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World Explorers: John Cabot

5 minutes

(female narrator) The Vikings were the first Europeans to reach North America, but they left no known records of their explorations. Five hundred years after the Vikings landed, Giovanni Caboto, a 15th century Italian seafarer, was the first known European to reach the mainland of North America. Why did this Italian change his name to John Cabot? How did he set the stage for English to become America's dominant language?

(Describer) Titles: PBS Education. World Explorers: John Cabot. The pointer on a timeline goes to 1450 as a map zooms in on Italy.

Born in Venice around 1450, Giovanni Caboto learned to navigate the seas while working for a Venetian trading company. He honed his skills, sailing far across the Mediterranean Sea to reach its eastern ports, where the rich spices and silks of Asia were available for purchase. After Columbus's voyage to the West Indies, Caboto decided to also try to find a westerly route to Asia, believing, like Columbus, that lands across the Atlantic were part of Asia. However, Caboto thought that by taking a northerly route, his trip would be shorter than Columbus's southerly one. In 1494, Caboto moved to Seville and offered to sail a transatlantic expedition for King Ferdinand of Spain. But Ferdinand gave all of Spain's expeditions to rival explorer Christopher Columbus. In 1496, using the English version of his name, John Cabot, he petitioned King Henry VII of Britain for a charter to navigate a northerly route to Asia. At the time, England was a weak European kingdom compared to the Mediterranean kingdoms of Spain, Portugal, and France. Henry VII envied the profits those countries had made through settlement and trade in the New World. He eagerly financed the voyage, hoping to make England a seafaring powerhouse. Henry specified that Cabot must give him a portion of any treasure he found. In May, 1497, aboard the ship Matthew, Cabot and his crew of 18, including his son, Sebastian, set sail from Bristol, England. Fifty days later, he spotted the coast of an uncharted land. Cabot named it New Found Land, known today as Newfoundland in Canada.

(Describer) It's shown on its east end.

He was the first known European to reach the North American mainland. Cabot's journey was 20 days shorter than Columbus's. He had found a quicker route to Asia. Of course, he was not in Asia and there was no treasure in sight. However, Cabot did report seas teeming with codfish. The cod were so plentiful, the crew just dipped baskets into the water and the fish would fill them. Cabot claimed the land for the king of England. Upon his return to Bristol, Henry VII awarded Cabot the modest sum of £10, or a year's salary, for discovering what was believed to be an island off China's coast. He also awarded Cabot a grant to revisit Newfoundland. In May of 1498, Cabot set sail with 300 settlers on five ships, planning to start a colony. For nearly 500 years, no records were found about this second voyage. John Cabot was believed to have died at sea, but documents recently have emerged that might place Cabot and his crew back in England, suggesting that he successfully completed the journey. Whatever the outcome of this second voyage, all historians agree that John Cabot is responsible for the first English claims in the New World. His shorter, northerly route across the Atlantic became a fast path for British colonization and opened the Canadian shores to a huge trade in cod, which kept Europe fed for centuries. The British monarchy dominated the cod industry, garnering more power and wealth than Cabot could have ever imagined, and set the stage for England's domination of North America. Accessibility provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

(Describer) Titles: PBS Education. World Explorers: John Cabot. Accessibility provided by the US Department of Education.

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Five hundred years after the Viking exploration of North America, Italian explorer John Cabot became the first known European to reach its mainland. Honing his sailing skills in the Mediterranean, Cabot followed in Columbus's footsteps to explore the Atlantic in search of a route to Asia. Part of the "World Explorers" series.

Media Details

Runtime: 5 minutes

World Explorers
Episode 1
5 minutes
Grade Level: 4 - 8
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