Born: c. 1450
Died: 1498 (disappeared)
Birthplace: Genoa, Italy (?)
Best known as: Italian / English explorer of Newfoundland
Name at birth: Giovanni Caboto
Few hard facts are known about John Cabot, but he is historically important because his explorations were the basis for England's early claims on North America. By all accounts, Cabot was not English; he was born Giovanni Caboto, probably in Genoa, Italy, around 1450. He later moved to Venice and became a naturalized citizen there about 1476, working as a sailor and trader in the eastern Mediterranean. Sometime in the 1490s he ended up in England, where he was given permission by King Henry VII to seek a northern route to Asia across the Atlantic. In 1497 Cabot sailed from Bristol, England in the ship Matthew to what is now eastern Canada. Precisely where he landed is not clear; the possibilities include Newfoundland, Cape Breton Island, Labrador and Nova Scotia. He returned successfully to England and received permission to make a second voyage in 1498. He and 300 crew members set out from Bristol in May of that year, but were never heard from again.
Extra credit: Cabot's son, Sebastian, was a famous explorer and cartographer in his own right, and may have accompanied his father on the successful 1497 voyage... Cabot's 1497 voyage was just five years after the famous first voyage, in 1492, of Christopher Columbus.
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