Discoverers and Explorers


John Cabot was a Venetian merchant, and a bold seafaring man. For purposes of trade he had taken up his home in Bristol, England. Bristol at that time was the most important seaport of England, and carried on a large fishing trade with Iceland.

When the news of the voyage of Columbus reached Bristol, Cabot begged the English king, Henry VII., to let him go and see if he could find a shorter route to the Indies. The king gave his consent, and told Cabot to take possession of any land he might discover for England.

Cabot fitted out his vessel and, taking his son Sebastian and a crew of eighteen men with him, set sail in 1497. He headed his ship westward, hoping to reach the Spice Islands and that part of Asia which was so rich in gold, and which Columbus had failed to find. At last, one sunny morning in June, land was sighted in the distance.

This land, which was probably a part of Nova Scotia, proved to be a lonely shore with dense forests. Cabot called it "Land First Seen." It was entirely deserted, not a human being nor a hut of any kind being in sight.

Here Cabot and his son Sebastian and some of his crew went ashore, and were the first white men, excepting the Norsemen, to step upon the mainland of America. Up to this time, Columbus had discovered only islands of the West Indies. A year later than this he discovered the continent of South America. Cabot and his companions erected a large cross on the shore, and planted two flagpoles in the ground, from which they unfurled the English and Venetian flags. Then they returned to their ships, and, after sailing about the Gulf of St. Lawrence, went back to England.

King Henry and the people received John Cabot with great honor. Everybody thought that Cabot had reached Asia, and he also believed that he had. He was called the "Great Admiral," and the people of Bristol ran after him on the street, shouting his name and trying in every way to show him how much they admired and honored him. The king gave him fifty dollars in money, which seems to us in these days a small sum for so long and dangerous a voyage. Besides this, the king urged him to undertake another voyage.

About a year later Sebastian Cabot made the second voyage, and this time the gloomy shore of Labrador was reached.

Sebastian on his voyage sailed far north, passing many icebergs, and seeing many strange and wonderful sights.

On great blocks of ice that floated past the ship he saw immense white bears. These bears were fine swimmers, and would often leap into the water and bring out fish, which they would devour greedily. The waters were filled with fish, and, as the ship neared the shore, they grew so numerous as almost to retard the sailing of the vessel.

"Now," said Cabot, "the English will not have to go to Iceland any more for fish."

But Cabot knew that the lands he was seeking were warm lands. So he turned his vessel south, hoping to reach some opening which would lead to them. To his great surprise, he found the coast very long and without any opening, and he sailed on and on as far as Maryland, taking possession of the land for England.

At places along this shore were seen Indians, clad in skins and furs of wild animals, fishing from little canoes. Stags much larger than any in England were seen in great numbers, and wild turkeys and game of all sorts abounded.

Then Sebastian Cabot began to think that this was a part of Asia never known before, and he set sail for home to tell the wonderful news.

When he reached Bristol he found everybody still interested in India. It was a water route to India that was wanted, and not a new country. People cared more about reaching golden Cathay than about finding new, barren lands.

So, although King Henry was proud to know that the new land belonged to England, it was eleven years before he made any further attempt to send ships there to take possession.

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