Explorer and navigator John Cabot was born Giovanni Caboto in Italy around 1450. By 1495, he had moved to Bristol, England, with his family. He made a voyage in 1497 on the ship Matthew and claimed land in Canada—mistaking it for Asia—for King Henry VII of England.
Italian sailor and explorer John Cabot was born Giovanni Caboto around 1450. In 1497, Cabot traveled by sea to Canada, where he made a claim to land for England, mistaking the North American land for Asia.
Cabot was the son of a spice merchant, Giulio Caboto, in Genoa. At age 11, his family moved to Venice, where he learned sailing and navigation from Italian seamen and merchants. In 1474, John Cabot married a girl named Mattea and eventually became the father of three sons: Ludovico, Sancto and Sebastiano. Sebastiano would later follow in his father’s footsteps, becoming an explorer in his own right.
In 1476, Cabot officially became a Venetian citizen and began conducting trade in the eastern Mediterranean. Records indicate that he got into financial trouble and left Venice as a debtor in November 1488. During this time, Cabot became inspired by the discoveries of Bartolomeu Dias and Christopher Columbus. Like Columbus, Cabot believed that sailing west from Europe was the shorter route to Asia. Hearing of opportunities in England, Cabot traveled there and met with King Henry VII, who gave him a grant to "seeke out, discover, and finde" new lands for England.
North American Voyages
In early May of 1497, Cabot left Bristol, England, on the Matthew, a fast and able ship weighing 50 tons, with a crew of 18 men. Cabot and his crew sailed west and north under Cabot's belief that the route to Asia would be shorter from northern Europe than Columbus's voyage along the trade winds. On June 24, 1497, 50 days into the voyage, Cabot landed on the east coast of North America, though the precise location of this landing is subject to controversy. Some historians believe that Cabot landed at Cape Breton Island or mainland Nova Scotia. Others believe he may have landed at Newfoundland, Labrador or even Maine.
Though the Matthew's logs are incomplete, it is believed that John Cabot went ashore with a small party and claimed the land for the King of England. The ship sailed for England in July 1497 and arrived in Bristol on August 6, 1497. Cabot was soon rewarded with a pension of £20 and the gratitude of King Henry VII. In February 1498, he was given permission to make a new voyage to North America.
In May 1498, John Cabot departed from Bristol with five ships and a crew of 300 men. The ships carried ample provisions and small samplings of cloth, lace points and other "trifles," suggesting an expectation of fostering trade with indigenous people. En route, one ship became disabled and sailed to Ireland, while the other four ships continued on. From this point, there is only speculation as to the fate of the voyage and John Cabot. For many years, it was believed that the ships were lost at sea. More recently, however, documents have emerged that place Cabot in England in 1500, laying speculation that he and his crew actually survived the voyage. Historians have also found evidence to suggest that Cabot's expedition explored the eastern Canadian coast, and that a priest accompanying the expedition might have established a Christian settlement in Newfoundland. What can be said with some certainty is that John Cabot claimed North America for England, setting the course for England's rise to power in the 16th and 17th centuries.
French navigator Jacques Cartier was born on December 31, 1491, in Saint-Malo, Brittany, France, and was sent by King Francis I to the New World in search of riches and a new route to Asia in 1534. His exploration of the St. Lawrence River allowed France to lay claim to lands that would become Canada. He died in Saint-Malo in 1557.
First Major Voyage to North America
Born in Saint-Malo, France on December 31, 1491, Jacques Cartier reportedly explored the Americas, particularly Brazil, before making three major North American voyages. In 1534, King Francis I of France sent Cartier—likely because of his previous expeditions—on a new trip to the eastern coast of North America, then called the "northern lands." On a voyage that would add him to the list of famous explorers, Cartier was to search for gold and other riches, spices, and a passage to Asia.
Cartier sailed on April 20, 1534, with two ships and 61 men, and arrived 20 days later. He explored the west coast of Newfoundland, discovered Prince Edward Island and sailed through the Gulf of St. Lawrence, past Anticosti Island.
Upon returning to France, King Francis was impressed with Cartier’s report of what he had seen, so he sent the explorer back the following year, in May, with three ships and 110 men. Two Indians Cartier had captured previously now served as guides, and he and his men navigated the St. Lawrence, as far as Quebec, and established a base.
In September, Cartier sailed downriver to what would become Montreal and was welcomed by the Iroquois who controlled the area, hearing from them that there were other rivers that led farther west, where gold, silver, copper and spices could be found. Before they could continue, though, the harsh winter blew in, rapids made the river impassable, and Cartier and his men managed to anger the Iroquois.
So Cartier waited until spring, when the river was free of ice, and captured some of the Iroquois chiefs before again returning to France. Because of his hasty escape, Cartier was only able to report to the king that untold riches lay farther west and that a great river, said to be about 2,000 miles long, possibly led to Asia.
In May of 1541, Cartier departed on his third voyage with five ships. He had by now abandoned the idea of finding a passage to the Orient, and was sent to establish a permanent settlement along the St. Lawrence River on behalf of France. A group of colonists was a few months behind him this time.
Cartier set up camp again near Quebec, and they found an abundance of what they thought were gold and diamonds. In the spring, not waiting for the colonists to arrive, Cartier abandoned the base and sailed for France. En route, he stopped at Newfoundland, where he encountered the colonists, whose leader ordered Cartier back to Quebec. Cartier, however, had other plans; instead of heading to Quebec, he sneaked away during the night and returned to France.
There, his "gold" and "diamonds" were found to be worthless, and the colonists abandoned plans to found a settlement, returning to France after experiencing their first bitter winter. After these setbacks, France didn’t show any interest in these new lands for half a century, and Cartier’s career as a state-funded explorer came to an end. While credited with the exploration of the St. Lawrence region, Cartier's reputation has been tarnished by his dealings with the Iroquois and abandonment of the incoming colonists as he fled the New World.
Samuel de Champlain
French explorer Samuel de Champlain was born circa 1570 in Brouage, France. He began exploring North America in 1603, establishing the city of Quebec in the northern colony of New France, and mapping the Atlantic coast and the Great Lakes, before settling into an administrative role as the de facto governor of New France in 1620. He died on December 25, 1635, in Quebec.
Samuel de Champlain was born around 1570, in Brouage, a small port town in the province of Saintonge, on the western coast of France. Although Champlain wrote extensively of his voyages and later life, little is known of his childhood. He was likely born a Protestant, but converted to Catholicism as a young adult.
Champlain's earliest travels were with his uncle, and he ventured as far as Spain and the West Indies. From 1601 to 1603, he was a geographer for King Henry IV, and then joined François Gravé Du Pont's expedition to Canada in 1603. The group sailed up the St. Lawrence and Saguenay rivers and explored the Gaspé Peninsula, ultimately arriving in Montreal. Although Champlain had no official role or title on the expedition, he proved his mettle by making uncanny predictions about the network of lakes and other geographic features of the region.
Given his usefulness on Du Pont's voyage, the following year Champlain was chosen to be geographer on an expedition to Acadia led by Lieutenant-General Pierre Du Gua de Monts. They landed in May on the southeast coast of what is now Nova Scotia and Champlain was asked to choose a location for a temporary settlement. He explored the Bay of Fundy and St. John River area before selecting a small island in the St. Croix River. The team built a fort and spent the winter there.
In the summer of 1605, the team sailed down the coast of New England as far south as Cape Cod. Although a few British explorers had navigated the terrain before, Champlain was the first to give a precise and detailed accounting of the region that would one day become Plymouth Rock.
In 1608, Champlain was named lieutenant to de Monts, and they set off on another expedition up the St. Lawrence. When they arrived in June 1608, they constructed a fort in what is now Quebec City. Quebec would soon become the hub for French fur trading. The following summer, Champlain fought the first major battle against the Iroquois, cementing a hostile relationship that would last for more than a century.
In 1615, Champlain made a brave voyage into the interior of Canada accompanied by a tribe of Native Americans with whom he had good relations, the Hurons. Champlain and the French aided the Hurons in an attack on the Iroquois, but they lost the battle and Champlain was hit in the knee with an arrow and unable to walk. He lived with the Hurons that winter, between the foot of Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe. During his stay, he composed one of the earliest and most detailed accounts of Native American life.
Later Years and Death
When Champlain returned to France, he found himself embroiled in lawsuits and was unable to return to Quebec. He spent this time writing the stories of his voyages, complete with maps and illustrations. When he was reinstated as lieutenant, he returned to Canada with his wife, who was 30 years his junior. In 1627, Louis XIII's chief minister, Cardinal de Richelieu, formed the Company of 100 Associates to rule New France and placed Champlain in charge.
Things didn't go smoothly for Champlain for long. Eager to capitalize on the profitable fur trade in the region,
Charles I of England commissioned an expedition under David Kirke to displace the French. They attacked the fort and seized supply ships, cutting off necessities to the colony. Champlain surrendered on July 19, 1629 and returned to France.
Champlain spent some time writing about his travels until, in 1632, the British and the French signed the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, returning Quebec to the French. Champlain returned to be its governor. By this time, however, his health was failing and he was forced to retire in 1633. He died in Quebec on Christmas Day in 1635.
Giovanni da Verrazzano
Giovanni da Verrazzano was born around 1485 near Val di Greve, 30 miles south of Florence, Italy. Around 1506 or 1507, he began pursuing a maritime career, and in the 1520s, he was sent by King Francis I of France to explore the East Coast of North America for a route to the Pacific. He made landfall near what would be Cape Fear, North Carolina, in early March and headed north to explore. Verrazzano eventually discovered New York Harbor,
which now has a bridge spanning it named for the explorer. After returning to Europe, Verrazzano made two more voyages to the Americas. On the second, in 1528, he was killed and eaten by the natives of one of the Lower Antilles, probably on Guadeloupe.
Giovanni da Verrazzano, born around 1485 near Val di Greve, Italy, was introduced to adventure and exploration at an early age. He first headed to Egypt and Syria, places that were considered mysterious and nearly impossible to reach at the time. Sometime between 1507 and 1508, Verrazzano went to France, where he met with King Francis I. He also came in contact with members of the French navy, and began to get a feel for the navy’s missions and building rapport with the sailors and commanders.
During this period, Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci andFerdinand Magellan were making names for themselves with their explorations on behalf of Spain and Portugal, and Francis I grew concerned as France fell behind in the exploration of the West. Reports were coming back of riches in the New World, and paired with the idea of expanding his empire overseas, Francis I began planning an expedition on behalf of his country.
The First Expedition of the New World
Verrazzano and Francis I met between 1522 and 1523, and Verrazzano convinced the king that he would be the right man to undertake exploratory voyages to the West on behalf of France, and Francis I signed on. Verrazzano prepared four ships, loaded with ammunition, cannons, lifeboats, and scientific equipment, with provisions to last 8 months. The flagship was named Delfina, in honor of the King’s firstborn daughter, and it set sail with theNormanda, Santa Maria and Vittoria. The Santa Maria and Vittoriawere lost in a storm at sea, while the Delfina and the Normandafound their way into battle with Spanish ships. In the end, only theDelfina was seaworthy, and it headed to the new World during the night of January 17, 1524. Like many explorers of the day, Verrazzano was ultimately seeking a passage to the pacific Ocean and Asia, and he thought that by sailing along the northern coastline of the New World he would find a passageway to the West Coast of North America.
After 50 days at sea, the men aboard the Delfina sighted land—generally thought to be near what would become Cape Fear, North Carolina. Verrazzano first steered his ship south, but upon reaching the northern tip of Florida, he turned and headed north, never losing sight of the coastline. On April 17, 1524, the Delfina entered the Bay of New York. He landed on the southern tip of Manhattan, where he stayed until a storm a pushed him toward Martha’s Vineyard.
He finally came to a rest at what is known today as Newport, Rhode Island. Verrazzano and his men interacted with the local population there for two weeks, before returning to France in July 1524.
The Final Voyage and Grim Death
In March 1528, Verrazzano left France on his final voyage, yet again seeking the passage to India (after not having found it via a South American voyage the year before). The expedition, which included Verrazzano’s brother, Girolamo, sailed along the coast of Florida before drifting into the Caribbean Sea. This turned out to me the last mistake the explorer would ever make.
While sailing south of Jamaica, the crew spotted a heavily vegetated, seemingly unpopulated island, and Verrazzano dropped anchor to explore it with a handful of crewmen. The group was soon attacked by a large assemblage of cannibalistic natives who killed them and ate them all as Girolamo and the rest of the crew watched from the main ship, unable to help.
Giovanni da Verrazzano added greatly to the knowledge base of mapmakers in terms of the geography of the East Coast of North America. In honor of the famed explorer, the bridge spanning the Narrows between Brooklyn and Staten Island now bears his name.