John Cabot (Giovanni Caboto) (ca. 1450–ca. 1499) explorer
Giovanni Caboto, one of the ablest seamen of his day, spent the last years of his life searching for a northwestern route to the Indies. Sailing under the English flag, he became the first European since the Vikings (ca. 1000) to set foot on the North American mainland. He also established English claims to what would later become Canada and the thirteen colonies.
The record of both Caboto’s life and voyages is obscure, as no journals or logs have survived, and the accounts of his son, Sebastian, are questionable. He was born somewhere in Italy, becoming a Venetian citizen in 1476. An experienced sailor in the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and Red Seas, he moved to Spain around 1490, seeking support for a westward voyage. Rejected by both Spain and Portugal, he successfully gained the support of Henry VII of England in 1496 and hence became known to history as John Cabot. On May 20, 1497, he and some 20 seamen set sail from Bristol in the caravel Matthew and on June 22 sighted the North American continent. Landing probably either on Newfoundland or Cape Breton Island, he claimed the region for England and returned with reports of rich fishing grounds. This success ensured a second voyage with the support of both the king and local merchants. Cabot departed Bristol with five ships in May 1498. Circumstances surrounding the return of one ship, while Cabot and crews on the other four perished, remains a mystery. Evidence suggests, however, that he further explored the Newfoundland fisheries and claimed territories for England along the Atlantic seaboard as far south as the Carolinas.