John and Sebastian Cabot

John Cabot

John Cabot was born in Genoa in 1450 and moved to England in 1484. Like Columbus and Magellan, Cabot thought there was a better route to the riches of the Orient by heading west instead of east. After being turned down by the monarchs of Spain and Portugal, Cabot was granted a charter to explore by Henry VII of England. He was given one small ship less than 70 feet long called the Matthew and a crew of eighteen men. The expedition set sail from Bristol, England, on May 2, 1497.

He headed farther north than the Columbus routes and well out of the way of Spanish-held territories. Five weeks later on June 24, his crew sighted land somewhere near Newfoundland. Even though the distance was shorter than Columbus', it took longer because the winds were not as favorable up in the north. It was the first documented landing in Newfoundland since the Viking voyages centuries before.

Cabot was convinced he had found an island off the coast of Asia and he named the island "new found land." He returned to England on August 6, 1497. Although he brought no spices or treasure back with him, he was able to map out the first details of the North American coast.

King Henry approved a second voyage and financed one ship. Four other ships were financed by merchants hoping to cash in on the new route to the Orient. In May 1498, the five ships set sail. One returned for repairs and the other four, with John Cabot as captain, disappeared, and never returned.

See John Cabot's Voyage.

Sebastian Cabot

Sebastian CabotJohn Cabot's son, Sebastian, was an accomplished mapmaker and navigator. In 1508 with King Henry VII's support, he set sail to discover western lands. He took a northern route looking for a strait to take him to the Orient. When his crew threatened mutiny, Sebastian headed back to England. He was certain he had found a northwest passage to the East. On the way back he explored the coast of North America. He arrived in England in 1509 only to find King Henry VII had died and Henry VIII was in power. The new king was not as supportive of Cabot's exploration as his predecessor, so young Sebastian moved to Spain and secured the Spanish ruler's support to find an easier and safer strait than Magellan's.

In 1526, he set sail with four ships. He spent four years sailing off the east coast of South America. He did not find a better passage around the continent and returned to Spain in 1530 in disgrace. He eventually returned to England and lived as a mapmaker until his death in 1557.

See Sebastian Cabot's Voyage.