John Cabot was in his early to mid forties when he set foot on the soil of
Newfoundland, claiming the territory for Christianity in the name of the English crown.
|Imaginary Medallion portrait of John Cabot, from a memoir published in Venice in 1881.
He was then working for the English King, Henry VII, having been authorized to seek
out the new world to "discover and find whatsoever isles, countries, regions or
provinces of heathens and infidels."
Cabot's name had been anglicized for his voyage but he had been born Giovanni Caboto, likely the son of an Italian merchant. The exact date and place of his birth are unknown.
It could have been between 1450 and 1455 in Genoa,
like his fellow explorer Christopher Columbus, or perhaps in Venice where it's certain he
spent some of his childhood.
Cabot became a citizen of Venice in 1461and in 1482 he married a Venetian woman,
Mattea. They had three sons: Ludovico,Sebastiano and Sancio. The family eventually
settled in the English port of Bristol where Cabot was living when he received his
commission from King Henry VII.
The exact location of Cabot's 1497 landfall in North America is as uncertain as his
birthplace. There have been arguments for a landing on Labrador, Newfoundland and Cape
Wherever it was he didn't stay very long, returning to his ship to sail the
coast for about a month before returning to Bristol.
Although Cabot's encounter with North American land was brief, his return to Bristol
was met with much fanfare, especially over his news of the abundance of fish in the
waters off New Found Land.
There were so many fish in the Atlantic, Cabot said, that
they could be caught with a basket lowered over the side of a boat.
Cabot, although rewarded for his findings with permission to take another expedition,
never returned to the land he'd discovered. He left England again in 1498 only to become
lost at sea with all five of his vessels.
From 1508 to 1509 Cabot's son Sebastiano carried out explorations of his own, sailing
with support from Bristol merchants. His journeys took him to the north of those
found in 1497.