Explorer Sebastian Cabot: Biography and Facts

Instructor: Douglas Rich

Douglas has taught high school History and has a master's degree in Education and Business Administration.

In this lesson, learn about explorer Sebastian Cabot and his contributions to navigation in the 16th Century. Understand Cabot's role in the early exploration of the western hemisphere.

Navigation In the 16th Century

You may have read in history books of the voyages of Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan, but these are only a few examples of the many explorers who sailed dangerous seas in order to map the unknown world.

Explorers would sail on behalf of countries such as Spain, England, and Portugal and claim the newly found territories for those countries that they represented. One of the early pioneers of sea exploration was Sebastian Cabot. Cabot explored territories such as Newfoundland, South America, and the search for the Northwest and Northeast Passages over five decades and made enormous contributions to the discovery and mapping of the world.

Early Life

Sebastian Cabot was thought to be born in Venice, Italy around 1480. His father, John Cabot, was a famous navigator for the English in the 15th Century. Sebastian Cabot would learn the trade under his father's guidance and would accompany his father on voyages to North America. While in his teens, Cabot and his family moved to England where John Cabot was employed by the English Crown as an explorer. John Cabot and his crew disappeared during a voyage in 1498 and Sebastian began his own voyages for England in 1508.

Voyages for the English Crown

Cabot was given a commission from the English Crown to explore possible routes to Asia through North America via a Northwest Passage. It would be 3 centuries before the Northwest Passage was discovered, but Cabot would explore areas near the Hudson Bay in Canada along with Newfoundland and mapped the territories for the interests of England. Cabot also was one of the first explorers to map the northeast coast of America during the same voyage.

English leaders were concerned with Spanish activity in the western hemisphere and how their claims to new lands would affect England's ability to exploit the territories for financial gain. Cabot would explore Central and South America to determine the extent of the Spanish territories and went as far south as Brazil before being turned away by Spanish ships. Upon Cabot's return to England, he could no longer gain the support of the King for further voyages and began explorations on behalf of Spain.

South America

In 1512, Cabot began his voyages for Spain. He was to map new territories in South America and the resources of the area. Gold was the desire of the Spanish and their leaders needed Cabot to explore new territories and interact with the natives to inquire about the precious metal. Cabot would eventually map Brazil and Paraguay for the Spanish Crown and provide invaluable information on the 'New World'.

The lust for gold in South America would lead Spain to claim most of the territory. The contributions of Cabot helped Spain take control of the continent and led to great wealth for the country. Beginning in the mid-1530's, Cabot would attempt a return to England but would not be able to secure a contract until 1548.

Sebastian Cabot
Sebastian Cabot

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