John Cabot

English Entrepreneur & Explorer

Born: 1450

Died: 1499

In 1497 a tiny ship, the Matthew, sailed from Bristol, England, with a crew of 18 men on a historic voyage. The captain was John Cabot, an Italian born in Genoa. He had moved to England in about 1484 and was sailing under the flag of King Henry VII. Henry had refused to help Columbus when he was trying to fit out his expedition. Five years later he was delighted to give permission for Cabot's voyage.

Cabot was sure he could reach Asia by sailing westward. After several weeks, he sighted the coast of North America on June 24, 1497. The land he discovered was probably Cape Breton Island and the nearby island of "New Found Land." When Cabot returned with news of his discovery, the king gave him ten pounds and the rank of admiral.

The next year, 1498, Cabot set out on a second voyage with two ships and 300 men. He intended to sail down the coast he had already found. This he believed to be the extreme northeast of Asia. He thus hoped to find Japan. Instead he discovered the barren shores of Labrador, which he named. Afterward he sailed as far south as Maryland. There he abandoned his search for Japan because his supplies had run low. It is thought that he died in Bristol shortly after his return from this voyage.

Cabot was the first European to reach the shores of North America since the days of the old Norsemen. England later claimed the whole of North America on the ground that Cabot was the first discoverer to reach the mainland.

Sebastian Cabot, John's son, was born in Venice, Italy. He apparently accompanied his father on his voyages. He was a cartographer to King Henry VIII in 1512, when he was sent with the English army to aid King Ferdinand II of Aragon against the French. Ferdinand's death cancelled a North American voyage he was to command in 1516.

In 1526 he commanded a Spanish expedition to South America. Seeking a strait to the Pacific, he entered the Plata, Parana, and Paraguay rivers. After about three years of fruitless exploration, he was banished to Africa. He published an engraved map of the world in 1544 and later returned to England. In 1552 he founded the Muscovy Company to find a northeast passage to the Orient. Ships from this company later opened the Russian market to England.

Click on the Piece of Eight to return to the Main Page