John Cabot was a great Italian explorer, born Giovanni Caboto in Italy around 1455 (although the actual year is debatable) to the seaman and merchant, Julio Caboto. John always had a deep interest in exploration, and he studied sailing and mapping until he was proficient in both. He became a citizen of Venice in 1476 and traveled to eastern shores of the Mediterranean and visited Mecca, a great trading center where Oriental and Western goods were exchanged. As he became more skilled at navigation, he began considering the possibility of reaching Asia by sailing west. In 1482, Cabot married. He had three sons, Lewis, Sebastian, and Sanctus.
The Cabots moved to England where he began the search for a sponsor to fund a voyage to the Indies. Finally, On March 5, 1496 King Henry VII granted Cabot a charter giving him permission to sail north, east or west but not south because the Spaniards were there. The first voyage was forced to turn back because of shortage of food, bad weather and disputes with his crew. He set out again on May 2, 1497 with only one ship, the Matthew (named after his wife Mattea), and a small crew of eighteen men. John Cabot and his crew sailed the Matthew around the southern tip of Ireland and then northwards. They then changed course and sailed westwards until they sighted land on June 21, 1497. It was believed to have been southern Labrador, Newfoundland or Cape Breton Island. He mistakenly believed he had reached the northeastern coast of Asia and set sail for England less than a month later on July 20, 1497. When the Matthew reached England, the people called Cabot ‘The Great Admiral’. King Henry was so pleased that he gave Cabot a pension of twenty pounds per year for the rest of his life. In 1498, Cabot left on another voyage with five ships and three hundred men. One ship experienced trouble and soon made for an Irish port. The other four were never heard of again. He may have reached America again but it is believed the expedition was lost at sea. Cabot’s love of the sea brought the great mariner to a tragic early death.
- Voyages of the Cabots, English Discovery of North America(1929, reprint 1971)