John Cabot and the Cabot voyages of discovery
John Cabot? - ca 1498
Little is known about John Cabot. His real name was Giovanni Caboto. He received the citizenship of Venice in 1476. The English King Henry VII hired him around 1496 for a voyage of discovery to the west with the task of looking for a way to Asia. He was called John Cabot by the English, a name with which he became world famous.
In May 1497, John Cabot set out from Bristol and on June 24th sighted land for the first time, which he briefly set foot in order to take possession of it in the name of Henry VII. For thirty days he followed the coastline without seeing a soul and returned to England at the beginning of August, where he proudly reported that he had discovered Asia.
In fact, John Cabot was the first European after Columbus to set foot on American soil. Where that happened is still unclear today, as neither his logbook nor an eyewitness report from his trip have been preserved. Historians agree that it must have been somewhere between Labrador and Cape Breton, perhaps even on Prince Edward Island. Most likely it was the east coast of Newfoundland.
In 1498 John Cabot set out on another voyage of discovery, from which he never returned.
Sebastian Cabot approx. 1484 - 1557
John Cabot's son, Sebastian, followed in his father's footsteps. In 1509 he made the first attempt to circumnavigate the globe on the north path. It appears to have reached the entrance to Hudson Bay before its crew refused to proceed. He thought the bay was a passage to Cathay in northern China.
Upon his return, he joined the Spanish Navy in 1512, where he served until 1547. At the age of 63 he retired to England, where he died in 1557.
Ships and Navigation by John Cabot and his son
The sailing ships with which the John Cabot and his son made their voyages were three-masters with rectangular sails and at least one latin sail in the shape of a triangle, which made the ships more manoeuvrable.
The bow planks were smoothed. The ships were wide in order to be armed against the strong storms of the North Atlantic. They were not built large in order to remain easily maneuverable in the unknown coastal waters. John Cabot's Matthew could only transport 50 tons of cargo and had a crew of less than 20 men.
Life on board these ships was uncomfortable. The crew quarters were cramped, dirty, and cold. Fires were only kindled when the weather was calm and there were no washing facilities. The food at sea was extremely monotonous and consisted mainly of dry rusks, beer (which remained drinkable longer than water), salted meat, dried peas, salted fish, butter, cheese, rice, oats, raisins and nuts. Scurvy was a constant scourge of seafarers.
Navigation was difficult in those times. In addition to the compass, with which the north direction could be determined, the seafarers of those days knew the astrolabe, the quadrant or the cross stick, with which they could determine the angle between the north star or the sun and the horizon and calculate the latitude of the ship. Longitudes had to be guessed. Speed was measured by throwing a rope into the water with knots attached at regular intervals. There were no coast maps. Sandbanks or reefs could only be circumnavigated if someone was constantly on the lookout. A weighted rope was thrown into the water to determine the water depth.
On the trail of the Cabots through eastern Canada
- Cabot Trail
- Acadians on the Cabot Trail
- The Seafaring of Portugal in the Age of Discoveries
- Cape Breton in the footsteps of the Scots
- St. John, Newfoundland
Source John Cabot: own research
Text by John Cabot: © Copyright Monika Fuchs
Photos: © Copyright Public Domain