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«A General History and Collection of Voyages and Travels, Vol.VI», Robert Kerr

A GENERAL HISTORY AND COLLECTION OF VOYAGES AND TRAVELS.

ARRANGED IN SYSTEMATIC ORDER:

FORMING A COMPLETE HISTORY OF THE ORIGIN AND PROGRESS OF NAVIGATION, DISCOVERY, AND COMMERCE, BY SEA AND LAND, FROM THE EARLIEST AGES TO THE PRESENT TIME.

BY ROBERT KERR, F.R.S. & P.A.S. EDIN.

ILLUSTRATED BY MAPS AND CHARTS.

VOL. VI.

PART II.

(CONTINUED)

BOOK II.

(CONTINUED)

CHAPTER XI.

EARLY ENGLISH VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY TO AMERICA

 

INTRODUCTION

Although we have already, in the Introduction to the Second Chapter of this Book, Vol. III. p. 346. given some notices of the voyages of John and Sebastian Cabot to America in the service of Henry VII. and VIII. it appears proper on the present occasion to insert a full report of every thing that is now known of these early navigations: As, although no immediate fruits were derived from these voyages, England by their means became second only to Spain in the discovery of America, and afterwards became second likewise in point of colonization in the New World. The establishments of the several English colonies will be resumed in a subsequent division of our arrangement.

It has been already mentioned that Columbus, on leaving Portugal to offer his services to Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain for the discovery of the Indies by a western course through the Atlantic, sent his brother Bartholomew to make a similar offer to Henry VII. King of England, lest his proposals might not have been listened to by the court of Spain. Bartholomew, as has been formerly related, was taken by pirates; and on his arrival in England was forced to procure the means of living, and of enabling himself to appear before the king, by the construction and sale of sea-charts and maps, in which he had been instructed by his brother. Owing to this long delay, when he at length presented himself to King Henry, and had even procured the acceptance of his brothers proposals, so much time had been lost that Isabella queen of Castille had already entered into the views of his illustrious brother, who had sailed on his second voyage to the West Indies, while Bartholomew was on his journey through France to announce to him that Henry King of England had agreed to his proposals.

The fame of the astonishing discovery made by Columbus in 1591, soon spread throughout Europe; and only four years afterwards, or in 1595, a patent was granted by Henry VII. to John Cabot, or Giovani Cabota, a Venetian citizen, then resident in England, and his three sons, Lewis, Sebastian, and Sancius, and their heirs and deputies, to sail to all parts countries and seas of the east west and north, at their own cost and charges, with five ships; to seek out discover and find whatsoever islands, countries, regions, or provinces belonging to the heathen and infidels, were hitherto unknown to Christians, and to subdue, occupy, and possess all such towns, cities, castles, and islands as they might be able; setting up the royal banners and ensigns in the same, and to command over them as vassals and lieutenants of the crown of England, to which was reserved the rule, title, and jurisdiction of the same. In this grant Cabot and his sons, with their heirs and deputies, were bound to bring all the fruits, profits, gains, and commodities acquired in their voyages to the port of Bristol; and, having deducted from the proceeds all manner of necessary costs and charges by them expanded, to pay to the king in wares or money the fifth part of the free gain so made, in lieu of all customs of other dues; of importation on the same. By these letters patent; dated at Westminster on the 5th of March in the eleventh year of Henry VII. all the other subjects of England are prohibited from visiting or frequenting any of the continents, islands, villages, towns, castles, or places which might be discovered by John Cabot, his sons, heirs, or deputies, under forfeiture of their ships and goods[?].

No journal or relation remains of the voyages of Cabot and his sons in consequence of this grant, and we are reduced to a few scanty memorials concerning them; contained in the third volume of Hakluyt's Collection of the Early Voyages, Travels, and Discoveries of the English Nation. We quote from the new edition, with additions, published at London in 1810.

Two years after the before-mentioned letters patent, or on the 18th of February 1497, a licence was granted by the same king of England, Henry VII. to John Cabot, to take six English ships in any haven or havens of England, being of 200 tons burden or under, with all necessary furniture; and to take also into the said ships all such masters, mariners, or other subjects of the king as might be willing to engage with him.

It would appear that the patent of 1495 had never been acted upon; but in consequence of this new licence, John Cabot and his son Sebastian proceeded from the port of Bristol and discovered an island somewhere on the coast of America to which they gave the name of Prima Vista, probably the island of Newfoundland. The short account of this voyage of discovery left to us by Hakluyt, is said to have been inserted in Latin on a map constructed by Sebastian Cabot, concerning his discovery in America, then called the West Indies; which map, engraved by Clement Adams, was to be seen in the time of Hakluyt in the private gallery of Queen Elizabeth at Westminster, and in the possession of many of the principal merchants in London. This memorandum, translated into English, is as follows[?].

 

SECTION I. Discovery of Newfoundland by John and Sebastian Cabot in 1497, in the service of Henry VII. of England

"In the year 1497, John Cabot a Venetian and his son Sebastian, discovered on the 24th of June, about five in the morning, that land to which no person had before ventured to sail, which they named Prima Vista[?], or, first-seen, because as I believe it was the first part seen by them from the sea. The island which is opposite[?] he named St Johns Island, because discovered on the day of St John the Baptist. The inhabitants of this island use the skins and furs of wild beasts for garments, which they hold in as high estimation as we do our finest clothes. In war they use bows and arrows, spears, darts, clubs, and slings. The soil is sterile and yields no useful production; but it abounds in white bears and deer much larger than ours. Its coasts produce vast quantities of large fish, among which are great seals, salmons, soles above a yard in length, and prodigious quantities especially of cod, which are commonly called bacallaos[?]. The hawks, partridges, and eagles of this island are all black."

Besides the foregoing memorandum on the ancient map, Hakluyt gives the following testimonies respecting the discovery of the northern part of America, by Cabot.

 

SECTION II. Discourse by Galeacius Butrigarius, Papal Legate in Spain, respecting the Discoveries in America, by Sebastian Cabot[?]

Do you know how to sail for the Indies towards the northwest, as has been lately done by a Venetian citizen, a valiant man and so learned in all things pertaining to navigation and cosmography, that no one is permitted to sail as pilot to the West Indies who has not received his licence, he being pilot-major of Spain? This person, who resides in the city of Seville, is Sebastian Cabot, a native of Venice, who is most expert in these sciences, and makes excellent sea-charts with his own-hands. Having sought his acquaintance, he entertained us in a friendly manner, showing us many things, and among these a large map of the world containing sundry navigations, both those of the Spaniards and Portuguese. On this occasion he gave us the following information.

His father went many years since from Venice to England, where he followed the profession of a merchant, taking this person his son along with him to London, then very young, yet having received some tincture of learning, and some knowledge of the sphere. His father died about the time when news was spread abroad that Don Christopher Columbus, the Genoese, had discovered the coasts of the Indies by sailing towards the west, which was much admired and talked of at the court of King Henry VII. then reigning in England, so that every one affirmed that it was more attributable to divine inspiration than human wisdom, to have thus sailed by the west unto the east, where spices grow, by a way never known before. By these discourses the young man, Sebastian Cabot, was strongly incited to perform some notable and similar action; and conceiving by the study of the sphere that it would be a shorter route for going to India, than that attempted by Columbus, to sail by the north-west, he caused the king to be informed thereof, who accordingly gave orders that he should be furnished with two ships, properly provided in all things for the voyage. He sailed with these from England in the beginning of summer 1496, if I rightly remember, shaping his course to the north-west, not expecting to find any other land intervening between and Cathay or Northern China. He was much disappointed by falling in with land running toward the north, the coast of which he sailed along to the lat. of 56В° N. and found it still a continent. Finding the coast now, to turn towards the east, and despairing to find the passage to India and Cathay of which he was in search, he turned again and sailed down the coast towards the equinoctial line, always endeavouring to find a passage westwards for India, and came at length to that part of the continent which is now called Florida[?]. And his victuals running short, he bore away for England; where he found the country in confusion preparing for war with Scotland, so that no farther attention was paid to his proposed discoveries.

He went afterwards into Spain, where he was taken into the service of Ferdinand and Isabella, who furnished him with ships at their expence, in which he went to discover the coast of Brazil, where he found a prodigiously large river, now called the Rio de la Plata, or Silver River, up which he sailed above 120 leagues, finding every where a good country, inhabited by prodigious numbers of people, who flocked from every quarter to view the ships with wonder and admiration. Into this great river a prodigious number of other rivers discharged their waters. After this he made many other voyages; and waxing old, rested at home discharging the office of chief pilot, and leaving the prosecution of discovery to many young and active pilots of good experience.

 

SECTION III. Notice concerning Sebastian Cabot by Ramusio, in the Preface to the third Volume of his Navigations[?]

In the latter part of this volume are contained certain relations of Giovani de Varanzana of Florence, of a certain celebrated French navigator, and of two voyages by Jacques Cartier a Breton, who sailed to the land in 50В° north latitude, called New France; it not being yet known whether that land join with the continent of Florida and New Spain, or whether they are separated by the sea into distinct islands, so as to allow of a passage by sea to Cathay and India. This latter was the opinion of Sebastian Cabota, our countryman, a man of rare knowledge and experience in navigation, who wrote to me many years ago, that he had sailed along and beyond this land of New France in the employment of Henry VII. of England. He informed me that, having sailed a long way to the north-west, beyond these lands, to the lat. of 67-1/2В° N. and finding the sea on the 11th of June entirely open and without impediment, he fully expected to have passed on that way to Cathay in the east; and would certainly have succeeded, but was constrained by a mutiny of the master and mariners to return homewards. But it would appear that the Almighty still reserves this great enterprise of discovering the route to Cathay by the north-west to some great prince, which were the easiest and shortest passage by which to bring the spiceries of India to Europe. Surely this enterprise would be me most glorious and most important that can possibly he imagined, and would immortalize him who succeeded in its accomplishment far beyond any of those warlike exploits by which the Christian nations of Europe are perpetually harassed.

 

SECTION IV. Notices respecting the voyage of Sebastian Cabot to the northwest, from Peter Martyr ab Algeria[?]

These northern seas have been searched by Sebastian Cabot, a Venetian, who was carried when very young to England by his parents, who, after the manner of the Venetians, left no part of the world unsearched to obtain riches. Having fitted out two ships in England at his own expence, with three hundred men, he first directed his course so near the north pole, that on the 11th of July he found monstrous heaps of ice swimming in the sea, and a continual day, so that the land was free from ice, having been thawed by the perpetual influence of the sun. By reason of this ice he was compelled to turn southwards along the western land, till he came unto the latitude of the Straits of Gibraltar[?]. In the course of this north-west voyage he got so far to the west as to have the island of Cuba on his left hand, having reached to the same longitude[?]. While sailing along the coast of this great land, which he called Baccalaos[?], he found a similar current of the sea towards the west[?] as had been observed by the Spaniards in their more southerly navigations, but more softly and gently than had been experienced by the Spaniards. Hence it may be certainly concluded that in both places, though hitherto unknown, there must be certain great open spaces by which the waters thus continually pass from the east to the west; which waters I suppose to be continually driven round the globe by the constant motion and impulse of the heavens, and not to be alternately swallowed and cast up again by the breathing of Demogorgon, as some have imagined on purpose to explain the ebb and flow of the sea. Sebastian Cabot himself named these lands Baccalaos, because he found in the seas thereabout such multitudes of certain large fishes like tunnies, called baccalaos by the natives, that they sometimes stayed his ships. He found also the people of these regions clothed in the skins of beasts, yet not without the use of reason. He says also that there are great numbers of bears in those countries, which feed on fish, and catch them by diving into the water; and being thus satisfied with abundance of fish, are not noisome to man. He says likewise that he saw large quantities of copper among the inhabitants of these regions. Cabot is my dear and familiar friend, whom I delight to have sometimes in my house. Being called out of England by the Catholic king of Castille, on the death of Henry VII. of England, he was made one of the assistants of our council respecting the affairs of the new found Indies, and waits in daily expectation of being furnished with ships in which to discover these hidden secrets of nature.


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