John Cabot portrait

John Cabot

Giovanni Caboto was born around 1450 in Naples. Before we go further, it is worth considering the issue of his name. For many may know this discoverer under the English version of his original name – John Cabot. Unfortunately, little is known about Cabot’s first 20 years of life. The trail appears only on the occasion of the Italian’s accession to the brotherhood of Saint John the Evangelist in 1471. It was a very prestigious brotherhood, and Cabot’s admission into his ranks was evidence of his social position.

Five years later he won full-fledged Venetian citizenship and began to take part in sea trade expeditions to the eastern Mediterranean. These expeditions were the source of the great majority of Venetian goods and estates. There are documents confirming Cabot’s involvement in these expeditions. We can find there the thread Cabot, who reportedly sold a slave in Crete, whom he captured during his visit to the Egyptian sultan who ruled then the lands of present-day Israel, Syria and Lebanon. These journeys have allowed Cabot to acquire much more knowledge than most Europeans about the origin and quality of oriental goods like spices or silk.

In the 80s of the fifteenth century, Cabot married Mattea and had three sons with her: Ludovico, Sebastian and Sancto. He was also involved in the construction of houses in Venice. At the end of the 1980s, Cabot most likely fell into debt and as a result, he left Venice and moved to Valencia, Spain. This was not the end of the Italian traveler’s problems – his creditors sent a letter to the Spanish authorities appealing for the arrest of Cabot. During his stay in Valencia, he prepared a modernization project for the port, which, however, was rejected. Then in the mid-90s he moved to the capital of Andalusia, Seville. He was involved in the construction of a stone bridge over the Guadalquivir River. However, the project was abandoned on December 24, 1494 due to the decision of the City Council. At this time, Cabot’s mind was born the idea of ​​a trip across the Atlantic. He sought support for his initiative mainly in Seville and Lisbon, but to no avail. So he decided to try his luck in London, where he probably moved in 1495.

It was not surprising that Cabot, who was Italian, was flying the flag of England. At that time, so many travelers did, including, for example, Christopher Columbus. Cabot hoped to find an alternative route to China. Historically, historians believed that the target on the Cabot map at the time of the move was Bristol, a shipping center where the traveler wanted to seek financial support. However, towards the end of the 20th century, British Alwyn Ruddock found documents supporting his thesis that Italy went straight to London, where he managed to get support from his countrymen. Apparently one of the patrons was an Augustian – Father Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis, who was also the deputy of Adraino Castellesi, a papal tax collector. Most likely, Carbonariis participated in the Cabot expedition in 1498.

This acquaintance was so beneficial for the Italian traveler that Father Giovanni lived in good terms with King Henry VII and moved the grandmother Cabot. In addition, Cabot reportedly obtained a loan from the London branch of an Italian bank. The Bardi family, the owners of this institution, granted Cabot loans in 1496, so that he could set off on a journey and discover new lands. It was only then that Cabot went to Bristol to begin preparations for his trip. It was the second largest port in England. A few expeditions have been set off looking for Hy-Brasil, a legendary island lying somewhere in the Atlantic.

Unfortunately, little is known about Cabot’s first trip, which was most probably in the summer of 1496. However, it is known that he set off with only one ship, unreliable crew and a small amount of supplies. After he encountered severe weather conditions, he decided to turn back. He left the second expedition a year later, in 1497. The information about this expedition comes mainly from four short letters and an entry in the chronicle of Bristol from 1565. The information from these sources is that the expedition went to America and returned on August 6 1498.

One of the letters, by John Day, contains numerous and very significant information about the second expedition of John Cabot. It was written in the winter at the turn of 1497 and 1498. It is believed that the letter was addressed to Christopher Columbus. The traveler we have described was afraid that Cabot’s expedition violates his monopoly on trips to the western territories. Another letter was written on August 10, 1497 by the aforementioned Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis, but most likely he was lost and did not contain any details of the expedition.

It is most likely that Cabot set out again with one small ship and 20 crews at his disposal. It is presumed that the ship was a Burgundian, a Genoese barber serving as a surgeon, two merchants from Bristol. The expedition set out from Bristol and sailed across the Atlantic sailing past Ireland. They landed somewhere on the coast of North America on June 24, 1497. To this day, it is not really clear where the expedition arrived. Historians have bet on New Fundland, Nova Scotia, Canada or the United States. However, after the discovery of the John Day letter, it turned out that the most likely location is Newfoundland or Nova Scotia. There was then no interaction with the natives. However, there were remains of fires, human traces, nets or wooden tools that proved the presence of people in these areas. Cabot and the crew replenished the water, hung out the Venetian and papal ornaments and took over the land on behalf of the English King Henry VII. Then Cabot spent a few weeks on the way back to study the coast.

After returning to Bristol, Cabot immediately went to London to report to the king. He received a huge prize of 10 pounds (which today may seem like a small sum, but then it was the equivalent of a two-year wage of an ordinary worker or craftsman). From then on, Cabot was considered the “Grand Admiral” of Columbus. Soncino wrote that he walked in silk and was very much appreciated. However, shortly thereafter on the Horizon of Henry VII appeared a threat in the form of Peking Warbeck, who raised the Second Cornish Uprising in 1497 and threatened the monarchy of the English king. It was only when the uprising was suppressed that King Henry breathed a sigh of relief and again paid attention to Cabot and once again rewarded him with a large sum of money. In turn, in December this year, the Italian salary was set at as much as 20 pounds.

In 1498, preparations were made for the third, last expedition of the Italian explorer. He was accompanied by Lancelot Thirkill, Thomas Bradley and John Cair. This time Cabot was led by as many as 5 ships. He left Bristol in early May 1498. Some ships were loaded with goods, min. fabrics, which testified to the commercial nature of the final trip of a traveler from Naples. One of the ships encountered a powerful storm and was forced to dock on the Irish shores, but the rest of the expedition continued.

For a long time it was believed that the company was lost at sea, but apparently Lancelot Thirkill was seen on the streets of London a few years later, which is the opposite of the thesis. To this day, however, it is not known whether Cabot died during the trip or safely returned home and died shortly thereafter. Alwyn Ruddock, a historian, suggested that the crew returned to England in 1500. She also claimed that Father Giovanni Antonio de Carbonariis and other monks taking part in the expedition settled in Newfoundland, which means that perhaps it was the first Christian settlement in areas of North America.

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