John Cabot's voyage of 1498
Henry VII's northern Columbus returned to Bristol on 6
August 1497. Cabot and everyone else thought that a new, shorter
route to Asia had been found. No silks and spices, but these
could not be far away - and it was known that Columbus himself
had not yet found anything of great commercial value. So Cabot
became a hero: "... he is called the Great Admiral and vast
honour is paid to him", wrote Lorenzo Pasqualigo, a Venetian
living in London, "and he goes dressed in silk, and these
English run after him like mad ...."
Henry VII granted £10 "to hym that founde the new
isle", and later a pension of £20 a year. In February 1498,
Henry granted Cabot his second letters patent. He was authorized
to take six ships, and go to the "londe and iles of late
founde by the seid John".
In May 1498 Cabot set sail with a fleet of five vessels - a
significant advance over the previous year.
This voyage is one of history's puzzles. We know the
fleet sailed, that one ship returned damaged after a storm, and
that John Cabot disappears from the historical record. Everything
else is speculation.
It seems likely that some of the vessels retraced the 1497
route, explored the area in more detail, and returned to England
with more geographical knowledge.
Cabot himself died. One tradition asserts that he was
shipwrecked not far from Grates Cove, where he got ashore
together with his son Sancio and some of the crew. There they
died, either by starvation or at the hands of Beothuk Indians.
This voyage demonstrated that Cabot had not found an easy and
profitable route to Asia. He had found codfish and trees, but not
the great cities which could provide wealth and power. What he
and Columbus had found, it was becoming clear, was a new
continent which stood between Europe and Asia. This was a
considerable disappointment to those who had backed Cabot's
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