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Document Number: AJ-069
Title: The Voyages of John Cabot
Source: Olson, Julius E. and Edward G. Bourne (editors). The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, 985-1503: The Voyages of the Northmen; The Voyages of Columbus and of John Cabot. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1906). Pages 421-430.
Pages/Illustrations: 12 / 0
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Author Note

Few records survive to tell us about Giovanni Caboto (c. 1455-c. 1499), or John Cabot, as his name came down to us in English records. He was a contemporary and fellow-countryman of Christopher Columbus, born near Naples, Italy, and raised in Venice. His family were merchants in the Asian spice trade, and about the age of thirty-five he moved to Valencia, Spain, perhaps because Spanish and Portuguese mariners were in forefront of finding a sea route to Asia around Africa. Cabot suspected, like Columbus, that Asia could be reached by sailing west rather than east, but could not find backers in either Spain or Portugal. He therefore moved to England in about 1494 where, in the wake of Columbusí discoveries, a group of investors in the town of Bristol agreed to back him. Having secured permission from King Henry VII in March 1496, Cabot made an unsuccessful voyage later that year.

Cabot Expedition, 1497

In 1497 he tried a second time, leaving Bristol in May and returning in August. This time he was successful, becoming the first European to find and describe North America since the Vikings. Unfortunately no records survive from this voyage, and all that is known about it comes from the reports of two Italians living in London (see AJ-069) and a letter of John Day discovered in 1956 (see below). Cabotís landfall occurred on June 24, 1497, but scholars continue to debate precisely where, some arguing for Labrador, others for Newfoundland, and yet others for Cape Breton Island.

When Cabot returned to England on August 6, 1497, he brought tidings of a new and perhaps easier route to Asia than that discovered in the south by Columbus. This prompted the King to outfit him for a second voyage, and in May 1498, he headed west again with a fleet of five vessels. Documentation on this second voyage is slight, but Cabot did not return from this voyage and is believed to have died at sea.

Document Note

The documents given here are private letters of two Italians living in London at the time, and the official report of the Spanish ambassador to England on what he could learn about the latest discoveries.

Other Internet and Reference Sources

Memorial University of Newfoundland has mounted many Cabot primary sources, including the 1497 John Day letter referred to above and much background material, in the ďEarly ExplorationĒ segment of its Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage site; see especially

An article on Cabotís voyage and its importance in opening Englandís Age of Discovery appears in Essays in History, a journal put out by the Corcoran Department of History at the University of Virginia. It is available at

The Newfoundland Historical Society has published a pamphlet on John Cabot. Williams, Alan F. John Cabot and Newfoundland (St. Johnís: Newfoundland Historical Society, 1996).

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