John Cabot Biography
John Cabot was an Italian navigator and explorer who was the first European to discover the coast of North America. In May 1497, with the help of English King Henry VII, Cabot decided to sail west from Bristol to find out a direct route to Asia. In June, he discovered a land and named it Newfoundland. At that time, he believed it was Asia and claimed it for England. After returning to England, he planned another voyage and began his next expedition. In May 1498, he set out on a voyage along with a fleet of four or five ships, to discover Japan. It is believed that Cabot reached North America but he never managed to return back. Cabot set out on number of voyages in his lifetime. The fate of his last expedition is unknown and many studies have been undertaken to understand the final voyage of Cabot. Historian, Alwyn Ruddock, had been working on Cabot and his era for 35 years. She had certain claims about Cabot’s final voyage and she believed that Cabot and his ship successfully returned to England in 1500. On the occasion of 500th anniversary of Cabot’s expedition, Canadian as well as British government elected Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland, as his first landing site. However, few other locations too have been proposed.
- John Cabot was born in Genoa, Italy somewhere around 1450. His father, Giulio Caboto, was a spice merchant. John Cabot had a brother named Piero.
- When Cabot was 11 years of age, he learned sailing and navigation from Italian seamen and merchants. In 1471, Cabot got accepted by a religious confraternity of St John the Evangelist. This was one of city’s prestigious confraternities.
- In 1476, he gained full Venetian citizenship and was eligible for maritime trade. This also included the trade to the eastern Mediterranean which was the main source of Venice’s wealth.
- One of the documents that dates back to 1483 suggests that he sold a slave in Crete whom he had met in the territories of the Sultan of Egypt, most of which now comprises of Israel, Syria and Lebanon.
- Cabot gained more knowledge of origins of oriental (West Asia) merchandise due to the Mediterranean trade. This helped him in dealing better with spices and silks than most Europeans did at that time.
- In November 1488, Cabot got into financial trouble and had to leave Venice due to his debts. At that time, he moved to Valencia, Spain, but his creditors tried to arrest him by sending “a letter of recommendation to justice”.
- When he was in Spain, he changed his name to “John Cabot Montecalunya” and made some plans for improving the harbour. Unfortunately, these proposals got rejected.
- In the early of 1494, he moved to Seville, where he was on contract to build, and work on the construction of a stone bridge over the Guadalquivir River for five months. However, on 24 December 1494, this projected too was shelved.
- Following this, Cabot asked for support from Seville and Lisbon for an Atlantic expedition. After this, he moved to London in search of some funds and political support. In the mid-1495, he is believed to have reached England.
- Cabot led on several expeditions on commission to European nations like all other Italian explorers. Many historians believe that on his arrival to England, Cabot left for Bristol, which was a major maritime center to seek financial help.
- The royal patent of John Cabot stated that all his expeditions must have begun from Bristol, which means his financial supporters were from the same city. Historian Ruddock claimed to have found evidence of the same.
- Ruddock had suggested that a patron named Father Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis who was a friar was a deputy to a tax collector, Adriano Castellesi. It is believed that Carbonariis accompanied Cabot on his 1498 expedition. Also, the friar introduced Cabot to King Henry VII.
- Cabot went to Bristol to prepare for his voyage since it was the second-largest seaport in England. The details about Cabot’s first voyage are obscure since it wasn’t recorded properly.
- Some historians believe that in 1496, Cabot made a voyage with one ship from Bristol. However, he was forced to turn back because of short supply of food, bad weather and dispute with his crew.
- His second voyage was in May 1497 and its information is derived from four short letters and an entry made in 1565 chronicle of the city of Bristol. The chronicle entry for 1496/7 speaks about the voyage that was made on St. John the Baptist’s Day with Cabot’s ship Matthew.
- In 1497, one more letter was written by a Bristol merchant, John Day, probably addressed to Christopher Columbus speaks about Cabot’s second expedition. Moreover, Ruddock claimed to have discovered another piece of letter which was written on 10 August 1497. But this letter is yet to be found.
- It is believed that on June 24 1497, Cabot and his crew made a landing proceeding around Ireland and then north and west. The exact details about the landing place are unclear, but it is believed that it could be in southern Labrador, Newfoundland or Cape Breton.
- Some also believe that on his expedition in 1497, Cabot and his crew seemed to have found abundance of new fishery. The Milanese ambassador to England reported that Cabot saw the sea was “swarming with fish, which could not be caught with a net, but in baskets”.
- The fish was cod and its abundance on the Grand Banks laid down the foundation of fishing industry in Newfoundland.
- After returning back to Bristol, Cabot met the King who rewarded him with £10 which was equivalent to two years’ pay. In December 1497, Cabot was awarded pension of £20 per year. He was also given new letter patent covering the voyage in 1498.
- In May 1498, John Cabot left Bristol with five ships and 300 crew members on another voyage. The ships had sufficient provisions and some samplings of cloth, lace points and other “trifles” which suggests they were planning to indulge in trade.
- Out of the five ships, one of the ships was disabled and had to sail to Ireland, while the other ships continued their sail. After this, the fate of John Cabot and his ships is unknown. Some believe they were lost at sea for many days.
- While the historian Ruddock suggested that Cabot and his fleet returned back to England in 1500. Some historians also suggest that Cabot explored the Canadian coast and stayed at Newfoundland and founded a mission with the help of a priest.
- On his 500th anniversary expeditions, government of UK and Canada designated Cape Bonavista as his ‘’official’’ landing place. In 1997, Queen Elizabeth II is said to have greeted the replica of Matthew of Bristol.
- John Cabot is considered to be the first European to land in North America since the Vikings. He claimed the island of Newfoundland for the British.
- John Cabot got married in 1474 to a girl named Mattea. The couple had three sons: Ludovico, Sancto and Sebastiano. Cabot’s son, Sebastinao, followed his father’s path and became an explorer.
- It’s not clear, when and how John Cabot died. The last time Cabot was mentioned was in 1508-1509 when he set out on expedition led by his son Sebastiano. Nothing is certain after that; he might have died during the journey or perhaps after returning from the journey.
- A tower, ‘Cabot Tower’ was raised in the memory of John Cabot in 1897 in St. John’s, Newfoundland, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Cabot’s voyage.
- In 1925, an Italian club, named Giovanni Caboto Club’ was started in Ontario named in his honour.
- In Bristol’s Council House, a statue of John Cabot was erected in 1952.
- John Cabot University, a small American liberal arts university, was established in his honour in Rome, Italy, in 1972.
- Stephen Joyce made a bronze statue of Cabot in 1985 which is located at Bristol Harbourside.
- A replica of Cabot’s ship Matthew has been made in Bristol. The ‘Matthew of Bristol’ was docked in Bristol to honour his 500th anniversary.
- An academy has been formed under John Cabot’s name in Bristol, England.
- There has been a Cabot Squares in London and Montreal, whereas John Cabot Road can be found in north Phoenix, Arizona.
- The land that Cabot discovered has also honoured him by naming a street after him, Cabot Street in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.
- Cabot’s bronze statue is standing tall at the Confederation Building, St. John’s. Furthermore, another bronze statue of Cabot is located at Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland.
- In Italy, he is known as Giovanni Caboto and in English he is known as John Cabot.
- University of Bristol started The Cabot Project in 2009 to discover evidence about Ruddock’s claims and to undertake studies related to Cabot and his expeditions.
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