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John Cabot, Explorer: Voyage, Facts & Accomplishments

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  • 0:02 John Cabot the Explorer
  • 0:58 Voyage of the Matthew
  • 2:02 Second Voyage
  • 2:45 Cabot's Influence
  • 3:39 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Meet John Cabot, one of the earliest explorers of the New World. Discover how Cabot and his son explored the Canadian coastline for the British in search of the Northwest Passage, a water route to Asia.

John Cabot the Explorer

John Cabot, or Giovanni Caboto, was an Italian born navigator who explored the coast of Newfoundland for the English in 1497. Cabot has historically been credited with being the first European to land in North America since the Vikings. Although some historians now believe that Cabot did not actually land in North America, he did establish the British claim to the New World.

Cabot spent most of his life in Italy; however, in 1495, Cabot and his family moved to England. The voyage of Christopher Columbus in 1492 was inspiring to sailors like Cabot, both because of its novelty and the monetary benefits possible from new trade routes. At the request of King Henry VII, Cabot and his son, Sebastian, sailed a small ship called the 'Matthew' towards the Canadian coast.

Voyage of the Matthew

During this time period, many sailors and navigators believed that there was a water route called the Northwest Passage that ran from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean along the border of the modern U.S. and Canada. Navigators anticipated that the Northwest Passage would allow ships to travel more quickly and safely to Asia for trading.

Cabot and his son landed on June 24, 1497 in either Labrador, Newfoundland, or on Cape Breton Island and claimed the land for England. From there, Cabot explored the Canadian coastline and gave names to many of the islands and capes he found. Cabot didn't find the water passage he was seeking and eventually had to return to England for supplies.

Some sources indicate that Cabot was not aware of the true extent of his journey and believed that he had found both the Northwest Passage and that the land he had claimed was part of Asia. The lack of accurate geographic knowledge made it very difficult for early explorers, like John Cabot, to understand where they had actually landed.

Second Voyage

In 1498, Cabot attempted another voyage to the New World, this time with four ships. Until recently, many historians believed that only one of Cabot's four ships had successfully returned; however, new evidence suggests that Cabot and most of his men returned to England in 1500.

The ship that returned early appears to have encountered mechanical issues and returned to port; however, the other three ships continued on their voyage and explored more of the Canadian coastline. It is possible that a small group of priests were part of the expedition, and some historians think they may have established a small religious settlement in Canada, one of the first in the New World.

Cabot's Influence

As historians investigate further, we may discover even more about Cabot's exploration of Canada. In any case, John Cabot's exploration of the Canadian coast helped encourage further British exploration and settlement of the New World.

Cabot's influence also extended to his son Sebastian, who became an explorer for the British in 1508. Like his father, Sebastian also sought the Northwest Passage. Later in 1526, the Spanish sponsored an attempt by Sebastian to sail around the world, although he only made it to Argentina.

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