Cabot. I. John, Or Giovanni Caboto, or, in the Venetian dialect, Zuan Calbot or Zuan Caboto, the discoverer of the continent of North America. His name first occurs in the archives of Venice; on March 28, 1476, denization was granted him after the customary residence of 15 years. The full entry of his denization would probably have named his birthplace; but it is not to be found. In the year 1495, and probably for years before, he resided at Bristol with his wife, who was a Venetian woman, and three sons. At that time it had become the received opinion that the earth is a sphere, and that the shortest and readiest way of reaching the Indies was by sailing west. This opinion was confirmed by the voyage of Columbus, who was thought to have reached the outlying isles of the Indies. . On March 5, 1496, John Cabot and his three sons obtained a patent from Henry VII., authorizing them or either of them, their heirs or their assigns, to search for islands, provinces, or regions in the eastern, western, or northern seas; and, as vassals of the English 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 charter, John Cabot, some time in May, 1497, embarked in a single vessel, accompanied by his son Sebastian, and sailed west, as he said, 700 leagues, when, on June 24, he came upon land which he assumed to be a part of the dominions of the Grand Cham, but which was in reality the coast of Labrador. A letter of that year represents him as having sailed along the coast for 300 leagues; he landed, but saw no person, though he believed the country not uninhabited. He planted on the soil the banners of England and of Venice. On his return he discerned two islands to the starboard, but, for want of provisions, did not stop to examine them. He reached Bristol in August. His discovery attracted great attention, and on Feb. 3, 1498, Henry VII. granted John Cabot special authority to impress six English ships at no higher charges than were paid for ships taken for the king's service, to enlist companies of volunteers, "and theym convey and lede to the londe and iles of late founde by the seid John." This license has been erroneously called a second charter; it was not so; the charter of 1496 was still valid and sufficient. This license is the last record that has been found of the career of John Cabot. He himself made no voyage under it, from what cause can only be conjectured.
Neither the time nor the place of his death, nor his age, is known. Neither is it known what country gave him birth. He was a Venetian only by denization. As he is found residing at Bristol, the conjecture would arise that he was born an Englishman; but the license granted him in 1498 calls him " Ka-botto, Venecian," a phrase which in our day, and still more in those days of stricter feudal rule, clearly implies that he was not a natural born subject of the king of England. Had he been so, he would have been claimed as an Englishman. Thus not even the native country of the discoverer of the North American continent can be ascertained. The authorities respecting John Cabot are, the Venetian archives; the patent granted him in 1496; the license in 1498; a letter dated Aug. 23, 1497, from Lorenzo Pasqualigo, a merchant at London, to his brothers at Venice; and the legend on the map of Sebastian Cabot, cited in Hak-luyt, giving June 24, 1497, as the date of the discovery of the continent. In 1566 there was at Oxford a copy of Sebastian Cabot's map on which the date of the legend was 1494. Another copy with the same date has been discovered in Germany; but the legend is not by Sebastian Cabot himself, and the original charter of 1496, the letter of Pasqualigo in 1497, and the license of 1498, combine to prove the date 1494 to be an error.
The better knowledge of the career of John Cabot is particularly due to the researches of an accomplished English scholar, Rawdon Brown. - M. d'Avezac, in the Bulletin of the French geographical society for October, 1869, cites from the first edition of this Cyclopaedia the preceding argument in regard to the date of the original discovery, and says that the true date in the map of Sebastian Cabot, on an original copy preserved in the geographical cabinet of the imperial library at Paris, is 1494, and that the date of 1497 in Hakluyt is a typographical error. The legend to this map is in Latin and Spanish. The portion relating to the Tierra de los Bacal-laos, according to D'Avezac, reads: "That land was discovered by John Cabot, Venetian, and Sebastian Cabot his son, in the year of the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ M.CCCC-XCIIII. the 24th of June [at 5 o'clock] in the morning; to which has been given the name of First Land Seen; and to a great island which is very near the aforesaid land has been given the name of St. John, from having been discovered on that day." With respect to the legend, M. d'Avezac adds: "If any one could for an instant doubt that the whole was the actual work of Sebastian Cabot, it is only necessary, in order to remove any hesitation, to read the lines of the Retulo del auctor, beginning thus: ' Sebastian Caboto capitan y piloto mayor de la Sacra Cesarea Catolica Majestad del Imperador Don Carlos quinto deste nombre y Rey Nuestro Sennor, hizo esta figura extensa en piano, anno del nascimiento de nuestro Salvador Jesu Christo de M.D.XLIIII annos,' etc." Hence M. d'Avezac argues that the charter of March 5, 1496, was granted in consequence of this previous discovery.
He also asserts, upon what he considers good proof, that John Cabot was a Genoese by birth. II. Sebastian, son of the preceding, a cosmographer, and the discoverer of the coast line of the United States as far south as the Chesapeake. The time and the place of his birth are uncertain. Eden says, " Sebastian Cabotte tould me that he was borne in Bristowe, and that at four yeare old he was carried with his father to Venice; " but Contarini, the Venetian ambassador at the court of Charles V., relates in his diary that Sebastian Cabot informed him he was born in Venice, but bred in England; and this is confirmed by the denization of John Cabot at Venice in 1476, after a residence there of 15 years. The time of Sebastian's birth seems to have been not earlier than 1475, nor later than 1477. There is no sufficient reason to doubt that he accompanied his father in the voyage in which North America was discovered. In May, 1498, he, without his father, led forth two ships and a large company of English volunteers from Bristol, in search of a short northwestern passage to China and Japan. He sailed so far to the north that in the early part of July the light of day was almost continuous.
Finding the sea full of icebergs, he turned more to the south, and arrived at land which most persons believe to have been Newfoundland. Pursuing his search, he reached the mainland of North America, landed in several places, and saw natives clad in the skins of beasts and making use of copper. He proceeded as far south as the latitude of the straits of Gibraltar, and as far west as the longitude of Cuba. His object had been to find a passage to Asia, and though he discovered an immense territory under a temperate sky, his voyage was considered a failure. Vasco da Gama had reached India by way of the Cape of Good Hope, and filled the world with his fame. The discoveries of the Cabots were so little valued, that the family suffered the patent granting them the exclusive privilege of trade to be lost. On the death of Henry VII., Sebastian Cabot was invited from England by Ferdinand of Spain, father-in-law of Henry VIII., and was appointed one of the council for the New Indies. In 1518 he was named pilot major of Spain; in April, 1524, he attended the congress assembled at Badajoz to decide on the conflicting claims of Spain and Portugal to the Moluccas. All the while, and during his whole life, the great object of his ambition was the discovery of a direct passage to Asia. Having in early life failed to find one by the northwest, in 1526 he commanded an expedition sent out in search of a southwestern passage.
In this pursuit, in 1527 he entered the river Plata. Remaining in those regions for several years, he discovered Paraguay. He did not pass round the continent at the south, but, returning to Spain, reached Seville near the end of July, 1530. In the first year of the reign of Edward VI., on Oct. 9, 1547, the privy council issued a warrant " for the transporting of one Shabot, a pilot, to come out of Hispain to serve and inhabit in England;" and he came at the summons in 1548, with his mind still bent on finding a short passage to the Indies. On Jan. 6, 1549, the king gave him a pension of 250 marks, or £166 13s. 4d., "in consideration of good and acceptable service done and to be done" by him. On Jan. 19, 1550, the emperor Charles V. applied for his return, but without result. His influence was observable in inspiring confidence and enterprise among the merchants of England; and in March, 1551, " Sebastian Cabote, the great seaman," received from the king a special reward of £200. The patent granted to the family by Henry VII. in 1496 having been lost, he obtained of Edward VI. a copy of it from the rolls, and prepared to prosecute a new voyage of discovery, still in search of a passage to the Indies. In 1553 a company of merchants, of which he was the president, sought to find it by way of the northeast, expecting to turn the North cape of Norway, and sail southerly to China. One of the two ships was frozen up in a' Lapland harbor, and all the persons on board perished with cold; the other discovered Archangel, and opened a commerce between England and Russia. On Sept. 9, 1553, soon after the accession of Queen Mary, the emperor Charles V., through his ambassador, again and very earnestly made request that Sebastian Cabot should be sent back to his service; of so much importance did he seem even then in his great old age.
But Cabot refused to leave England. A new company was formed for discovery on Feb. 23, 1556, of which he was a partner and the president. On Monday, April 27, 1556, accompanied by divers gentlemen and gentlewomen, he went on board the pinnace the Serch Thrift, which was on the eve of sailing, and distributed most liberal alms; then going on shore, he and his friends gave a banquet to the ship's company, and for very joy at the forwardness of the intended discovery the octogenarian cosmographer entered into the dance himself. At parting, he commended the ship's company to the governance of Almighty God. On May 27, 1557, he resigned his pension, and on the 29th of the same month he received a new grant of it under a different form. These are the last authentic notices of Sebastian Cabot, one of the most remarkable men of his age. Where he died is not certain, though it was probably in London; the precise time of his death is also unknown, and no one can tell his burial place. - The best work on Sebastian Cabot is the memoir by Richard Biddle (Philadelphia, 1831), but further materials have been contributed by Rawdon Brown, and by Varnhagen in his Historia do Brazil. One of his maps has lately been found in Germany, and has been published by Jomard at Paris in the Monuments de la geographie.
In preparing the present article, some unpublished manuscripts have also been used.