John Cabot and the Matthew
Just who discovered America’s mainland? As Ian Wilson shows in John Cabot and the Matthew, it was John Cabot, and a West Country crew of just 18, who left Bristol, England in May 1497.
Sailing for 35 days, they reached the North American mainland in June. Up to that time, and for more than a year after, Columbus had only found West Indian Islands, and to his dying day continued to believe that these belonged to Asia.
Ian Wilson suggests that Bristol mariners may even have found the American offshore island of Newfoundland as early as the 1480’s, well before Columbus landed in the West Indies. John Cabot, however, was a discoverer in the mould of Columbus, ambitious to find a new, Atlantic route to Asia. After his first expedition’s success, he set off in 1498 with a full fleet of five vessels. Had they returned, would Cabot’s name rank above Columbus’s in the history books?