HOW THE FLAG OF ENGLAND WAS PLANTED ON THE SHORES OF THE NEW WORLD
 CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS showed the way across the Sea of Darkness;
Amerigo Vespucci gave his name to the great double continent, but
it was another Italian, John Cabot, who first landed on the Continent
of North America.
Like Columbus, Cabot was born in Genoa. When, however, he left his
own land he did not go to Spain like Columbus, but to England.
He had been living in England for some years when the news of the
first great voyage of Columbus was brought there. Soon every one
was talking about the wonderful discovery from the King and his
Cabot was a trader and a daring sailor, well used to sailing on
the stormy seas. Yet even he was awed by what Columbus had done.
To find that way never known before, and by sailing west to reach
the east "where the spices grow" seemed to him "a thing more
divine than human." And he too longed to follow Columbus, and maybe
discover new lands.
King Henry VII was eager to claim new lands as the Kings of
Spain and Portugal were doing. So he listened to the persuasions
of John Cabot. And in spite of the Pope—who had divided all the
undiscovered world between the Kings of Spain and Portugal—gave
him leave to sail forth to "the seas of the east and west and north"
and to plant the banner of England upon any islands, countries or
regions belonging to heathens or infidels which he might
He bade his "well-beloved John Cabot" take five ships and set forth
on the adventure at his "own proper costs and charges." For Henry
was a King "wise but not lavish," and although he wanted England
to have the glory of new discoveries he was not eager to spend his
gold on them.
But where could a poor sailor find money enough for so great an
So a year went past, and although Cabot had the King's leave
to go he did not set out. But he did not let the King forget. And
at length close-fisted Henry listened to "the busy request and
supplication" of the eager sailor, and consented to fit out one
So at five o'clock one sweet May morning a frail little vessel
called the Matthew, with a crew of but eighteen men, sailed out
from Bristol harbour. Many people came to see the vessel sail. For
they were nearly all Bristol men who were thus venturing forth on
the unknown deep, and their friends crowded to the harbour to wish
It was a great occasion for Bristol, and indeed for all England,
for it was the first voyage of discovery with which the English
king and people had to do. So the tiny white-sailed ship put out to
sea, followed by the prayers and wishes of those left behind. With
tear-dimmed eyes they watched it till it faded from view. Then they
turned homewards to pray for the return of their loved ones.
Round the coast of Ireland the vessel sped. But at last its green
shores faded from sight and the little company of eighteen brave
men were alone upon the trackless waves.
Westward and ever westward they sailed,
"Over the hazy distance,
Beyond the sunset's rim."
Week after week went by. Six weeks and then seven, and still no
land appeared. Those were days of anxiety
 and gloom. But still the
hope of the golden west lured Cabot on, and at length one day in
June he heard the glad cry of "Land! Land!"
So on St. John's Day, in 1497, John Cabot landed somewhere on the
coast of America. He called the land Prima Tierra Vista or First
Land Seen, and because of the day upon which it was found he called
an island near to it St. John's Isle.
We cannot tell exactly where Cabot cast anchor: it may have been
at Cape Breton or somewhere on the coast of Labrador. But wherever
it was that he landed he there set up a great cross and unfurled
the flag of England, claiming the land for King Henry.
When Cabot set out he was full of the ideas of Columbus. He had hoped
to find himself on the coast of Asia and in the land of gold and
spices. Now he knew himself mistaken. He did not see any natives,
but he knew the land was inhabited, for he found notched trees,
snares for wild animals and other signs of habitation which he took
He had found no "golden cities," he had had speech with no stately
potentate. Yet he was not utterly disappointed. For the country he
had found seemed to him fair and fertile, and the quantities of
fish which swarmed in the seas amazed both himself and his men. They
had no need of lines or even of nets. They had but to let down a
basket weighted with a stone and draw it up again to have all the
fish they wanted.
Cabot stayed but a short time in the new-found land. He would fain
have stayed longer and explored further, but he feared lest his
provisions would give out, and so regretfully he turned homeward.
Great was the excitement in Bristol when the tiny ship came to anchor
there once more, little more than three months after it had sailed
away. And so strange were the tales Master Cabot had to tell that
the folk of Bristol would
 hardly have believed him (for he was a
poor man and a foreigner) had not his crew of honest Bristol men
vouched for the truth of all he said. Every one was delighted. Even
thrifty King Henry was so much pleased that he gave Cabot £10. It
seems a small enough sum for one who had found "a new isle." But
we must remember that it was worth more than £100 would be worth
Cabot at any rate found it enough with which to buy a suit of
silk. And dressed in this new splendour he walked about the streets
of Bristol followed by gaping crowds. He was now called the Great
Admiral, and much honour was paid to him. Every one was eager to
talk with him, eager to go with him on his next voyage: and that
even although they knew that many of the crew would be thieves and
evil-doers. For the King had promised to give Cabot for sailors
all prisoners except those who were confined for high treason.
We know little more of John Cabot. Later King Henry gave him a
pension of £20 a year. It seems likely that the following year he
set out again across the broad Atlantic, taking his sons with him.
"The rest is silence."
How John Cabot ended his life, where he lies taking his rest, we
do not know.
"He sleeps somewhere in sod unknown,
Without a slab, without a stone."
We remember him chiefly because he was the first to lead Englishmen
across the Atlantic, the first to plant the flag of England upon
the Continent of North America, which, in days to come, was to be
the home of two great English-speaking peoples.