John Cabot Leaves Bristol
The history of European exploration of the Americas is a complicated one with many gaps to be filled and stories to be confirmed. But to John Cabot – alternatively Giovanni Caboto – the Genoese-Venetian explorer normally falls the honour of the discovery of North America.
Cabot seems to have won patrons in both London and Bristol for his venture, which had the simple aim of sailing from a northerly latitude in effect taking a short cut across the top of the globe to ‘undiscovered’ lands in the west. His first attempt was abortive, but on May 2 1497, carrying letters patent from Henry VII , Cabot sailed again in the merchant ship Matthew, apparently landing eventually in Newfoundland, claiming the entire continent for England.
Intriguingly it now seems likely that Bristolians had got there first, landing in North America even before Columbus discovered the lands to the south. It is suggested that Richard Amerike, a Bristol merchant originally from near Ross-on-Wye who coincidentally or not was one of Cabot’s funders, had in 1479 financed voyages that landed in Newfoundland to process fish caught in the Grand Banks, and that salt was shipped there subsequently for that purpose. Amerike’s name is now proposed by some as the origin of the word ‘America,’ long thought to have been derived from cartographer Amerigo Vespucci.
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