John, Sebastian Cabot

Cabot, the name of a family of explorers intimately connected with the history of America. JOHN is supposed to have been born in Genoa, although some historians have claimed Venice as his birthplace. There is evidence that for fifteen years prior to 1476 he resided in Venice, and in that year formally became a citizen. Subsequently he removed to Bristol, England, and engaged in mercantile business. With a view of finding a shorter route to India, he determined to attempt a northwest passage. To further his undertaking he secured from Henry VII. a patent for the discovery of any unknown lands lying in either the eastern, western, or northern seas.

SEBASTIAN, the second son of John, was born in Bristol, England, in 1477. As his name appears in the petition of his father to Henry VII. for the patent above mentioned, it is believed that he accompanied his father in the voyage described below. Sebastian died in London in 1557.

The latest evidence shows that John and probably his son Sebastian sailed from Bristol, May, 1497, discovered in June what was supposed to be the Chinese coast, and returned in July. In April, 1498, they sailed again from Bristol; on this voyage JOHN died and Sebastian succeeded to the command. The place of the landfall is uncertain; probably Labrador and Prince Edward Island were reached. A common account is that he was stopped by the ice-pack in Davis Strait. Then he sailed southwest, and discovered the shores of Labrador, or, possibly, the northern shore of Newfoundland. Turning northward, he traversed the coast of the continent almost to lat. 60°, when the ice again barred his way. Then he sailed southward, and discovered a large island, which he called New Found Land ( Newfoundland) , and perceived the immense number of codfish in the waters surrounding it. Leaving that island, he coasted as far as the shores of Maine, and, some writers think, as far south as the Carolinas. On his return Cabot revealed the secret of the codfish at New Found Land, and within five or six years thereafter fishermen from England, Brittany, and Normandy were gathering treasures there.

As Cabot did not bring back gold from America, King Henry paid no more attention to him; and in 1512 he went to Spain, by invitation of King Ferdinand, and enjoyed honors and emoluments until that monarch’s death in 1516, when, annoyed by the jealousies of the Spanish nobility, he returned to England. Henry VIII. furnished Cabot with a vessel, in 1517, to seek for a northwest passage to India; but he unsuccessfully fought the ice-pack at Hudson Bay and was foiled. The successor of Ferdinand invited Cabot to Spain and made him chief pilot of the realm. He was employed by Spanish merchants to command an expedition to the Spice Islands by way of the then newly discovered Strait of Magellan; but circumstances prevented his going farther than the south-east coast of South America, where he discovered the rivers De la Plata and Paraguay. His employers were disappointed, and, resigning his office into the hands of the Spanish monarch, he returned to England in his old age, and was pensioned by the King. After the death of Henry VIII. the ” boy King,” Edward VI., made Cabot grand pilot of England; but Queen Mary neglected him, and allowed that eminent navigator and discoverer of the North American continent to die in London in comparative poverty and obscurity at the age of eighty years. His cheerful temperament was manifested by his dancing at an assembly of young seamen the year before his death.