When the World Began...
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Early Encounters
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For decades after Cabot, both the British and French were preoccupied at home with religious travails, war and domestic politics. North American exploration was a distant priority.

In the early 1500's, it was not exploratory voyages but fishing trips that drove Europeans across the Atlantic Ocean again and again. Fleets of fishing vessels -- from England, Basque Country, Spain, Portugal and France -- headed straight for Newfoundland because of the fortune in cod held in the waters off its coast.

John Cabot first reported the abundance of codfish, what the English called stockfish, upon his return from his 1497 Newfoundland landing. He said that there were so many fish in those waters that they could be caught with a basket lowered over the side of a boat.

But the island of Newfoundland itself was merely a place to find shelter in bad weather -- a place to gather supplies, until a Portuguese merchant went ashore and came back with the news that he had found people. There was at least one attempt to take these natives, probably Beothuk, back to Europe.

In 1501 a ship, loaded with several native captives, was greeted at the docks in Lisbon by a curious throng of merchants, among them an Italian diplomat Pietro Pasqualigo.

He wrote about the incident, describing the captives, as "Admirably fitted to endure labour and will probably turn out to be the best slaves that have been discovered up to this time."

Pasqualigo's prediction was wrong as all of the captives died, either on the voyage or shortly after arriving in Lisbon.

The Beothuk of Newfoundland eventually became extinct after approximately 300 years of interaction with the white people who made the island their new home. Over that course of time there were many other encounters.

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Biography of John Cabot

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