THE VOYAGES OF JOHN CABOT

These are documents detailing the voyage of John Cabot or Zuan Chaboto, edited by Edward G. Bourne.

The text is taken from the first volume of J. Franklin Jameson's Original Narratives of Early American History, entitled The Northmen, Columbus and Cabot, 985-1503 [p.421ff.], published by Charles Scribner's Sons of New York in 1906.


LETTER OF LORENZO PASQUALIGO TO HIS BROTHERS ALVISE AND FRANCESCO, MERCHANTS IN VENICE

The Venetian, our countryman, who went with a ship from Bristol to find new islands, has returned, and says that 700 leagues hence he discovered mainland, the territory of the Grand Cham (Gram Cam). He coasted for 300 leagues and landed; he did not see any person, but he has brought hither to the King certain snares which had been set to catch game, and a needle for making nets; he also found some cut trees, wherefore he supposed there were inhabitants. Being in doubt he returned to his ship.

He was three months on the voyage, and this is certain, and on his return he saw two islands but would not land, so as not to lose time, as he was short of provisions. The King is much pleased with this. He says that the tides are slack and do not flow as they do here.

The King has promised that in the spring our countryman shall have ten ships, armed to his order, and at his request has conceded him all the prisoners, except traitors, to go with him as he has requested. The King has also given him money wherewith to amuse himself till then, and he is now at Bristol with his wife, who is also Venetian, and with his sons; his name is Zuam Talbot, and he is styled the great admiral. Vast honor is paid him; he dresses in silk, and these English run after him like mad people, so that he can enlist as many of them as he pleases, and a number of our own rogues besides.

The discoverer of these things planted on his new-found land a large cross, with one flag of England and another of St. Mark, by reason of his being a Venetian, so that our banner has floated very far afield.

London, 23 August 1497.


FIRST LETTER OF RAIMONDO DE SONCINO, AGENT OF THE DUKE OF MILAN, TO THE DUKE

[...] Also some months ago his Majesty sent out a Venetian, who is a very good mariner, and has good skill in discovering new islands, and he has returned safe, and has found two very large and fertile new islands; having likewise discovered the Seven Cities, 400 leagues from England, on the western passage. This next spring his Majesty means to send him with fifteen or twenty ships.


SECOND LETTER OF RAIMONDO DE SONCINO TO THE DUKE OF MILAN

Most Illustrious and Excellent My Lord: -

Perhaps among your Excellency's many occupations, it may not displease you to learn how his Majesty here has won a part of Asia without a stroke of the sword. There is in this kingdom a Venetian fellow, Master John Caboto by name, of fine mind, greatly skilled in navigation, who seeing that those most serene kings, first he of Portugal, and then the one of Spain, have occupied unknown islands, determined to make a like acquisition for his Majesty aforesaid. And having obtained royal grants that he should have the usufruct of all that he should discover, provided that the ownership of the same is reserved to the crown, with a small ship and eighteen persons he committed himself to fortune; and having set out from Bristol, a western port of this kingdom, and passed the western limits of Ireland, and then standing to the northward he began to sail toward the Oriental regions, leaving (after a few days) the North Star on his right hand; and, having wandered about considerably, at last he struck mainland, where, having planted the royal banner and taken possession on behalf of this King, and taken certain tokens, he has returned thence. The said Master John, as being foreign-born and poor, would not be believed if his comrades, who are almost all Englishmen and from Bristol, did not testify that what he says is true. This Master John has the description of the world in a chart, and also in a solid globe which he has made, and he shows where he landed, and that going toward the east he passed considerably beyond the country of the Tanais. And they say that it is a very good and temperate country, and they think that Brazil-wood and silk grow there; and they affirm that that sea is covered with fishes, which are caught not only with the net but with baskets, a stone being tied to them in order that the baskets may sink in the water. And this I heard the said Master John relate. And the aforesaid Englishmen, his comrades, say that they will bring so many fishes that this kingdom will no longer have need of Iceland, from which country there comes a very great store of fish which are called stock-fish. But Master John has set his mind on something greater; for he expects to go farther on toward the East from that place already occupied, constantly hugging the shore, until he shall be over against an island, by him called Cipango, situated in the equinoctial region, where he thinks all the spices of the world, and also the precious stones, originate; and he says that in former times he was at Mecca, whither spices are brought by caravans from distant countries, and that those who brought them, on being asked where the said spices grow, answered that they do not know, but that other caravans come to their homes with this merchandise from distant countries, and these [caravans] again say that they are brought to them from other remote regions. And he argues thus, - that if the Orientals affirmed to the Southerners that these things come from a distance from them, and so from hand to hand, presupposing the rotundity of the earth, it must be that the last ones get them at the North toward the West; and he said it in such a way, that, having nothing to gain or lose by it, I too believe it: and what is more, the King here, who is wise and not lavish, likewise puts some faith in him; for (ever) since his return he has made good provision for him, as the same Master John tells me. And it is said that, in the spring, his Majesty aforenamed will fit out some ships, and will besides give him all the convicts, and they will go to that country to make a colony, by means of which they hope to establish in London a greater emporium of spices than there is in Alexandria; and the chief men of the enterprise are of Bristol, great sailors, who, now that they know where to go, say that it is not a voyage of more than fifteen days, nor do they ever have storms after they get away from Hibernia. I have also talked with a Burgundian, a comrade of Master John's, who confirms everything, and wishes to return thither because the Admiral (for so Master John already entitles himself) has given him an island; and he has given another one to a barber of his from Castiglione-of-Genoa, and both of them regard themselves as Counts, nor does my Lord the Admiral esteem himself anything less than a Prince. I think that with this expedition there will go several poor Italian monks, who have all been promised bishoprics. And, as I have become a friend of the Admiral's, if I wished to go thither I should get an archbishopric. But I have thought that the benefices which your Excellency has in store for me are a surer thing; and therefore I beg that if these should fall vacant in my absence, you will cause possession to be given to me, taking measures to do this rather where it is needed, in order that they be not taken from me by others, who because they are present can be more diligent than I, who in this country have been brought to the pass of eating ten or twelve dishes at every meal, and sitting at table three hours at a time twice a day, for the sake of your Excellency, to whom I humbly commend myself.

Your Excellency's

Very humble servant,

Raimondo.

London, Dec. 18, 1497.


DESPATCH TO FERDINAND AND ISABELLA FROM PEDRO DE AYALA JUNIOR AMBASSADOR AT THE COURT OF ENGLAND, JULY 25, 1498

I think your Majesties have already heard that the King of England has equipped a fleet in order to discover certain islands and mainland which he was informed some people from Bristol, who manned a few ships for the same purpose last year, had found. I have seen the map which the discoverer has made, who is another Genoese, like Colon [and ?] who has been in Seville and in Lisbon, asking assistance for this discovery. The people of Bristol have, for the last seven years, sent out every year two, three, or four light ships (caravelas), in search of the island of Brazil and the seven cities, according to the fancy of this Genoese. The King determined to send out [ships], because, the year before, they brought certain news that they had found land. The fleet consisted of five vessels, which carried provisions for one year. It is said that one of them, in which another Fai [Friar ?] Buil went, has returned to Ireland in great distress, the ship being much damaged. The Genoese continued his voyage. I, having seen the route which they took, and the distance they sailed, find that what they have found, or what they are in search of, is what your Highnesses already possess since it is, in fine, what fell to your Highnesses by the treaty with Portugal. It is expected that they will be back in the month of September. I inform your Highnesses in regard to it. The king of England has often spoken to me on this subject. He hoped to derive great advantage from it. I think it is not further distant than four hundred leagues. I told him that, in my opinion, the land was already in the possession of your Majesties; but, though I gave him my reasons, he did not like it. Because I believe that your Highnesses will presently receive information in regard to all this matter, and the chart or map which this man has made, I do not now send it; it is here and it, according to my opinion, is false, in order to make it appear that they are not the said islands.


Bourne's note on the Seven Cities

The Seven Cities was a legendary island in the Atlantic. They are all placed and named on the legendary island of Antilia on the map of Grazioso Benincasa in 1482. See E. G. Bourne, Spain in America, pp. 6 and 7, and Kretschmer, Die Entdeckung Amerikas, Atlas, plate 4. Columbus reported in Portugal that he had discovered Antilia (see p. 225, note 1); hence the deduction either of John Cabot or of Raimondo that the region explored by Cabot, being far to the west in the ocean, was the same as that visited by Columbus. Cf. also art. " Brazil, Island of," Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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