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John Cabot – Another Successful Failure

Updated on January 21, 2016
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

From Giovanni to John

Giovanni Caboto was born at the perfect time in history around 1450. The Renaissance was breaking across Europe. It was a time of opportunity like never before. Advancement in the arts and throughout society were exploding. He was going to become an adult when new discoveries were abounding and the chance to make a name for oneself was high. A perfect time for adventure and getting a name set in the history annals.

This young Italian man would in later years be known throughout history by his English name, John Cabot.

A New World for All

With the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus, Europe was in an uproar to find Asia and explore this new land that was in the way. They saw opportunity with each country trying to get there before the others.

Due to many reasons including financial, Caboto moved to England where his name became John Cabot, the English version of Giovanni Caboto. With Cabot’s sailing experience from his time in Italy, the king of England commissioned him to find Asia. All resources were put into finding the land rich in wonders and material items that were in demand throughout Europe. A quicker way than across the Asia was needed.

Cabot’s theory was to go further north than Columbus. Though Columbus firmly believed that he had reached Asia, the popular thought was that he had hit a small landmass between Europe and Asia. Though it wasn’t a discovery to be ignored, it was not what Europe was looking for. They wanted to look further for that Eastern treasure trove. If Cabot went further north, he would miss the land mass that Columbus had stumbled upon and have a greater chance to reach Asia.

In truth, Cabot’s thoughts were right. Columbus had landed on islands located in the Caribbean. He had only discovered a small landmass compared to what was out there. Cabot’s theory of taking a more northerly route brought him directly to mainland America. John Cabot became the first European since the Vikings who touched the shores of North America. It was not a small landmass between Columbus's find and Asia. It was a rather large landmass.


Like many explorers, Cabot had thought that he had found Asia. It had to be in his mind. Though he did not find the people and the spices that he had expected, there was no doubt in his mind that he had found Asia. It was a large land mass in the direction he was heading. Logic told him it was Asia.

To most Europeans the world was smaller than it actually was. Yes, some might have thought the earth was flat, but educated Europeans knew it was round. They just thought it wasn't quite so round. Scientists had calculated that Asia was closer than in reality. Therefore, there could not be such a large land mass between the two cultures. Land was found. Conclusion was that Asia was discovered.

Hail the Hero!

Upon returning to England, Cabot was honored by all. He had found the way to Asia where others had failed. Everyone was ready to wine and dine him. They wanted to be seen with him. They wanted to meet him. Cabot was loved by all.

After receiving multiple honors in his new home country, Cabot was sent out again to find Japan. Instead of finding Asia, he was to find the cities of Japan. What he found was disappointment.

No Asian Cities

There were no beautiful Asian cities to be found. Ports were not waiting for his ship to pull into. Markets were not laid open to trade. There was only forest upon forest.

Cabot returned to England empty handed without having found the way to Asia. His glory was short lived. He remained in England where he died shortly in 1499.

Success and Failure can be Relative

Though it might seem that Cabot failed in his two voyages, he had successes on a lot of levels. He was the first person after Columbus to land in the New World and stake claim. England received its first New World claim somewhere around the Newfoundland area. That was a major step for the country that would spur others to follow suit. It was only after Cabot’s voyages that the desire to find the Northwest Passage to Asia sparked many more voyages that led to extensive explorations of the New World. Cabot’s voyage brought economic stimulus by his discovery of the Grand Banks which to this day is a fishing paradise.

Accidents can be Beneficial

John Cabot was an explorer, who like many others, did not find out what he set out to but instead found so much more. He was such an inspiration that even one of his sons took up the mantle and explored the New World.


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