CABOT, John (Italian, Giovanni Caboto, or Zuan
Calbot, or Caboto, Venetian dialect), discoverer of the mainland of North
America. The time and place of his birth are not positively known. His name
first occurs in the Venetian archives, ere it appears he was accorded the
rights of a citizen on 28 March, 1476 after the required fifteen years'
residence. It is known that in 1495 he was, and probably had been for years, an
English subject, residing at Bristol. Under date of 5 March, 1496, a patent was
issued by authority of the king, Henry VII., licensing Cabot and his three sons,
or either of them, their heirs or assigns, to search for islands, provinces, or
regions, in the eastern, western, or northern seas; and, as vassals of the king,
to occupy the territories that might be found, with an exclusive right to their
commerce, on paying the king a fifth part of all profits. Under this authority,
Cabot, with his son Sebastian,
sailed in May, 1497, and held a westward course for an estimated distance of 700
On 24 June land was sighted, which he believed to
be part of the dominions of the Grand Chain, but which was really the coast of
Labrador. This shore he coasted for 300 leagues, finding no evidences of human
habitation, and then set sail for home, reaching Bristol in August. At this
time, owing mainly to the discoveries of Columbus, the theory that the earth is
a sphere had gained general acceptance among advanced thinkers, and it was
believed that the shortest route to the Indies lay westward. Cabot's discovery
therefore caused much excitement among the adventurous spirits of the day, and
on 3 Feb., 1498, the king issued a special charter, granting to John Cabot
authority to impress six English ships at the rates then current for vessels
required by the royal navy, to enlist crews, and to follow up his discoveries of
the preceding year. Under this charter Cabot made no voyages. It has erroneously
been called a second charter, but did not in any way set aside that of 1496,
which still remained valid. It is, however, the last record of his career, and
it is uncertain when or where he died. He was probably a Venetian by birth, as
he is named in the charter of 1498 "Kabotto, Venecian," and his wife
was a Venetian. Had there been any possibility of proving him an Englishman, the
claim would undoubtedly have been pressed.
authorities concerning his voyages are : 1. A letter from Lorenzo Pasquaiigo, a
merchant residing in London, to his brother in Venice, bearing date 23 Aug.,
1497; 2. The legend on the map of Sebastian Cabot, cited by Hakluyt and giving
24 June, 1497, as the date of discovery; 3. An Oxford copy of Sebastian's map,
on which the date was 1494, with several other authorities giving that year,
instead of 1497, as the correct date. But the only official documents the two
charters of Henry VII. agree in fixing the date as first given. Much light has
been shed upon the life of Cabot by the researches of Rawdon Brown, of England.
See "Jean and Sebastian Cabot," by Henri Harrisse (Paris, 1882).Edited Appleton's American
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