American History Stories—Volume I - Mara L. Pratt

English Explorers

The Cabots

But what was England about all this time? No more then, than now, was she the nation to sit quietly by and see another country carry off a prize.

England was soon awake to the possibilities of the new world. She, too, sent out explorers and set up her claims of possession. Among those who set forth were John Cabot and his son, Sebastian, Sir Francis Drake, and Sir Walter Raleigh.

It was in 1497 that the Cabots set sail. Sebastian Cabot had lived in his boyhood days in Venice, the beautiful city built so many years ago on little islands off the coast of Italy. The streets of this city are water, and the people ride up and down the streets in boats called gondolas, just as in our cities we ride up and down the streets in carriages.

It must have been here that Sebastian grew to love the sea; for to the Venetian boy a gondola is what a bicycle is to you. Sebastian used often to say, "I think sometimes I am more at home on the water than I am on land; and to go back to my boat is the rest to me that going on land is to other men."

Now, when reports of the discoveries of Columbus began to attract the English people, the Cabots were inspired with a new zeal for exploration; and, in 1497, fitting out the good ship "Matthew," away they went, the English king, Henry VII., having given them permission to sail to all parts of the seas and countries of the East and to take possession of all lands they might visit. Generous king indeed, to give away lands that he had never seen and that he was by no means sure were on the face of the globe!

"We believe," said the Cabots, "that there is a shorter Northwest Passage by which we may sail to India, and we will go in search of it."

Ah, that Northwest Passage! It has proved a sort of Will-o-the-Wisp to sailors ever since; for every now and then, all along the years since 1497, some adventurous seaman has thought he was the man born to find the wonderful short route. But, alas, it was never found, and the fate of the sailors has always been much the same. If they have lived to return at all, it has always been with the same sad story of wretched suffering from starvation and cold.

The Cabots met with little success on this first voyage, but in the following year, 1498, Sebastian Cabot, for his father was now dead, sailed out for the second time on a voyage of discovery, this time full of courage. "We only learned our way about the strange waters on our first voyage," said he, "but this time we shall bring back reports of discovery."

Sailing off towards Iceland, he went on towards Labrador. Here he reports that he passed that island and found the sea so full of codfish as "truly to hinder the sailing of the ships." Salmon, too, came swimming down the rivers in enormous numbers, and bears flocked at the water sides to catch and eat them. There were no fishery bills in those days, and the American bears and the English sailors fished side by side with not a thought of quarreling.

Sailing on southward, Cabot discovered, to his great astonishment, that the coast was continuous for miles and miles, from Labrador to Florida!

"This is not India," said he, "it is a continent, a New Found Land, lying somewhere between Europe and India." And so, while we remember that it was Columbus' daring that set all this zeal for search into motion and brought about all these wonderful discoveries and opened up to Europe the grand New World, let us give to the Cabots the lesser honor—but the honor due them—of being the first to bring back the report that out beyond the waters lay a new continent—a New Found Land.