Who is John Cabot?

When King Henry heard of the marvelous success of Columbus, he felt a disappointment because he had failed to secure for his crown and country the renown and advantages which their assistance in the great achievement would have given. But he was not thereby discouraged nor deterred from assisting in further attempts at discovery, though such assistance was, at first, only a permission. By royal charter he gave to John Cabot (a Venetian merchant at Bristol), and his sons, in 1496, permission to explore any seas with five ships and as many seamen as they might choose to employ, at their own expense, "to discover and occupy isles or countries of the heathen "There," he said to that functionary, "my victuals failing, I departed from thence and returned into England, where I found great tumults among the people and preparations for wars in Scotland, by reason whereof there was no more consideration had to this voyage. Whereupon I went into Spain, to the Catholic king."

Henry was then struggling for his throne against righteous claimants. Ferdinand refused to give his daughter in marriage to Arthur whilst these claimants existed. The unscrupulous Tudor beheaded two of them in the tower, and eagerly depressed and despoiled the old nobility who were adherents of the fallen house of York, his rival. These things caused the "tumults among the people," mentioned by Cabot. The king's eagerness to enrich himself by despoiling that old nobility; the agreement of Ferdinand to bestow his daughter Catharine upon Arthur, and the failure of Cabot to bring back gold from America, all caused the monarch to give "no more consideration to this voyage." Prince Arthur died soon after the nuptials, and Catharine became the unfortunate wife of Henry VIII.

The discovery of North America, by young Cabot, then only twenty-one years of age, had conferred more immortal honor upon the English monarch and the English nation, than all the royal affiliations and the heaping up of gold. He was a native of England, and had opened a pathway for his countrymen to a new continent. But he was neglected by his king, and he finally went into the service of the Spanish sovereign whose daughter was then the wife of the monarch of England. On the death of Ferdinand, he was so annoyed by the jealousies of the Spanish nobles, that he returned to his native country, and not long afterward we find him on another voyage in search of a northwest passage to the Indian Seas. He penetrated to Hudson's Bay, and after fighting the ice-pack there, he returned to England discomfited, and never made another voyage to the coasts of North America. The successor of Ferdinand invited him back to Spain, and made him chief pilot of the realm. After several voyages, in one of which he made researches along the southeastern coast of South America, he, in his old age, resigned his office into the hands of the Spanish monarch, and returned to his native land. There he was highly honored and liberally pensioned by the "boy-king," Edward the Sixth. Queen Mary, whose husband was a son of the Spanish monarch whose third invitation to return to Spain was rejected by Cabot, neglected the eminent navigator, and he was allowed to die in comparative poverty, in the town of his birth (Bristol), when he was eighty years of age. His happy temperament, which made him always cheerful, was displayed the year before his death, when he danced at an assembly of young seamen with all the vivacity of youth.

Although Cabot probably discovered the continent a few days before Columbus touched the shores of South America, he is not entitled to the honor of giving his name to our continent. Voltaire justly declared: "The glory of having discovered the New World undoubtedly belongs to him who had the genius and courage to undertake the first voyage." Newton observed: "Those who follow are only disciples." Cabot was a noble disciple.

Return to Our Country, Vol. I