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Emulation excited by the example of Columbus – Its influence
on the mind of John Cabot, a Venetian merchant, residing at Bristol-Cabot undertakes a voyage of discovery, under the sanction of Henry VII.-Discovery of North America by Cabot, previously to the discovery of South America by Columbus-Second voyage under the command of Sebastian Cabot-An expedition_sent out by Portugal to follow up Cabot's discoveries— False assumptions of the Portuguese-Fate of Cortereal, the leader of the expedition.
It was not until towards the close of the fifteenth century, that the spirit of geographical enterprise burst forth in anything like the glory which it has since attained; and, perhaps, it is not too much to say, that the great
Columbus first to kindle that flame of maritime adventure, which has since burned so steadily, lighting up the darkest corners of the earth, and forming the first link in the universal brotherhood of nations.
The fame of the great admiral's glorious exploit had filled all Europe with wonder; "inasmuch,” to use Hakluyt's words, “ that all men, with great admiration, affirmed it to be a thing more divine than humane;" and, among others, it appears to have made a very lasting impression on a certain Venetian, named John Cabot, whom we find, about the year 1494, residing in the city of Bristol.
At what period Cabot came to England, follow the trade of merchandises," or what was his previous manner of life we have now no means of
ascertaining; but, that he was a man of considerable skill in maritime affairs, his connexion with arctic discovery will go far to prove. He laid his plans, and other “demonstrations,” for undertaking a voyage of discovery in the northern seas, before the then reigning monarch, Henry VII., who, though of a cold and cautious disposition, received them favourably. “He had just missed the opportunity of employing Columbus, and with it the treasures of the New World. Instead of cold and cheerless distrust, there was a reaction in the public mind, with a sanguine flow of confidence towards novel speculations and daring enterprises. The king viewed them favourably, and on the 5th March, 1496,2 granted him and his three sons, Lewis, Sebastian, and Sanchius, a royal patent, authorising them to sail “to all parts, countries, and seas, of the east, of the west, and of the north," under the flag of England, with five ships, of whatever burthen and strength in mariners they might choose to employ; to subdue, occupy,
possess all such towns, cities, castles, and isles, as they might discover, as the lieutenants of the king. The equipment of the expedition was stipulated to be “at their own proper costs and charges;” one-fifth part of the capital gain was secured to the king, and the vessels were bound to return to the port of Bristol, where any commodities they might bring from foreign lands were to pass free from customs? duty. The patent also gave power to impose the forfeit of the ship and goods of any one trading to the newly discovered countries, without the consent of John Cabot, or his three sons. This important document is preserved in Rymer's “ Foedera Angliæ,” v xii. p, 595, and also in Hakluyt's Collection, iii. 25-6.
1 Memoir of S. Cabot. ? According to Hakluyt, “Voyages, Navigations, Traffiqves and Discoueries of the English Nation,” &c. (iii. 26, edit. 1600), 1495. This is erroneous, as the first patent bears date, “ 5th March, in the 11th year of our reign." Henry began his reign, August, 1485.
Cabot did not sail till the spring of the year 1497 —more than a year after the date of the commission -a delay which was very probably owing to the necessity of the family raising the requisite funds, as the expedition was at their sole expense. That the result was the discovery of America there can be no doubt, as the following evidence will prove.
On a map drawn by Sebastian, the second son of John Cabot, who accompanied his father on this voyage, engraved by Clement Adams, a contemporary, and published, as there is every reason to believe, under the eye of Sebastian, was written in Latin, the following clear and satisfactory account of the discovery S
“In the year of our Lord, 1497, John Cabot, a Venetian, and his sonne Sebastian (with an English fleet set out from Bristoll,) discovered that land which no man before that time had attempted, on the 24th of June, about five of the clocke early in the morning. This land is called Prima vista, that is to say, first seene; because, as I suppose, it was that part whereof they had the first sight from
That island which lieth out before the land he called the Island of St. John upon this occasion, as I thinke, because it was discovered
the day of John the Baptist. The inhabitants of this island used to weare beasts' skinnes, and have them in as great estimation as we have our finest garments. In their warres they use bowes, arrowes, pikes, darts, woodden clubs, and slings. The soil is barren in some places, and yeeldeth little fruit, but it is full of white bears, and stagges far greater than ours. It yeeldeth plenty of fish, and those very great as seales, and those which
we commonly call salmons; there are soles, also, abové a yard in length, but especially there is great abundance of that kind of fish which the savages call baccalaos. In the same island also, there breed hauks, but they are so black that they
like to ravens, as also their partridges and eagles, which are in like sort blacke."
Cabot appears to have returned to England immediately after his discovery, as we find in the account of the privy purse expenses of Henry VII., the following entry: 10th August 1497-To him that found the New Isle,£10.
Here, then, we have proof positive that part of the north American continent was visited by an English ship fourteen months before Columbus ascertained for certain the existence of that of a southern; yet, while the achievements of the one have justly had a whole host of chroniclers, the no less important claims of John and Sebastian Cabot, have received but a very indifferent reception at the hands of historical and geographical writers; -while dozens of noble and flattering appellatives have been coined to mark the worlds' gratitude to the one, “ England has suffered to moulder in obscurity, in one of the lanes of the Metropolis, the very record which establishes the discovery effected by her Great Seaman, fourteen months before Columbus beheld the American continent, and two years before the lucky Florentine (Amerigo Vespucci) had been west of the Canaries.”3
On the 3rd of February, 1498, King Henry VII. granted to John Cabot a second patent, or royal commission, which, after lying neglected for upwards of three centuries, amidst the confused mass of records in the Rolls' Chapel, has at length been brought to light by the indefatigable author of the
5 Memoir of Cabot.
“ Biographical Memoir,” and is thus given by him (p. 76)
“ Memorandum quod tertio die Februarii anno regni Regis Henrici Septimi xiii. ista Billa delibata fuit Domino Cancellario Angliæ apud Westmonasterium exequenda.
“ To the Kinge. “Please it your Highnesse of your most noble and habundaunt grace to graunte to John Kabotto, Venecian, your gracious Lettres Patents in due fourme to be made accordyng to the tenor hereafter ensuyng, and he shall continually praye to God for the preservacion of your moste Noble and Roiall astate longe to endure. “ H. R.
66 Rex. “ To all men to whom theis Presenteis shall come send Greytyng: Knowe ye that We of our Grace especiall and for dyvers causis us movying. We Have geven and graunten, and by theis Presentis geve and graunte to our welbeloved John Kabotto, Venecian, sufficient auctorite and power, that he, by him his Deputie or Deputies sufficient, may take at his pleasure VI Englisshe Shippes in any Porte or Portes or other place within this our Realme of England or obeisance, so that and if the said Shippes be of the bourdeyn of CC. tonnes or under, with their apparail requisite and necessarie for the safe conduct of the said Shippes, and them and lede to the Londe and isles of late founde by the seid John in oure name and by our commaundemente. Paying for theym and every of theym and as if we should in or for our owen cause paye
and noon otherwise. And that the said John, by hym his Deputie or Deputies sufficiente, maye take and receyve into the said Shippes, and every of theym all such maisters, maryners, Pages, and