England - Periods - Tudor 1485-1603

John Cabot

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During the 1400's there were stories and legends repeated throughout Northwestern Europe of the rich lands across the Atlantic Ocean. These of course were handed down by the Vikings and came from their colonies and exploits which did in fact reach across the Atlantic.

There is evidence of English and French fishermen, who listening to these stories, made their way across the North Atlantic and were rewarded by the richest fishing grounds in the world, the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. They did not want to share their discovery with competing fishermen and hence the secret was probably closely guarded. (As were later Spanish discoveries when they also feared that other nations would send expeditions to the rich lands which they discovered and keep secret logs and records of almost all of their sea voyages. EG: West coast of North America)

By 1497 the success of Christopher Columbus was leaking out to all areas of Europe and the response in England was to take a closer look at the position of the Kingdom in the North Atlantic and the potential for conquering new lands or more importantly, as with Columbus's original intentions, to discover a direct trading route to the Far East.

Henry the VII had recently finished the War of the Roses by taking power himself and killing the last direct challenger for the throne. Feeling somewhat secure at home, he was ready to send someone west, across the Atlantic in search of China and the Spice Islands. He choose a Genoese navigator, John Cabot (Giovanni Cabot) and on May 2nd 1497 he set sail from Bristol England on a ship named the Mathew and crossed the Atlantic. According to a Bristol merchant John Day, he probably landed in Newfoundland, Labrador and Cape Breton Island. He returned the following year on a second voyage of discover and like Columbus he believed that he had reached Asia and the natives were in fact Chinese. These initial voyages were enough to establish a claim by England to this new territory and served to open up the floodgates for other exploration and fishermen in search of the legendary Grand Banks.

As Cabot arrived in Newfoundland's waters, he and his men were amazed by the sea life. They dipped baskets into the water and drew them out full of fish. This report triggered a rush of fishermen who were able to develop an huge industry for the European market. Cabot landed on the Newfoundland shore for only a few hours and found evidence of the native people. He did report the possible sighting of a couple of natives, but wasn't positive.

The following year 1498 he set out on another voyage to America but was lost somewhere at sea. He and his crew were never seen again.

Reference: Article by Greg Scott (Staff Historian), 2018

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