Some lives are very well documented. We are taught about those lives in history lessons, their accomplishments are well known and we owe a fair part of our evolution to their contributions to making the world as it is. But some lives are not well known despite their contributions being noteworthy. John Cabot is one such legend about whom most people know very little. Like Christopher Columbus who landed in the Americas and thought it to be India, John Cabot also landed in the new world thinking it to be Asia. His voyage aboard a ship called Matthew in 1497 is well documented. He furthered the expansion spree of the then King of England Henry VII to expand British territories. Here are some of the John Cabot major accomplishments.
He Discovered a Part Of Canada.
John Cabot was commissioned by King Henry VII to sail on the Matthew and reach Asia. Then a navigator and explorer, John Cabot landed in Canada and thought it was Asia. Historians say that he landed at Newfoundland. Some say he landed at Baffin Island. It is not that important though because it is accepted by all historians that John Cabot lead the British into Canada. Parts of Canada and Greenland wouldn’t have been discovered then had it not been for Cabot. It would have perhaps happened but much later.
He Discovered a Quicker Route To The Americas.
Born as Giovanni Caboto, an Italian by birth, a Venetian by citizenship and later a resident of Bristol in England, John Cabot became a mapmaker. It was in England when he heard of Christopher Columbus and his discoveries. It was the age of discovery so most people in England would only talk about voyages, seas and yes there were pirates too. While Cabot wanted to be an explorer, he was confined to his mapmaking till 1490s when King Henry VII gave him the opportunity to sail aboard the Matthew. His mapmaking skills, acumen of navigation and the seas were developed at an early age when he was trained by Italian merchants and seamen. Cabot’s father, Giulio Caboto was a spice merchant.
Cabot did not become an explorer till he ran into rough waters with his trade. Circa 1488, John Cabot got inspired by the various discoveries and other than Christopher Columbus it was Bartolomeu Dias whose stories moved him substantially. It is well known that Christopher Columbus had mistakenly found America when he wanted to find a shorter route to Asia. Cabot thought of the same and sailed from west of Europe. It is unimaginable to think now since we have satellite images of where Asia is and how it is placed on the globe vis-à-vis Europe. But back then, it was not so lucid or obvious.
John Cabot took an opportunity, which was then called ‘seeke out, discover, and finde’. It was an initiative of King Henry VII to encourage voyagers, explorers, navigators, mapmakers and sailors to embark on explorations to find new lands. Cabot sailed from west of Europe, from Bristol to be precise and charted his erstwhile unknown route. While he did not land where Columbus did, he did not find Asia or India, yet he did land in Canada and ended up finding a shorter route from England to what is today known as North America.
The difference in time was primarily due to the decision taken by Cabot that they should sail west and a tad north, not in the directions of the trade winds as had been taken by Columbus. Thinking of it today, it was quite naïve since Asia was nowhere near as temperate or frigid a zone as compared to Europe and sailing further north would be unwise and impractical, almost irrational. But his exploration found a shorter transit to America. It is still debated if John Cabot landed at Newfoundland, Baffin Island, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia and some even say it was Maine.
The Larger Voyage That Did Not End
A year after his return to Bristol, England, John Cabot was allowed to lead an exploration with a crew of three hundred men aboard five ships. One ship got disabled and ended up in Ireland. The fate of the other four ships is unknown. Some records suggest that John Cabot and his crew survived the voyage and that he did live on in England. Some suggest they had set up small settlements along the eastern coast of Canada. Some say that a priest aboard one of the ships had set up a Christian community in Newfoundland. None of these can be completely substantiated.
John Cabot made only two voyages in his lifetime but the first one was enough for England to find new land and actually spread its influence across the Americas, eventually to its unfailing power that would dominate the world for the next four centuries.