The Beginner's American History/Chapter 2

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John Cabot (Lived in England from 1472–1498)[edit]

21. John Cabot discovers the continent of North America.— At the time that Columbus set out on his first voyage across the Atlantic, in 1492, John Cabot (Cab′ot), an Italian merchant, was living in the city of Bristol, England. When the news reached that city that Columbus had discovered the West Indies, Cabot begged Henry the Seventh, king of England, to let him see if he could not find a shorter way to the Indies than that of Columbus. The king gave his consent; and in the spring of 1497 John Cabot, with his son Sebastian (Se-bast′yan), who seems to have been born in Bristol, sailed from that port. They headed their vessels toward the northwest; by going in that direction they hoped to get to those parts of Asia and the Spice Islands which were known to Europe, and which Columbus had failed to reach.

Cabot taking Possession for England

Early one bright morning toward the last of June, 1497, they saw land in the west. It was probably Cape Breton (Brĕt′on) Island, a part of Nova Scotia (Nō′vah Sko′she-a). John Cabot named it “The Land First Seen.” Up to this time Columbus had discovered nothing except the West India Islands; but John Cabot now saw the continent of North America. No civilized man1 had ever seen it before. There it lay, a great, lonely land, shaggy with forests, with not a house or a human being in sight.

22. John Cabot takes possession of the country for the king of England.— Cabot went on shore, with his son and some of his crew. In the vast, silent wilderness they set up a large cross. Near to it they planted two flagpoles, and hoisted the English flag on one, and the flag of Venice (Ven′is), the city where John Cabot had lived in Italy, on the other. Then they took possession of the land for Henry the Seventh. It was in this way that the English came to consider that the eastern coast of North America was their property, although they did not begin to make settlements here until nearly a hundred years later.

23. John Cabot and his son return to Bristol.— After sailing about the Gulf of St. Lawrence without finding the passage through to Asia for which they were looking, the voyagers retuned to England.

The king was so pleased with what John Cabot had discovered that he made him a handsome present; and when the captain, richly dressed in silk, appeared in the street, the people of Bristol would “run after him like mad” and hurrah for the “Great Admiral,” as they called him.

24. What the Cabots carried back to England from America.— The Cabots carried back to England some Indian traps for catching game and perhaps some wild turkeys,—an American bird the English had then never seen, but whose acquaintance they were not sorry to make. They also carried over the rib of a whale which they had found on the beach in Nova Scotia.

Near where the Cabots probably lived in Bristol there is a famous old church.2 It was built long before the discovery of America, and Queen Elizabeth said that it was the most beautiful building of its kind in all England. In that church hangs the rib of a whale. It is believed to be the one the Cabots brought home with them. It reminds all who see it of that voyage in 1497 by which England got possession of a very large part of the continent of North America.

25. The second voyage of the Cabots; how they sailed along the eastern shores of North America.— About a year later, the Cabots set out on a second voyage to the west. They reached the gloomy cliffs of Labrador (Lab′ra-dōr) on the northeastern coast of America, and they passed many immense icebergs. They saw numbers of Indians dressed in the skins of wild beasts, and polar bears as white as snow. These bears were great swimmers, and would dive into the sea and come up with a large fish in their claws. As it did not look to the Cabots as if the polar bears and the icebergs would guide them to the warm countries of Asia and the Spice Islands, they turned about and went south. They sailed along what is now the eastern coast of the United States for a very long distance; but, not finding any passage through to the countries they were seeking, they returned to England.

The English now began to see what an immense extent of land they had found beyond the Atlantic. They could not tell, however, whether it was a continent by itself or a part of Asia. Like everybody in Europe, they called it the New World; but all that name really meant then was simply the New Lands across the sea.

26. How the New World came to be called America.— Not many years after this the New World received the name by which we now call it. An Italian navigator whose first name was Amerigo3 made a voyage to it after it had been discovered by Columbus and the Cabots. He wrote an account of what he saw, and as this was the first printed description of the continent, it was named from him, AMERICA.

27. Summary.— In 1497 John Cabot and his son, Sebastian, from Bristol, England, discovered the mainland or continent of North America, and took possession of it for England. The next year they came over and sailed along the eastern coast of what is now the United States.

An Italian whose first name was Amerigo visited the New World afterward and wrote the first account of the mainland which was printed. For this reason the whole continent was named after him, AMERICA.

Who was John Cabot? What did he try to do? Who sailed with him? What land did they see? Had Columbus ever seen it? What did Cabot do when he went on shore? What is said of his return to Bristol? What did the Cabots carry back to England? What is said about the second voyage of the Cabots? How did the New World come to be called America?

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1 The Northmen: an uncivilized people of Norway and Denmark discovered the continent of North America about five hundred years before Cabot did. Nothing came of this discovery; and when Cabot sailed, no one seems to have known anything about what the Northmen had done so long before.

2 The church of St. Mary Redcliffe.

3 Amerigo (A-ma-ree′go): his full name was Amerigo Vespucci (A-ma-ree′go Ves-poot′chee), or, as he wrote it in Latin, Americus Vespucius.