The Northmen—Eric the Red—The Zenos—John Cabot—Cortereal—Sebastian Cabot—Willoughby—Chancellor.

Pytheas had opened up the road to the north to the Scandinavians by discovering Iceland (the famous Thule) and the Cronian Ocean, of which the mud, the shallow-water, and the ice render the navigation dangerous, and where the nights are as light as twilight. The traditions of the voyages undertaken by the ancients to the Orkneys, the Faröe Islands, and even to Iceland, were treasured up among the Irish monks, who were learned men, and themselves bold mariners, as their successive establishments in these archipelagos clearly prove. They were also the pilots of the Northmen, a name given generally to the Scandinavian pirates, both Danish and Norwegian, who rendered themselves so formidable to the whole of Europe during the Middle Ages. But if all the information that we owe to the ancients, both Greeks and Romans, with regard to these hyperborean countries be extremely vague and so to speak fabulous, it is not so with that which concerns the adventurous enterprises of the "Men of the North." The Sagas, as the Icelandic and Danish songs are called, are extremely precise, and the numerous data which we owe to them are daily confirmed by the archæological discoveries made in America, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and Denmark. This is a source of valuable information which was long unknown and unexplored, and of which we owe the revelation to the learned Dane, C. C. Rafn, who has furnished us with authentic facts of the greatest interest bearing on the pre-Columbian discovery of America.

Norway was poor and encumbered with population. Hence arose the necessity for a permanent emigration, which should allow a considerable portion of the inhabitants to seek in more favoured regions the nourishment which a frozen soil denied them. When they had found some country rich enough to yield them an abundant spoil, they then returned to their own land, and set out the following spring accompanied by all those who could be enticed either by the love of lucre, the desire for an easy life, or by the thirst for strife. Intrepid hunters and fishermen, accustomed to a dangerous navigation between the continent and the mass of islands which border it and appear to defend it against the assaults of the ocean, and across the narrow, deep fiords, which seem as though they were cut into the soil itself by some gigantic sword, they set out in those oak vessels, the sight of which made the people tremble who lived on the shores of the North Sea and British Channel. Sometimes decked, these vessels, long or short, large or small, were usually terminated in front by a spur of enormous size, above which the prow sometimes rose to a great height, taking the form of an S. The hällristningar, for so they call the graphic representations so often met with on the rocks of Sweden and Norway, enable us to picture to ourselves these swift vessels, which could carry a considerable crew. Such was the Long-serpent of Olaf Tryggvason, which had thirty-two benches of rowers and held ninety men, Canute's vessel, which carried sixty, and the two vessels of Olaf the Saint, which carried sometimes 200 men. The Sea-kings, as they often called these adventurers, lived on the ocean, never settling on shore, passing from the pillage of a castle to the burning of an abbey, devastating the coasts of France, ascending rivers, especially the Seine, as far as Paris, sailing over the Mediterranean as far as Constantinople, establishing themselves later in Sicily, and leaving traces of their incursions or their sojourn in all the regions of the known world.

Norman Ships
Norman Ships.

Piracy, far from being, as at the present day, an act falling under the ban of the law, was not only encouraged in that barbarous or half-civilized society, but was celebrated in the songs of the Skalds, who reserved their most enthusiastic eulogies for celebrating chivalrous struggles, adventurous privateering, and all exhibitions of strength. From the eighth century, these formidable sea-rovers frequented the groups of the Orkney, the Hebrides, the Shetland, and Faröe Islands, where they met with the Irish monks, who had settled themselves there nearly a century earlier, to instruct the idolatrous population.

In 861 a Norwegian pirate, named Naddod, was carried by a storm towards an island covered with snow, which he named Snoland (land of snow), a name changed later to that of Iceland (land of ice). There again the Northmen found the Irish monks under the name of Papis, in the cantons of Papeya and Papili.

Ingolf installed himself some years afterwards in the country, and founded Reijkiavik. In 885 the triumph of Harold Haarfager, who had just subjugated the whole of Norway by force of arms, brought a considerable number of malcontents to Iceland. They established there the republican form of government, which had just been overthrown in their own country, and which subsisted till 1261, the epoch when Iceland passed under the dominion of the kings of Norway.

When established in Iceland, these bold fellows, lovers of adventure and of long hunts in pursuit of seals and walrus, retained their wandering habits and pursued their bold plans in the west, where only three years after the arrival of Ingolf, Guunbjorn discovered the snowy peaks of the mountains of Greenland. Five years later, Eric the Red, banished from Iceland for murder, rediscovered the land in latitude 64° north, of which Guunbjorn had caught a glimpse. The sterility of this ice-bound coast made him decide to seek a milder climate with a more open country, and one producing more game, in the south. So he rounded Cape Farewell at the extremity of Greenland, established himself on the west coast, and built some vast dwellings for himself and his companions, of which M. Jorgensen has discovered the ruins. This country was worthy at that period of the name of Green-Land (Groenland) which the Northmen gave to it, but the annual and great increase of the glaciers, has rendered it since that epoch a land of desolation.

Eric returned to Iceland to seek his friends, and in the same year that he returned to Brattahalida (for so he called his settlement), fourteen vessels laden with emigrants came to join him. It was a veritable exodus. These events took place in the year 1000. As quickly as the resources of the country allowed of it, the population of Greenland increased, and in 1121, Gardar, the capital of the country, became the seat of a bishopric, which existed until after the discovery of the Antilles by Christopher Columbus.

In 986 Bjarn Heriulfson, who had come from Norway to Iceland to spend the winter with his father, learnt that the latter had joined Eric the Red in Greenland. Without hesitation, the young man again put to sea, seeking at haphazard for a country of which he did not even know the exact situation, and was cast by currents on coasts which we think must have been those of New Scotland, Newfoundland, and Maine. He ended, however, by reaching Greenland, where Eric, the powerful Norwegianjarl, reproached him for not having examined with more care countries of which he owed his knowledge to a happy accident of the sea.

Eric had sent his son Leif to the Norwegian court, so close at this time was the connexion between the metropolis and the colonies. The king, who had been converted to Christianity, had just despatched a mission to Iceland charged to overthrow the worship of Odin. He committed to Leif's care some priests who were to instruct the Greenlanders; but scarcely had the young adventurer returned to his own country, when he left the holy men to work out the accomplishment of their difficult task and hearing of the discovery made by Bjarn, he fitted out his vessels and went to seek for the lands which had been only imperfectly seen. He landed first on a desolate and stony plain, to which he gave the name of Helluland, and which we have no hesitation in recognizing as Newfoundland, and afterwards on a flat sandy shore behind which rose an immense screen of dark forests, cheered by the songs of innumerable birds. A third time he put to sea and steering towards the south he arrived at the Bay of Rhode Island, where the mild climate and the river teeming with salmon induced him to settle, and where he constructed vast buildings of planks, which he calledLeifsbudir (Leif's house). Then he sent some of his companions to explore the country, and they returned with the good news that the wild vine grows in the country, to which it owes the name of Vinland. In the spring of the year 1001, Leif, having laded his ship with skins, grapes, wood, and other productions of the country, set out for Greenland; he had made the valuable observation that the shortest day in Vinland lasted nine hours, which places the site of Leifsbudir at 41° 24' 10". This fortunate voyage and the salvage of a Norwegian vessel carrying fifteen men, gained for Leif the surname of the Fortunate.

This expedition made a great stir, and the account of the wonders of the country in which Leif had settled, induced his brother Thorvald, to set out with thirty men. After passing the winter at Leifsbudir, Thorvald explored the coasts to the south, returning in the autumn to Vinland, and in the following year 1004, he sailed along the coast to the north of Leifsbudir. During this return voyage, the Northmen met with the Esquimaux for the first time, and without any provocation, slaughtered them without mercy. The following night they found themselves all at once surrounded by a numerous flotilla of Kayacs, from which came a cloud of arrows. Thorvald alone, the chief of the expedition, was mortally wounded; he was buried by his companions on a promontory, to which they gave the name of the promontory of the Cross.

Now, in the Gulf of Boston in the eighteenth century, a tomb of masonry was discovered, in which, with the bones, was found a sword-hilt of iron. The Indians not being acquainted with this metal, it could not be one of their skeletons; it was not either, the remains of one of the Europeans who had landed after the fifteenth century, for their swords had not this very characteristic form. This tomb has been thought to be that of a Scandinavian, and we venture to say, that of Thorvald, son of Eric the Red.

In the spring of 1007, three vessels carrying 160 men and some cattle, left Eriksfjord; the object in view was the foundation of a permanent colony. The emigrants after sighting Helluland, Markland, and Vinland, landed in an island, upon which they constructed some barracks and began the work of cultivation. But they must either have laid their plans badly, or have been wanting in foresight, for the winter found them without provisions, and they suffered cruelly from hunger. They had, however, the good sense to regain the continent, where in comparative ease, they could await the end of the winter.

At the beginning of 1008, they set out to seek for Leifsbudir, and settled themselves at Mount-Hope Bay, on the opposite shore to the old settlement of Leif. There, for the first time, some intercourse was held with the natives, called Skrellings in the sagas, and whom, from the manner in which they are portrayed, it is easy to recognize as Esquimaux. The first meeting was peaceable, and barter was carried on with them until the day when the desire of the Esquimaux to acquire iron hatchets, always prudently refused them by the Northmen, drove them to acts of aggression, which decided the new-comers, after three years of residence, to return to their own country, which they did without leaving behind them any lasting trace of their stay in the country.

It will be easily understood that we cannot give any detailed account of all the expeditions, which set out from Greenland, and succeeded each other on the coasts of Labrador and the United States. Those of our readers who wish for circumstantial details, should refer to M. Gabriel Gravier's interesting publication, the most complete work on the subject, and from which we have borrowed all that relates to the Norman expeditions.

The same year as Erik the Red landed in Greenland (983), a certain Hari Marson, being driven out of the ordinary course by storms, was cast upon the shores of a country known by the name of "White man's land," which extended according to Rafn from Chesapeake Bay to Florida.

What is the meaning of this name "White man's land"? Had some compatriots of Marson's already settled there? There is some reason to suppose so even from the words used in the chronicle. We can understand how interesting it would be, to be able to determine the nationality of these first colonists. However, the Sagas have not as yet revealed all their secrets. There are probably, some of them still unknown, and as those which have been successively discovered, have confirmed facts already admitted, there is every reason to hope that our knowledge of Icelandic navigation may become more precise.

Another legend, of which great part is mere romance, but which nevertheless, contains a foundation of truth, relates that a certain Bjorn, who was obliged to quit Iceland in consequence of an unfortunate passion, took refuge in the countries beyond Vinland, where in 1027, he was found by some of his countrymen.

In 1051, during another expedition, an Icelandic woman was killed by some Skrellings, and in 1867, a tomb was exhumed, bearing a runic inscription, and containing bones, and some articles of the toilet, which are now preserved in the museum at Washington. This discovery was made at the exact spot indicated in the Saga which related these events, and which was not itself discovered until 1863.

But the Northmen, established in Iceland and Greenland, were not the only people who frequented the coast of America about the year 1000, which is proved by the name of "Great Ireland," which was given to White man's land. As the history of Madoc-op-Owen proves, the Irish and Welsh founded colonies there, regarding which we have but little information, but vague and uncertain as it is, MM. d'Avezac and Gaffarel agree in recognizing its probability.

Having now said a few words upon the travels and settlements of the Northmen in Labrador, Vinland, and the more southern countries, we must return to the north. The colonies first founded in the neighbourhood of Cape Farewell, had not been slow in stretching along the western coast, which at this period was infinitely less desolate than it is at the present day, as far as northern latitudes, which were not again reached until our own day. Thus at this time they caught seals, walrus, and whales in the bay of Disco; there were 190 towns counted then in Westerbygd and eighty-six in Esterbygd, while at the present day, there are far fewer Danish settlements on these icy shores. These towns were probably only inconsiderable groups of those houses in stone and wood, of which so many ruins have been found from Cape Farewell, as far as Upernavik in about 72° 50'. At the same time numerous runic inscriptions, which have now been deciphered, have given a degree of absolute certainty to facts so long unknown. But how many of these vestiges of the past still remain to be discovered! how many of these valuable evidences of the bravery and spirit of enterprise of the Scandinavian race are for ever buried under the glaciers!

The Glaciers of Greenland
The Glaciers of Greenland.

We have also obtained evidence that Christianity had been brought into America, and especially into Greenland. To this country, according to the instructions of Pope Gregory IV., there were pastoral visits made to strengthen the newly-converted Northmen in the faith, and to evangelize the Esquimaux and the Indian tribes. Besides this, M. Riant in 1865, has proved incontrovertibly that the Crusades were preached in Greenland in the bishopric of Gardar, as well as in the islands and neighbouring lands, and that up to 1418, Greenland paid to the Holy See tithes and St. Peter's pence, which for that year consisted of 2600 lbs. of walrus tusks.

The Norwegian colonies owe their downfall and ruin to various causes: to the very rapid extension of the glaciers,—Hayes has proved that the glacier of Friar John moves at the rate of about thirty-three yards annually;—to the bad policy of the mother country, which prevented the recruiting of the colonies; to the black plague, which decimated the population of Greenland from 1347 to 1351; lastly, to the depredations of the pirates, who ravaged these already enfeebled countries in 1418, and in whom some have thought they recognized certain inhabitants of the Orkney and Faröe Islands, of which we are now about to speak.

One of the companions of William the Conqueror, named Saint-Clair or Sinclair, not thinking that the portion of the conquered country allotted to him was proportioned to his merits, went to try his luck in Scotland, where he was not long in rising to fortune and honours. In the latter half of the fourteenth century, the Orkney Islands passed into the hands of his descendants.

About 1390, a certain Nicolo Zeno, a member of one of the most ancient and noble Venetian families, who had fitted out a vessel at his own expense, to visit England and Flanders as a matter of curiosity, was wrecked in the archipelago of the Orkneys whither he had been driven by a storm. He was about to be massacred by the inhabitants, when the Earl, Henry Sinclair took him under his protection. The history of this wreck, and the adventures and discoveries which followed it, published in the collection of Ramusio had been written by Antonio Zeno, says Clements Markham, the learned geographer, in his "Threshold of the Unknown Region." Unfortunately one of his descendants named Nicolo Zeno, born in 1515, when a boy, not knowing the value of these papers, tore them up, "but some of the letters surviving, he was able from them subsequently to compile the narrative as we now have it, and which was printed in Venice in 1558. There was also found in the palace an old map, rotten with age, illustrative of his voyages. Of this he made a copy, unluckily supplying from his own reading of the narrative what he thought was requisite for its illustration. By doing this in a blundering way, unaided by the geographical knowledge which enables us to see where he goes astray, he threw the whole of the geography which he derived from the narrative into the most lamentable confusion, while those parts of the map which are not thus sophisticated, and which are consequently original, present an accuracy far in advance by many generations of the geography even of Nicolo Zeno's time, and confirm in a notable manner the site of the old Greenland colony. In these facts we have not only the solution of all the discussions which have arisen on the subject, but the most indisputable proof of the authenticity of the narrative; for it is clear that Nicolo Zeno, junior, could not himself have been the ingenious concocter of a story the straightforward truth of which he could thus ignorantly distort upon the face of the map."

The name of Zichmni, in which writers of the present day, and chief among them Mr. H. Major, who has rescued these facts from the domain of fable, recognize the name of Sinclair—appears to be in fact only applicable to this earl of the Orkneys.

At this time the seas of the north of Europe were infected by Scandinavian pirates. Sinclair, who had recognized in Zeno a clever mariner, attached him to himself, and with him conquered the country of Frisland, the haunt of pirates, who ravaged all the north of Scotland. In the maps at the end of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century this name is applied to the archipelago of the Faröe Islands, a reasonable indication, for Buache has recognized in the present names of the harbours and islands of this archipelago a considerable number of those given by Zeno; finally the facts which we owe to the Venetian navigator about the waters,—abounding in fish and dangerous from shallows,—which divide this archipelago, are still true at the present day.

Satisfied with his position, Zeno wrote to his brother Antonio to come and join him. While Sinclair was conquering the Faröe Islands, the Norwegian pirates desolated the Shetland Islands, then called Eastland. Nicolo set sail to give them battle, but was himself obliged to fly before their fleet, much more numerous than his own, and to take refuge on a small island on the coast of Iceland.

After wintering in this place Zeno must have landed the following year on the eastern coast of Greenland at 69° north latitude, in a place "where was a monastery of the order of preaching friars, and a church dedicated to St. Thomas. The cells were warmed by a natural spring of hot water, which the monks used to prepare their food and to bake their bread. The monks had also gardens covered over in the winter season, and warmed by the same means, so that they were able to produce flowers, fruits, and herbs as well as if they had lived in a mild climate." There would seem to be some confirmation of these narratives in the fact that between the years 1828-1830 a captain of the Danish navy met with a population of 600 individuals at 69° north latitude, of a purely European type.

But these adventurous travels in countries of which the climate was so different from that of Venice, proved fatal to Zeno, who died a short time after his return to Frisland.

An old sailor, who had returned with the Venetian, and who said he had been for many long years a prisoner in the countries of the extreme west, gave to Sinclair such precise and tempting details of the fertility and extent of these regions, that the latter resolved to attempt their conquest with Antonio Zeno who had rejoined his brother. But the inhabitants showed themselves everywhere so hostile, and opposed such resistance to the strangers landing, that Sinclair after a long and dangerous voyage was obliged to return to Frisland.

These are all the details that have been left to us, and they make us deeply regret the loss of those that Antonio should have furnished in his letters to his father Carlo, on the subject of the countries which Forster and Malto-Brun have thought may be identified with Newfoundland.

Who knows, if in his voyage to England and during his wanderings as far as Thule, Christopher Columbus may not have heard mentioned the ancient expeditions of the Northmen and the Zeni, and if this information may not have appeared to him a strange confirmation of the theories which he held, and of the ideas for whose realization he came to claim the protection of the King of England?

From the collection of facts which have been here briefly given, it follows that America was known to Europeans and had been colonized before the time of Columbus. But in consequence of various circumstances, and foremost among these must be placed the rarity of communication between the people in the north of Europe and those in the south, the discoveries made by the Northmen were only vaguely known in Spain and Portugal. Judging by appearances, we of the present day know much more on this subject than did the fellow-countrymen and contemporaries of Columbus. If the Genoese mariner had been informed of the existence of some rumours, he classed them with the information he had collected in the Cape de Verd Islands and with his classical recollections of the famous Island of Antilia and the Atlantides of Plato. From this information, which came from so many different sides, the certainty awoke within him that the east could be reached by the western route. However it may be, his glory remains whole and entire; he is really the discoverer of America, and not those who were carried thither in spite of themselves by chances of wind and storm, without their having any intention of reaching the shores of Asia, which Christopher Columbus would have done, had not the way been barred by America.

The information that we are about to give on the family of Cortereal, although it may be much more complete than that which can be met with in biographical Dictionaries, is still extremely vague. Nevertheless we must content ourselves with it, for up to this time history has not collected further details concerning this race of intrepid navigators.

Joao Vaz Cortereal was the natural son of a gentleman named Vasco Annes da Costa, who had received the soubriquet of Cortereal from the King of Portugal, on account of the magnificence of his house and followers. Devoted like so many other gentlemen of this period to sea-faring adventure, Joao Vaz had carried off in Gallicia a young girl named Maria de Abarca, who became his wife. After having been gentleman-usher to the Infante don Fernando, he was sent by the king to the North Atlantic, with Alvaro Martins Homem. The two navigators saw an island known from this time by the name of Terra dos Bacalhaos—the land of cod-fish—which must really have been Newfoundland. The date of this discovery is approximately fixed by the fact that on their return, they landed at Terceira and finding the captainship vacant by the death of Jacome de Bruges, they went to ask for it from the Infanta Doña Brites, the widow of the Infante Don Fernando; she bestowed it upon them on condition that they would divide it between them, a fact which is confirmed by a deed of gift dated from Evora the 2nd of April, 1464. Though one cannot guarantee the authenticity of this discovery of America, it is nevertheless an ascertained fact that Cortereal's voyage must have been signalized by some extraordinary event; donations of such importance as this were only made to those who had rendered some great service to the crown.

When Vaz Cortereal was settled at Terceira from 1490 to 1497, he caused a fine palace to be built in the town of Angra, where he lived with his three children. His third son, Gaspard, after having been in the service of King Emmanuel, when the latter was only Duke de Beja had felt himself attracted while still young to the enterprises of discovery which had rendered his father illustrious. By an act dated from Cintra the 12th of March, 1500, King Emmanuel made a gift to Gaspard Cortereal of any islands or terra firma which he might discover, and the king added this valuable information, that "already and at other times he had sought for them on his own account and at his own expense."

For Gaspard Cortereal this was not his first essay. Probably, his researches may have been directed to the parts where his father had discovered the Island of Cod. At his own expense, although with the assistance of the king, Gaspard Cortereal fitted out two vessels at the commencement of the summer of 1500, and after having touched at Terceira, he sailed towards the north-west. His first discovery was of a land of which the fertile and verdant aspect seems to have charmed him. This was Canada. He saw there a great river bearing ice along with it on its course—the St. Lawrence—which some of his companions mistook for an arm of the sea, and to which he gave the name of Rio Nevado. "Its volume is so considerable that it is not probable that this country is an island, besides, it must be completely covered with a very thick coating of snow to produce such a stream of water."

The houses in this country were of wood and covered with skins and furs. The inhabitants were unacquainted with iron, but used swords made of sharpened stones, and their arrows were tipped with fish-bones or stones. Tall and well-made, their faces and bodies were painted in different colours according to taste, they wore golden and copper bracelets, and dressed themselves in garments of fur. Cortereal pursued his voyage and arrived at the Cape of Bacalhaos, "fishes which are found in such great quantities upon this coast that they hinder the advance of the caravels." Then he followed the shore for a stretch of 600 miles, from 56° to 60°, or even more, naming the islands, the rivers, and the gulfs that he met with, as is proved by Terra do Labrador, Bahia de Conceiçao, &c., and landing and holding intercourse with the natives. Severe cold, and a veritable river of gigantic blocks of ice prevented the expedition from going farther north, and it returned to Portugal bringing back with it fifty-seven natives. The very year of his return, on the 15th of May, 1501, Gaspard Cortereal, in pursuance of an order of the 15th of April, received provisions, and left Lisbon in the hope of extending the field of his discoveries. But from this time he is never again mentioned. Michael Cortereal, his brother, who was the first gentleman-usher to the king, then requested and obtained permission to go and seek his brother, and to pursue his enterprise. By an act of the 15th of January, 1502, a deed of gift conveyed to him the half of the terra firma and islands which his brother might have discovered. Setting out on the 10th of May of this year with three vessels, Michael Cortereal reached Newfoundland, where he divided his little squadron, so that each of the vessels might explore the coasts separately, while he fixed the place of rendezvous. But at the time fixed, he did not reappear, and the two other vessels, after waiting for him till the 20th of August, set out on their return to Portugal.

In 1503, the king sent two caravels to try to obtain news of the two brothers, but the search was in vain, and they returned without having acquired any information. When Vasco Annes, the last of the brothers Cortereal, who was captain and governor of the Islands of St. George and Terceira, and alcaide mõr of the town of Tavilla, became acquainted with these sad events, he resolved to fit out a vessel at his own cost, and to go and search for his brothers. The king, however, would not allow him to go, fearing to lose the last of this race of good servants.

Upon the maps of this period, Canada is often indicated by the name of Terra dos Cortereales, a name which is sometimes extended much further south, embracing a great part of North America.

All that concerns John and Sebastian Cabot has been until recently shrouded by a mist which is not even now completely dissipated, notwithstanding the conscientious labours of Biddle the American in 1831, and of our compatriot M. d'Avezac; as also those of Mr. Nicholls the Englishman, who taking advantage of the discoveries made among the English, Spanish, and Venetian archives, has built up an imposing monument, of which some parts, however, are open to discussion. It is from the two last-named works that we shall draw the materials for this rapid sketch, but principally from Mr. Nicholls' book, which has this advantage over the smaller volume of M. d'Avezac, that it relates the whole life of Sebastian Cabot.

Sebastian Cabot
Sebastian Cabot.
From an old print.

It has been found impossible to determine with certainty either the name or the nationality of John Cabot, and still less to settle the period of his birth. John Cabota, Caboto or Cabot must have been born, if not in Genoa itself, as M. d'Avezac asserts, at least in the neighbourhood of that town, possibly at Castiglione, about the first quarter of the fifteenth century. Some historians have considered that he was an Englishman, and perhaps Mr. Nicholls from national considerations is inclined to adopt this opinion; at least this seems to be the meaning of the expressions used by him. What we do know without room for doubt, is that John Cabot came to London to occupy himself with commerce, and that he soon settled at Bristol, then the second town in the kingdom, in one of the suburbs which had received the name of Cathay, probably from the number of Venetians who resided there, and the trade carried on by them with the countries of the extreme East. It was at Bristol that Cabot's two youngest children were born, Sebastian and Sancho, if we may rely upon the following account given by the old chronicler Eden. "Sebastian Cabot told me that he was born at Bristol, and that at four years of age he went with his father to Venice, returning with him to England some years later; this made people imagine that he was born at Venice." In 1476, John Cabot was at Venice, and there on the 29th of March, he received letters of naturalization, which prove that he was not a native of this city, and that he must have merited the honour by some service rendered to the Republic. M. d'Avezac is inclined to think that he devoted himself to the study of cosmography and navigation, perhaps even in company with the celebrated Florentine, Paul Toscanelli, with whose theories upon the distribution of land and sea on the surface of the globe, he would certainly be acquainted at this time. He may also have heard mention made of the islands situated in the Atlantic, and known by the names of Antilia, the Land of the Seven Cities, or Brazil. What seems more certain is, that his business affairs took him to the Levant, and, it is said, to Mecca, and that while there he would learn from what country came the spices, which then constituted the most important branch of Venetian commerce.

Whatever value we may attach to these speculative theories, it is at least certain that John Cabot founded an important mercantile house at Bristol. His son Sebastian, who in these first voyages had acquired an inclination for the sea, studied navigation, as far as it was then known, and made some excursions on the sea, to render himself as familiar with the practice of this art, as he already was with its theory. "For seven years past," says the Spanish Ambassador in a despatch of the 25th of July, 1498, speaking of an expedition commanded by Cabot, "the people of Bristol have fitted out two, three, or four caravels every year, to go in search of the Island of Brazil, and of the Seven Cities, according to the ideas of the Genoese." At this time the whole of Europe resounded with the fame of the discoveries of Columbus. "It awoke in me," says Sebastian Cabot, in a narrative preserved by Ramusio, "a great desire and a kind of ardour in my heart to do myself also something famous, and knowing by examining the globe, that if I sailed by the west wind I should reach India more rapidly, I at once made my project known to His Majesty, who was much satisfied with it." The king to whom Cabot addressed himself was the same Henry VII. who some years before had refused all support to Christopher Columbus. It is evident that he received with favour the project which John and Sebastian Cabot had just submitted to him; and though Sebastian, in the fragment which we have just quoted, attributes to himself alone all the honour of the project, it is not less true that his father was the promoter of the enterprise, as the following charter shows, which we translate in an abridged form.

"We Henry ... permit our well-beloved Jehan Cabot, citizen of Venice, and Louis, Sebastian, and Sancho, his sons, under our flag and with five vessels of the tonnage and crew which they shall judge suitable, to discover at their own expense and charge ... we grant to them as well as to their heirs and assigns, licence to occupy, possess ... at the charge of, by them, upon the profits, benefits, and advantages, accruing from this navigation, to pay us in merchandise or in money the fifth part of the profit thus obtained, for each of their voyages, every time that they shall return to the port of Bristol (at which port they shall be compelled to land).... We promise and guarantee to them, their heirs and assigns, that they shall be exempt from all custom-house duties on the merchandise which they shall bring from the countries thus discovered.... We command and direct all our subjects, as well on land as on the sea, to render assistance to the said Jehan, and to his sons.... Given at ... the 5th day of March, 1495."

Such was the charter that was granted to John Cabot and his sons upon their return from the American continent, and not as certain authors have pretended, anterior to this voyage. From the time that the news of the discovery made by Columbus had reached England, that is to say, probably in 1493, John and Sebastian Cabot prepared the expedition at their own expense, and set out at the beginning of the year 1494, with the idea of reaching Cathay, and finally the Indies. There can be no doubt upon this point, for in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris is preserved an unique copy of the map engraved in 1544, that is to say, in the lifetime of Sebastian Cabot, which mentions this voyage, and the precise and exact date of the discovery of Cape Breton.

It is probable that we must attribute to the intrigues of the Spanish Ambassador, the delay which occurred in Cabot's expedition, for the whole of the year 1496 passed without the voyage being accomplished.

The following year he set out at the beginning of summer. After having again sighted the Terra Bona-vista, he followed the coast, and was not long in perceiving to his great disappointment that it trended towards the north. "Then, sailing along it to make sure if I could not find some passage, I could not perceive any, and having advanced as far as 56°, and seeing that at this point the land turned towards the east, I despaired of finding any passage, and I put about to examine the coast in this direction towards the equinoctial line, always with the same object of finding a passage to the Indies, and in the end, I reached the country now called Florida, where as provisions were beginning to run short, I resolved to return to England." This narrative, of which we have given the commencement above, was related by Cabot to Fracastor, forty or fifty years after the event. Also, is it not astonishing that Cabot mixes up in it two perfectly distinct voyages, that of 1494, and that of 1497? Let us add some reflections on this narrative. The first land seen was, without doubt, the North Cape, the northern extremity of the island of Cape Breton, and the island which is opposite to it is that of Prince Edward, long known by the name of St. John's Island. Cabot, probably penetrated into the estuary of the St. Lawrence, which he took for an arm of the sea, near to the place where Quebec now stands, and coasted along the northern shore of the gulf, so that he did not see the coast of Labrador stretching away in the east. He took Newfoundland for an archipelago, and continued his course to the south, not doubtless, as far as Florida as he states himself, the time occupied by the voyage making it impossible that he can have descended so low, but as far as Chesapeake Bay. These were the countries which the Spaniards afterwards called "Terra de Estevam Gomez."

On the 3rd of February, 1498, King Henry VII. signed at Westminster some new letters patent. He empowered John Cabot or his representative,—being duly authorized—to take in English ports six vessels of 200 tons' burden, and to procure all that should be required for their equipment, at the same price as if it were for the crown. He was allowed to take on board such master-mariners, pages, and other subjects as might of their own accord wish to go, and pass with him to the recently discovered land and islands. John Cabot bore the expense of the equipment of two vessels, and three others were fitted out at the cost of the merchants of Bristol.

In all probability it was death—a sudden and unexpected death—which prevented John Cabot from taking the command of this expedition. His son Sebastian then assumed the direction of the fleet, which carried 300 men and provisions for a year. After having sighted land at 45°, Sebastian Cabot followed the coast as far as 58°, perhaps even higher, but then it became so cold, and although it was the month of July, there was so much floating ice about, that, it would have been impossible to go further northwards. The days were very long, and the nights excessively light, an interesting detail by which to fix the latitude reached, for we know that below the 60th parallel of latitude the longest days are eighteen hours. These various reasons made Sebastian Cabot decide to put about, and he touched at the Bacalhaos Islands, of which the inhabitants, who were clothed in the skins of animals, were armed with bow and arrows, lance, javelin, and wooden sword. The navigators here caught a great number of cod-fish; they were even so numerous, says an old narrative, that they hindered ships from advancing. After having sailed along the coast of America as far as 38°, Cabot set out for England, where he arrived at the beginning of autumn. This voyage had indeed a threefold object, that of discovery, commerce, and colonization, as is shown by the number of vessels which took part in it and the strength of the crews. Nevertheless it does not appear that Cabot landed any one, or that he made any attempts at forming a settlement, either in Labrador, or in Hudson's Bay—which he was destined to explore more completely in 1517, in the reign of Henry VIII.—or even to the south of the Bacalhaos, known by the general name of Newfoundland. At the close of this expedition, which was almost entirely unproductive, we lose sight of Sebastian Cabot, if not completely, at least so as to be insufficiently informed about his deeds and voyages until 1517. The traveller Hojeda, whose various enterprises we have related above, had left Spain in the month of May, 1499. We know that in this voyage he met with an Englishman at Caquibaco, on the coast of America. Can this have been Cabot? Nothing has come to light to enable us to settle this point; but we may believe that Cabot did not remain idle, and that he would be likely to undertake some fresh expedition: what we do know is, that in spite of the solemn engagements that he had made with Cabot, the King of England granted certain privileges of trading in the countries which he had discovered, to the Portuguese and to the merchants of Bristol. This ungenerous manner of recognizing his services wounded the navigator, and decided him to accept the offers which had been made to him on different occasions, to enter the Spanish service. From the death of Vespucius, which happened in 1512, Cabot was the navigator held in most renown. To attach him to himself, Ferdinand wrote on the 13th of September, 1512, to Lord Willoughby, commander in chief of the troops which had been transported to Italy, to treat with the Venetian navigator.

Discoveries of John and Sebastian Cabot
Discoveries of John and Sebastian Cabot.

As soon as he arrived in Castille, Cabot received the rank of captain, by an edict dated the 20th of October, 1512, with a salary of 5000 maravédis. Seville was fixed upon for his residence, until an opportunity might arise of turning his talents and experience to account. There was a plan on foot for his taking the command of a very important expedition, when Ferdinand the Catholic died, on the 23rd of January, 1516. Cabot returned at once to England, having probably obtained leave of absence. Eden tells us that the following year Cabot was appointed with Sir Thomas Pert to the command of a fleet which was to reach China by the north-west. On the 11th of June, he was in Hudson's Bay at 67½° of latitude; the sea free from ice spread itself out before him so far that he reckoned upon success in his enterprise, when the faintheartedness of his companion, together with the cowardice and mutinous spirit of the crews, who refused to go any further, obliged him to return to England. In hisTheatrum orbis terrarum, Ortelius traces the shape of Hudson's Bay as it really is; he even indicates at its northern extremity a strait leading northwards. How can the geographer have attained to such exactness? "Who," says Mr. Nicholls, "can have given him the information set forth in his map, if not Cabot?"

On his return to England, Cabot found the country ravaged by a horrible plague, which put a stop even to commercial transactions. Soon, either because the time of his leave had expired, or that he wished to escape from the pestilence, or that he was recalled to Spain, the Venetian navigator returned to that country. In 1518, on the 5th of February, Cabot was made pilot-major, with a salary which, added to that which he already had, made a total of 125,000 maravédis, say, 300 ducats. He did not actually exercise the functions of his office till Charles V. returned from England. His principal duty consisted in examining pilots, who were not allowed to go to the Indies until after having passed this examination.

This epoch was by no means favourable to great maritime expeditions. The struggle between France and Spain absorbed all the resources both in men and money, of these two countries—Cabot too, who seems to have adopted science for his fatherland, much more than any particular country, made some overtures to Contarini, the Ambassador of Venice, to take service on board the fleets of the Republic; but when the favourable answer of the Council of Ten arrived, he had other projects in his head, and did not carry his attempt any further.

Cabot presides over a Conference of Cosmographers
Cabot presides over a Conference of Cosmographers.

In the month of April, 1524, Cabot presided at a conference of mariners and cosmographers, which met at Badajoz, to discuss the question whether the Moluccas belonged, according to the celebrated treaty of Tordesillas, to Spain or Portugal. On the 31st of May, it was decided that the Moluccas were within the Spanish waters, by 20°. Perhaps this resolution of the junta of which Cabot was president, and which again placed in the hands of Spain a great part of the spice trade, was not without its influence upon the resolutions of the council of the Indies. However this may be, in the month of September of the same year Cabot was authorized to take the command of three vessels of 100 tons, and a small caravel, carrying together 150 men, with the title of captain-general.

The declared aim of this voyage was to pass through the Strait of Magellan, carefully to explore the western coast of America, and to reach the Moluccas, where they would take in on their return a cargo of spices. The month of August, 1525, had been fixed upon as the date of departure, but the intrigues of Portugal succeeded in delaying it until April, 1526.

Different circumstances seem from this moment to have augured ill for the voyage. Cabot had only a nominal authority, and the association of merchants who had defrayed the expenses of the equipment not accepting him willingly as chief, had found means to oppose all the plans of the Venetian sailor. Thus it was that in place of the man whom he had appointed as second in command, another was imposed upon him, and that instructions destined to be unsealed when at sea were delivered to each captain. They contained this absurd arrangement, that in case of the death of the captain-general, eleven individuals were to succeed him each in his turn. Was not this an encouragement given to assassination?

Scarcely was the fleet out of sight of land, when discontent appeared. The rumour spread that the captain-general was not equal to his task; then as they saw that these calumnies did not affect him, they pretended that the flotilla was already short of provisions. The mutiny broke out as soon as land was reached, but Cabot was not the man to allow himself to be annihilated by it; he had suffered too much from Sir Thomas Pert's cowardice to bear such an insult. In order to nip the evil in the bud, he had the mutinous captains seized, and notwithstanding their reputation and the brilliancy of their past services, he made them get into a boat, and abandoned them on the shore. Four months afterwards they had the good luck to be picked up by a Portuguese expedition, which seems to have had orders to thwart the plans of Cabot.

The Venetian navigator then penetrated into the Rio de la Plata, the exploration of which had been commenced by his predecessor the Pilot-major de Solis. The expedition was not then composed of more than two vessels, one having been lost during the voyage. Cabot sailed up the Argent River, and discovered an island which he called Francis Gabriel, and upon which he built the fort of San Salvador, entrusting the command of it to Antonio de Grajeda. Cabot had the keel removed from one of his caravels, and with it, being towed by his small boats, entered the Parana, built a new fort at the confluence of the Carcarama and Terceiro, and after having thus secured his line of retreat he pursued the course of these rivers farther into the interior. Arriving at the confluence of the Parana and Paraguay, he followed the second, the direction of which agreed best with his project of reaching the region of the west where silver was to be obtained. But it was not long before the aspect of the country changed, and the attitude of the inhabitants altered also. Until now, they had collected in crowds, astonished at the sight of the vessels; but upon the cultivated shores of the Paraguay they courageously opposed the strangers' landing, and three Spaniards having tried to knock down the fruit from a palm-tree, a struggle took place, in which 300 natives lost their lives. This victory had disabled twenty-five Spaniards. It was too much for Cabot, who rapidly removed his wounded to the fort San Spirito and retired, still presenting a bold front to the enemy.

Cabot had already sent two of his companions to the Emperor, to acquaint him with the attempt at revolt of the captains, to explain to him the motives which obliged him to modify the course marked out for his voyage, and to request aid from him, both in men and provisions. The answer arrived at last. The Emperor approved of what Cabot had done, and ordered him to colonize the country in which he had just made a settlement, but did not send him either one man or a single maravédi. Cabot tried to procure the resources which he needed in the country, and caused some attempts at cultivation to be commenced. At the same time, to keep his troops in exercise, he reduced the neighbouring nations to obedience, had some forts built, and again sailing up the Paraguay he reached Potosi, and the water-courses of the Andes which feed the basin of the Atlantic. At last he prepared to enter Peru, from whence came the gold and silver which he had seen in the possession of the natives; but it needed more troops than he could muster, to attempt the conquest of this vast region. The Emperor, however, was quite unable to send him any. His European wars absorbed all his resources, the Cortez refused to vote new subsidies and the Moluccas had just been pledged to Portugal. In this state of affairs, after having occupied the country for five years, and waited all this time for the assistance which never came, Cabot decided to evacuate a part of his settlements, and he returned with some of his people to Spain. The rest, amounting to 120, men who were left to guard the fort of San Spirito, after many vicissitudes which cannot be related here, perished by the hands of the Indians, or were obliged to take refuge in the Portuguese settlements on the coast of Brazil. It is to the horses imported by Cabot that is due the wonderful race of wild horses which may be seen in large troops on the pampas of La Plata at the present day; this was the only result of the expedition.

Some time after his return to Spain, Cabot resigned his office, and went to Bristol, where he settled about 1548, that is to say at the beginning of the reign of Edward VI. What were the motives of this fresh change? Was Cabot discontented at having been left to his own resources during his expedition? Was he hurt at the manner in which his services were recompensed? It is impossible to say. But Charles V. took advantage of Cabot's departure to deprive him of his pension, which Edward VI. hastened to replace, causing him to receive 250 marks annually, about 116l. and a fraction, which was a considerable sum for that period.

The post which Cabot occupied in England seems to be best expressed by the name of Intendant of the Navy; under the authority of the king and council, he appears to have superintended all maritime affairs. He issues licences, he examines pilots, he frames instructions, he draws maps, a varied and complicated function for which he possessed the rare gift of both practical and theoretical knowledge. At the same time he instructed the young king in cosmography, explained to him the variation of the compass, and was successful in interesting him in nautical matters, and in the glory resulting from maritime discoveries. It was a high and almost unique situation. Cabot used it to put into execution a project which he had long cherished.

At this period, we may almost say there was no trade in England. All commerce was in the hands of the Hanseatic towns, Antwerp, Hamburg, Bremen, &c. These companies of merchants had, on various occasions, obtained considerable reductions in import duties, and had ended by monopolizing the English trade. Cabot held that Englishmen possessed as good qualifications as these merchants for becoming manufacturers, and that the already powerful navy which England possessed might assist marvellously in the export of the products of the soil and of the manufactures. What was the use of having recourse to strangers when people could do their own business? If they had been unable up to this time to reach Cathay and India by the north-west, might they not endeavour to reach it by the north-east. And if they did not succeed, would they not find in this direction more commercial, and more civilized people than the miserable Esquimaux on the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland?

Cabot assembled some leading London merchants, laid his projects before them, and formed them into an association, of which on the 14th of December, 1551, he was named president for life. At the same time he exerted himself most vigorously with the king, and having made him understand the wrong which the monopoly enjoyed by strangers did to his own subjects, he obtained its abolition on the 23rd of February, 1551, and inaugurated the practice of free trade.

The Association of English Merchants, under the name of "Merchant Adventurers," hastened to have some vessels built, adapted to the difficulties to be encountered in the navigation of the Arctic regions. The first improvement which the English marine owed to Cabot was the sheathing of the keels, which he had seen done in Spain, but which had not hitherto been practised in England.

A flotilla of three vessels was assembled at Deptford. They were the Buona-Speranza, of which the command was given to Sir Hugh Willoughby, a brave gentleman who had earned a high reputation in war; the Buona-Confidencia, Captain Cornil Durforth; and the Bonaventure, Captain Richard Chancellor, a clever sailor, and a particular friend of Cabot's; he received the title of pilot-major. The sailing-master of the Bonaventure was Stephen Burrough, an accomplished mariner, who was destined to make numerous voyages in the North seas, and later to become pilot in chief for England.

Although age and his important duties prevented Cabot from placing himself at the head of the expedition, he wished at least, to preside over all the details of the equipment. He himself wrote out the instructions, which have been preserved, and which prove the prudence and skill of this distinguished navigator. He there recommends the use of the log-line, an instrument intended to measure the speed of the vessel, and he desires that the journal of the events happening at sea may be kept with regularity, and that all information as to the character, manners, habits, and resources of the people visited, and the productions of the country, may be recorded in writing. The sailors were to offer no violence to the natives, but to act towards them with courtesy. All blasphemy and swearing was to be punished with severity, and also drunkenness. The religious exercises are prescribed, prayers are to be said morning and evening, and the Holy Scriptures are to be read once in the day. Cabot ends by recommending union and concord above all, and reminds the captains of the greatness of their enterprise, and the honour which they might hope to gain; finally he promises them to add his prayers to theirs for the success of their common work.

The squadron set sail on the 20th of May, 1558, in presence of the court assembled at Greenwich, amid an immense concourse of people, after fêtes and rejoicings, at which the king, who was ill, could not be present. Near the Loffoden Islands, on the coast of Norway at the bearing of Wardhous, the squadron was separated from theBonaventure. Carried away by the storm, Willoughby's two vessels touched, without doubt, at Nova Zembla, and were forced by the ice to return southwards. On the 18th of September, they entered the port formed by the mouth of the River Arzina in East Lapland. Some time afterwards, the Buona-Confidencia, separated from Willoughby by a fresh tempest, returned to England. As to the latter, some Russian fishermen found his vessel the following year, in the midst of the ice. The whole crew had died of cold. This, at least, is what we are led to suppose from the journal kept by the unfortunate Willoughby up to the month of January, 1554.

Chancellor, after having waited in vain for his two consorts at the rendezvous which had been agreed upon in case of separation, thought they must have outsailed him, and rounding the North Cape, he entered a vast gulf which was none other than the White Sea; he then landed at the mouth of the Dwina, near the monastery of St. Nicholas, on the spot upon which the town of Archangel was soon to stand. The inhabitants of these desolate places told him that the country was under the dominion of the Grand Duke of Russia. Chancellor resolved at once to go to Moscow, in spite of the enormous distance which separated him from it. The Czar then on the throne was Ivan IV. Wassiliewitch, called the Terrible. For some time before this, the Russians had shaken off the Tartar yoke, and Ivan had united all the petty rival principalities in one body politic, of which the power was already becoming considerable. The situation of Russia, exclusively continental, far from any frequented sea, isolated from the rest of Europe, of which it did not yet form part, so much were its habits and manners still Asiatic, promised success to Chancellor.

Chancellor received by the Czar
Chancellor received by the Czar.

The Czar, who up to this time, had not been able to procure European merchandise, except by way of Poland, and who wished to gain access to the German seas, saw with pleasure the attempts of the English to establish a trade which would be beneficial to both parties. He not only received Chancellor courteously, but he made him most advantageous offers, granted him great privileges and encouraged him, by the kindness of his reception, to repeat his voyage. Chancellor sold his merchandise to great advantage, and after taking on board another cargo of furs, of seal and whale oils, copper, and other products, returned to England, carrying a letter from the Czar. The advantages which the Company of Merchant Adventurers had derived from this first voyage, encouraged them to attempt a second. So Chancellor the following year, made a fresh voyage to Archangel, and took two of the Company's agents to Russia, who concluded an advantageous treaty with the Czar. Then he set out again for England with an ambassador and his suite, sent by Ivan to Great Britain. Of the four vessels which composed the flotilla, one was lost on the coast of Norway, another as it left Drontheim, and the Bonaventure, on board of which were Chancellor and the ambassador, foundered in the Bay of Pitsligo, on the east coast of Scotland on the 10th of November, 1556. Chancellor was drowned in the wreck, being less fortunate than the Muscovite ambassador, who had the good luck to escape; but the presents and merchandise which he was carrying to England were lost.

Wreck of the Bonaventure
Wreck of the Bonaventure.

Such was the commencement of the Anglo-Russian Company. A goodly number of expeditions succeeded each other in those parts, but it would be beside our purpose to give an account of them. Let us now return to Cabot.

It was in 1554 that Queen Mary of England was married to Philip II., King of Spain. When the latter came to England he showed himself very ill-disposed towards Cabot, who had abandoned the service of Spain, and who, at this very moment was procuring for England a commerce which would soon immensely increase the maritime power of an already formidable country. Thus we are not surprised to learn that eight days after the landing of the King of Spain, Cabot was forced to resign his office and his pension, both of which had been bestowed upon him for life by Edward VI. Worthington was nominated in his place. Mr. Nicholls thinks that this dishonourable man, who had had some quarrels with the law, had a secret mission to seize among Cabot's plans, maps, instructions, and projects, those which could be of use to Spain. The fact is that all these documents are now lost, at least unless they may yet be discovered among the archives of Simancas.

At the end of this period, history completely loses sight of the old mariner. The same mystery which hangs over his birth, also envelopes the place and date of his death. His immense discoveries, his cosmographical works, his study of the variations of the magnetic needle, his wisdom, his humane disposition, and his honourable conduct, place Sebastian Cabot in the foremost rank among discoverers. A figure lost in the shadow and vagueness of legends until our own day, Cabot owes it to his biographers, to Biddle, D'Avezac, and Nicholls, that he is now better known, more highly appreciated, and for the first time really placed in the light.