Little is known about the early years of John Cabot. By 1461, Cabot had become a Venetian citizen and worked for a trading firm. He gained knowledge of the sea by traveling between Venice and the eastern Mediterranean region, even venturing as far as Mecca, the great Muslim center in Arabia.
Some historians believe that Cabot was thinking about reaching the Indies by sailing west when Columbus returned from his first voyage in 1493. Cabot reasoned that sailing farther north would be a shorter trip due to the curvature of the earth.
In March 1496, the English king Henry VII, eager to catch up to Portugal and Spain in exploration, authorized Cabot to pursue his plan. In May 1497, Cabot left Bristol in a tiny ship with his son, Sebastian, and 20 sailors.
About a month later, Cabot sighted land, possibly the north em tip of Newfoundland, the giant island off the coast of Canada. He went ashore with his men, the first English on North American soil, and claimed the land for King Henry VII. Convinced that he had discovered the Indies, Cabot returned to England in triumph.
He reported that the land was covered with timber and the seas filled with fish. He called the territory “Newfounde Lande.” Excited by his success, Cabot planned another voyage, this time with five ships and more than 200 men. He was determined to reach Japan.
Little is known about this second voyage except that it left sometime in 1498 and that one ship stopped in Ireland for repairs. The other four ships, with Cabot aboard one of them, never returned.