Sebastian Cabot (explorer)

Sebastian Cabot (explorer)

Sebastian Cabot (Italian: "Sebastiano Caboto", Spanish: "Sebastiano Gaboto"; c. 1474 - c. 1557) was an Italian explorer, probably born in Venice. Sebastian was born to John Cabot and Mattea Cabot. Sebastian Cabot told Englishman Richard Eden that he was born in Bristol and carried to Venice at four years of age. However, he also told Gasparo Contarini, the Venetian ambassador at the court of Charles V that he was Venetian, educated in England. Contarini noted it in his diary.



He may have sailed with his father John Cabot (who is variously credited with Genoese or Gaetan origins), in the service of England, in May 1497. John Cabot, sailing from Bristol, took the small ship "Matthew" along the coasts of a "New Found Land". There is much controversy over where exactly Cabot landed, but two likely locations that are often suggested are Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. Cabot and his crew mistook this place for China, without finding the passage to the east they were looking for. Some scholars maintain that the name America comes from Richard Amerik, a Bristol merchant and customs officer, who is claimed on very slender evidence to have helped finance the Cabot voyages.

Early employment with England and Spain

By 1512 Sebastian was certainly employed by Henry VIII as a cartographer at Greenwich. In the same year he accompanied Willoughby to Spain, where he was made captain by Ferdinand V. After Ferdinand's death he returned to England, where, in 1517, he tried fruitlessly to win the support of Vice-Admiral Perte for a new expedition. In 1522, although once more in the employ of Spain as a member of the "Consil de las Indies" or "counsil of the indies" and holding the rank of pilot-major, he secretly offered his services to Venice, undertaking to find the Northwest Passage to China.

Voyages to America

Finally, he received the rank of captain general from Spain, and was entrusted on March 4, 1525, with the command of a fleet which was to determine from astronomical observation the precise demarcation of the Treaty of Tordesillas and then to convey settlers to the Moluccas, in order to strengthen Spanish claims there. It was officially noted as an expedition "for the discovery of Tharsis, Ophir, and Eastern Cathay." This expedition consisted of four ships with 200 men, and set sail from Sanlucar de Barrameda on April 3, 1526.

This voyage might have resulted in a second circumnavigation of the world. Upon landing in Brazil, however, rumors of the wealth of the Incan king and the nearly-successful expedition of Aleixo Garcia caused Cabot to abandon his charge and instead further explore the interior of the Río de la Plata.

Cabot had already earned the disapproval of his crew by stranding the fleet in the doldrums and running the flagship aground off Santa Catarina Island. His decision regarding the Río de la Plata led to open resistance from Martin Méndez (his lieutenant general,) Miguel de Rodas (pilot of the "capitana",) and Francisco de Rojas (the captain of one of the other vessels.) He dealt with the mutiny by marooning them and other officers on Santa Catarina Island.

He then traveled into the Río de la Plata and spent five months exploring the estuary. He established a fort called San Salvador at the confluence of the Uruguay and the Río San Salvador. This was the first Spanish settlement in modern-day Uruguay.

Leaving the two larger ships there, he sailed up the Paraná in the brigantine and a galley constructed at Santa Catarina. His party constructed a small fort called Santo or Espíritu Santo at the confluence of the Paraná and the Río Carcarañá. This was the first Spanish settlement in present-day Argentina; the town of Gaboto was later constructed nearby and named in his honor. Losing 18 men to an ambush, he returned to San Salvador, passing Diego García's expedition as he went.

Cabot sent one ship back to Spain, with his reports, accusations against the mutineers, and requests for further aid. In the spring of 1529, he returned upriver to Espíritu Santo, which he discovered had been overwhelmed and burnt by the indians during his absence. He recovered the cannon and returned to San Salvador.

At a council on 6 August, 1529, it was decided to return to Spain. Cabot sailed with García to São Vicente. Purchasing 50 slaves there, he coasted Brazil and arrived in Seville 22 July 1530, returning home with one ship and 24 men.

He was arraigned on charges from the Crown, Rojas, and by the families of Rodas and Méndez. He was condemned by the Council of the Indies on charges of disobedience, misadministration, and causing the death of officers under his command and sentenced to heavy fines and a two year banishment to Oran in North Africa. On appeal, his banishment was doubled.

During these procedings, however, the Emperor had been absent in Germany. Upon his return, Cabot presented him with descriptions of the region. Although no pardon is recorded and the fines were still paid, it is known that Cabot never went into exile and pilot-major of Spain until 1547, when without losing either the title or the pension, he left Spain and returned to England, where he received a salary with the title of great pilot.

Later life

In the year 1553 Charles V made unsuccessful attempts to win him back. In the meantime Cabot had reopened negotiations with Venice, but he reached no agreement with that city. After this he aided both with information and advice the expedition of Willoughby and Chancellor, was made life-governor of the "Company of Merchant Adventurers", and equipped (1557) the expedition of Borough. After this, nothing more is heard of him; he probably died soon afterwards.

Accounts of journeys

The account of Cabot's journeys written by himself has been lost. All that remains of his personal work is a map of the world drawn in 1544; one copy of this was found in Bavaria, and is still preserved in the Bibliotheque National in Paris. This map is especially important for the light it throws on the first journey of John Cabot. The accounts of the journeys of John and Sebastian Cabot were collected by Richard Hakluyt.


* [ Biography at the "Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online"]
* [ "Dictionary of Canadian Biography" at Google Books]
* [ "Appleton's American Biography"]
* [ Encyclopaedia Britannica Sebastian Cabot]
* [ "Catholic Encyclopedia" "John & Sebastian Cabot"]

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