Wessex Worthies: Sebastian Cabot

Sebastian Cabot (1474-1557) was the son of the famous Venetian explorer John Cabot (1450-1500), and followed in his father's footsteps in leading expeditions from Bristol. Late in life, he claimed to have been born there, but he appears to have been suffering from cognitive decline by that point, and most modern historians believe that he was born in the Venetian Republic.

Cabot left a note on his famous map of the New World claiming to have reached North America with his father in 1494, three years before the famous voyage of the Matthew, This may have been a transcription error in subsequent copies of the manuscript, or Cabot may have been trying to nudge the date forward a few years in order to advance Spanish or Portuguese territorial claims over those of England or France.

Better attested is his 1504 voyage from Bristol, in which he took two ships, the Jesus and the Gabriel past Cuba and as far as the Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, by the time he returned, Henry VII, who had sponsored the voyage, had died, and his son Henry VIII showed little interest in exploring the New World at the time. He later relented, and tried to sponsor a voyage in 1521, but the Drapers' Company was reluctant to fund it, and the voyage was abandoned.

Interestingly, David Hackett Fischer devoted a section of his book Albion's Seed to the fact that the English settlement of the Chesapeake Bay area was dominated by Wessaxons. And there exists to this day a Wessex Society of Newfoundland (no connection to this website beyond the name), which promotes the Wessaxon heritage of the island. Sebastian Cabot, whether or not he was a native son of Wessex, surely stands along with his father as the person most responsible for these historic links.

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