Essay on the Careers of the Cabots (London, 1900); and H. P. Biggar, " The Voyages of the Cabots to North America and Greenland,"in the Revue Hispanique, tome x. pp. 485-593 (Paris, 1903). (H. P. B.)

<< George Cabot

Cabotage >>


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address