John Cabot and the first English Expedition to America

Forget Christopher Columbus… this is the story of John Cabot, a Venetian captain who led the first ever European expedition…

Did you know that Christopher Columbus never discovered mainland America? In fact, during his first voyage in 1492 he only landed in the West Indies, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, leaving the vast continent of North America untouched since Leif Ericson and his Viking expedition some five centuries earlier.

It was, in fact, a ship commissioned by England’s very own King Henry VII which first reached the American mainland in 1497, albeit led by a Venetian captain called John Cabot. Dropping anchor at Cape Bonavista on Newfoundland on June 24th, Cabot and his English crew only remained on land long enough to fetch some fresh water and claim the land for the Crown. Although the crew did not meet any natives during their brief visit, they did apparently come across tools, nets and the remains of a fire.

For the following weeks Cabot continued to explore the coastline of Canada, making observations and charting the coastline for future expeditions.

Upon arriving back in England in early August, Cabot went straight to London to inform King Henry VII of his discoveries. For a short period of time Cabot was treated as a celebrity throughout the country, although surprisingly Henry only offered him £10 as a reward for his work!

The monument to John Cabot's landing at Cape Bonavista, Canada. Photo by Tango7174, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License
The monument to John Cabot’s landing at Cape Bonavista, Canada.

Although Cabot’s expedition would have seen the first Englishmen walk upon the American mainland, it is important to remember that the Welsh were reputedly colonising Alabama as far back the 12th century! You can read the story of Prince Madog and his exploration of America here.

Cape Bonavista
Above: The location of Cape Bonavista on Newfoundland.


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