Cabot, Sebastian

, a navigator of great eminence? and abilities, was born at Bristol about the year 1477. He was son of John Cabot, a Venetian pilot, who resided much in England, and particularly in the city of Bristol; and who was greatly celebrated Cor his skill in navigation. Young Cabot was early instructed by his father in arithmetic, geometry, geography, and those branches of knowledge which were best calculated to form an able and skilful seaman; and by the time he was seventeen years of age, he had already made several trips to sea, in order to add to the theoretical knowledge which he had acquired, a competent skill in the practical part of navigation. The first voyage of any importance in which he was engaged, appears to have been that made by his father, for the discovery of unknown lands; and also, as it is said, of a northwest passage to the East Indies. John Cabot was encouraged to this attempt by the discoveries of Columbus. It was in 1493 that Columbus returned from his first expedition; and in 1495, John Cabot obtained from king Henry VII. letters patent, empowering him and his three sons, Lewis, Sebastian, and Sanctius, to discover unknown lands, and to conquer and settle them, for which they were to be admitted to many privileges the king reserving to himself one- fifth part of the neat profits; and with this single restraint, that the ships they fitted O ut should be obliged to return to the port of Bristol. It was not till the year after these letters patent were granted, that any preparations were made for fitting out vessels for the intended voyage; and then John Cabot had a permission from his majesty, to take six English ships in any haven of the realm, of the burden of two hundred tons and under, with as many mariners as should be willing to go with him. Accordingly, one ship was equipped at Bristol, at the king’s expence; and to this the merchants of that city, and of London, added three or four small vessels, freighted with proper commodities.

John Cabot, attended by his son Sebastian, set sail with this fleet in the spring of the year 1497. They sailed happily on their north west course, till the 24th of June, jn the same year, about five in the morning, when they | discovered the island of Baccalnos, now much better known by the name of Newfoundland. The very day on which they made this important discovery, is known by a large? map, drawn by Sebastian Cabor, and cut by Clement Adams, which hung in the privy gallery at Whitehall; whereon was this inscription, under the author’s picture “Eftigics Seb. Caboti, Angli, Filii Jo. Caboti, Venetian!, ‘IMilitis Aurati, &c.” and on this map was likewise the following account of the discovery, the original of which was in Latin: “In the year of our Lord 1497, John Cabot, a Venetian, and his son Sebastian, with an English fleet, set out from Bristol, and discovered that island which no man before had attempted. This discovery was made on the four and twentieth of June, about five o’clock in the morning. This land he called Prima Vistu. (or First Seen), because it was that part of which they had the first sight from the sea. The island, which lies out before the land, he called the island of St. John, probably because it was discovered on the festival of St. John the Baptist. The inhabitants of this island wore beasts’ skins, and esteemed them as the finest garments.” To this Purchas adds, “In their wars they used bows, arrows, pikes, darts, wooden clubs, and slings. They found the soil barren in some places, and yielding little fruit; but it was full of white bears and stags, far larger than those of Europe. It yielded plenty of fish, and those of the larger kind, as seals and salmon. They found soles there above a yard in length, and great abundance of that kind of fish which the savages called baccalaos. They also observed there partridges, as likewise hawks and eagles; but what was remarkable in them, they were all as black as ravens.

The accounts of this voyage made by John Cabot, accompanied by his son Sebastian, are, in some respects, involved in much obscurity; and Sebastian is supposed to have made some voyages of discovery without his father, in the reign of Henry VII. of which no narrations have been preserved. However, it appears that John Cabot, after the discovery of Newfoundland, sailed down to Cape Florida, and then returned with three Indians, and a good cargo, to England, where he uas well received. The discovery that he and his *on had made, was, indeed, as Dr. Campbell obcry important; "since, in truth,

it was the first time the continent of America had I seen; Columbus being unacquainted therewith till his | last voyage, which was the year following, when he coasted along a part of the isthmus of Darien."

After the voyage in which Newfoundland was discovered, there is a considerable chasm in the life of Sebastian Cabot; for we have no distinct accounts of what he performed for the space of twenty years together, though he probably performed several voyages during that period. Nor have we any account at what time, or in what place, his father John Cabot died; though it is supposed to have been in England. The next transaction concerning Sebastian Cabot, of which we meet with any mention, was in the eighth year of the reign of King Henry VIII. and our accounts relative to this are not very clear. But it seems he had entered into a close connexion with sir Tljomas Pert, then vice-admiral of England, and who procured him a good ship of the king’s, in order to make discoveries. It is supposed, however, that he had now changed his route, and intended to have passed by the South to the East Indies; for he sailed first to Brazil, and missing there of his purpose, shaped his course for the islands of Hispaniola and Porto Rico, where he carried on some traffic, and then returned, failing absolutely in the design upon which he went; not through any want either of courage or of conduct in himself, but from the timidity of his coadjutor, sir Thomas Pert.

It was this disappointment which is supposed to have induced Sebastian Cabot to leave England, and go over into Spain. There he was treated with great respect, and appointed pilot-major, or chief pilot of Spain; and by his office entrusted with the reviewing of all projects for discovery; which at that period were numerous and important. His great capacity and reputation as a navigator, induced many opulent merchants to treat with him, in 1524, about a voyage to be undertaken at their expence by the new-found passage of Magellan to the Moluccos; and Cabot accordingly agreed to engage in the voyage. He set sail from Cadiz, with four ships, about the beginning of April 1525, first to the Canaries, then to the Cape Verd islands, and from thence to Cape St. Augustine, and the island of Patos, or Geese; and near Bahia de Todos los Santos, or the bay of All Saints, he met a French ship. When he came to the island just mentioned, he was in great want of provisions; but the Indians treated him with much kindness, and supplied him with provisions for all his | ships. This he returned by an act of base ingratitude, carrying off with him by force four sons of the principal persons of the island. He then proceeded to the river of Plate, having left ashore, on a desert island, Martin Mendez, his vice-admiral, captain Francis do Rojas, and Michael de Rojas, because they censured his conduct. He was now prevented from prosecuting his original design of going to the Spice Islands, both by a scarcity of provisions, and a mutiny among his men. He sailed, however, up the river of Plate; and about thirty leagues above the mouth he found an island, which he called St. Gabriel, about a league in compass, dnd half a league from the continent towards Brazil. There he anchored; and, rowing with the boats three leagues higher, discovered a river he called San Salvador, or St. Saviour, very deep, and a safe harbour for the ships on the same side; whither he brought up his vessels, and unloaded them, because there was not much water at the mouth of the river. Having built a fort, and left some men in it, he determined to proceed up that river with boats, and a flat-bottomed caravel, in order to make discoveries; for he thought his voyage might thereby be rendered beneficial, though he did not pass through the Straits to the Spice Islands. When he had advanced thirty leagues, he came to a river called Zarcarana; the inhabitants in the neighbourhood of which he found to be intelligent, and not unfriendly; and here he erected another fort, calling it Santi Spiritus, i. e. of the Holy Ghost, and his followers by another name, viz. Cabot’s Fort. He then discovered the shores of the river Parana, where he found several islands and rivers, and at length came to the river Paraguay, in the neighbourhood of which he found people tilling the ground; a circumstance which had not occurred to him before in that part of the world. But here the natives opposed him with so much vigour, that he advanced no farther, though he had killed many of the Indians; but they slew twenty-five of his Spaniards, and took three of them, who went out to gather palmetos.

While Sebastian Cabot was thus employed, James Garcia, with the same view of making discoveries, had entered the river of Plate, without knowing that the other was there before him. He had been sent from Galicia. with two x:iid came to an anchor in the same place where

Cabot’s ship lay, about the beginning of 1527. Directing his course towards the river Parana, he arrived at the fort | built by Cabot and about one hundred and ten leagues from this fort he found Cabot himself, in the port of St. Anne, After a short stay there, they returned together to the fort of the Holy Ghost, from whence they sent messengers into Spain. Those who were dispatched by Cabot were Francis Calderon and George Barlow, who gave a very favourable account of the fine countries bordering on the river La Plata, shewing how large a tract of land he had not only discovered, but subdued; and producing gold, silver, and other valuable commodities, as evidences in favour of their commander’s conduct. They then demanded on his behalf, that a supply should be sent of provisions, ammunition, goods proper to carry on a tra’de, and a competent recruit of seamen and soldiers. But the merchants, by whom Cabot’s squadron was fitted out, would not agree to these requisitions, rather choosing to resign their rights to the crown of Castile. The king then took the whole upon himself; but was so dilatory in his preparations, that Cabot, who had been five years employed in this expedition, being quite tired out, determined to return home; which he accordingly did, embarking the remainder of his men and all his effects onboard the largest of his ships, and leaving the rest behind him. He arrived at the Spanish court, where he gave an account of his expedition, in the spring of 1531. But he was not well received: for he had created himself enemies by the rigour with which he had treated his Spanish mutineers; and he had also disappointed the expectations of his owners by not prosecuting his voyage to the Moluccos. Notwithstanding these unfavourable circumstances, he found means to keep his place, and continued in the service of Spain many years after, till at length he resolved to return again to England. What were his particular inducements to this we meet with no certain account, but it was probably about the latter end of the reign of king Henry VIII. that Cabot returned to England, where he resided at Bristol. In the beginning of the following reign he was introduced to the duke of Somerset, then lord protector, who received him into great favour, and by whom he was made known to king Edward VI. That young prince, who was very solicitous to acquire knowledge, and who had much more skill in maritime affairs than could have been expected from his years, took great pleasure in the conversation of Cabot, to whom a pension was granted, by letters patent, dated | January 6, 1549, of 166l. 13s. 4rf. a year: and, according to Hakluyt, this annuity was allowed him as grand pilot of England. From this time he continued highly in the king’s favour, and was consulted upon all affairs relative to trade, and particularly in the great case of the merchants of the Steel-yard in 1551.

In May 1552, the king granted a licence, together with letters of safe conduct, to such persons as should embark on board three ships, to be employed for the discovery of a. passage by the north to the East Indies. Sebastian Cabot was at that time governor of the company of mcivhantadventurers: and this cnterprize was undertaken by his advice, and the countenance of the court obtained for it by his interest. When the necessary preparations were made for this voyage, Cabot delivered to the commander in chief those directions by which he was to regulate his conduct; the title of which ran thus: “Ordinances, instructions, and advertisements, of and for the direction of the intended voyage for Cathay; compiled, made, and delivered by the right worshipful Sebastian Cabot, esq. governor of the mystery and company of the merchant-adventurers for the discovery of regions, dominions, islands, and places unknown, the 9th of May, in the year of our Lord God 1553.” These instructions are preserved in Hakluyt’s Collection of Voyages; and Dr. Campbell observes, that they “are the clearest proofs of Cabot’s sagacity and penetration, and the fullest justification of such as did repose their trust in him:” and it appears, that in consideration of his expence and trouble in this affair, his majesty made him a present of two hundred pounds. It has been supposed that there were two undertakings of this kind; “one under the immediate protection of the court, which -did not take effect; and the other by a joint stock of the merchants, which did.” But this seems hardly probable; for we meet with no distinct account of any other expedition to the northern seas bein: undertaken at this time, but that in which sir Hugh Wiloughby commanded, which produced the important discovery of the trade to Archangel; and this voyage was evidently undertaken under the direction of Sebastian Cabot.

He was also governor of the Russia company. A charter was granted by king Philip and queen Mary, in the first of their reign, to the merchants of Russia, since styled the Russia Companany; whereby Cabot wus made governor | for life, on account of his being principally concerned in fitting oat the first ships employed in that trade. Letters patent were likewise issued, dated St. James’s, November 27, 1555, in the second and third years of Philip and Mary; wherein their majesties granted him an annuity of one hundred sixty-six pounds thirteen shillings and four-pence, during his natural life. He was very active in the affairs of the Russia company; and in the journal of Stephen Burroughs, it is observed, that on the 27th of April, 1556, he went down to Gravesend, and there going on board the Serch-thrift, a small vessel fitted out under the command of Mr. Burroughs for Russia, he gave generously to the sailors; and, on his return to Gravesend, he extended his alms very liberally to the poor, desiring them to pray for the success of this voyage. It is also mentioned, as an evidence of his cheerful temper, that he caused a grand entertainment to be made at the sign of the Christopher, at Gravesend, on this occasion; and, as Mr. Burroughs says, “for the very joy he had to see the towardness of our intended discovery, he entered into the dance himself.” This is the last circumstance related of Cabot; who is supposed to have died some time in the following year, when he was probably near eighty; though his age cannot now be exactly ascertained. He was a very able and skilful navigator, and had a very high reputation in^iis own time: and Dr. Campbell observes of him, that “by his capacity and integrity, he contributed not a little to the service of mankind in general, as well as of this kingdom; for it was he who first took notice of the variation of the compass, which is of such mighty consequence in navigation, and concerning which the learned have busied themselves in their inquiries ever since.1


Biog. Brit.—Campbell’s Lives of the Admirals.