John Cabot, Anglo-Italian navigator, explorer (born perhaps at Genoa, Italy 1449/50; died probably off the coast of Newfoundland 1498/99). Cabot's voyages of discovery from Bristol, England (1497, 1498), were the first recorded landfalls on the North American continent since the Norse voyages. Cabot conceived the idea of reaching Asia by sailing westward across the Atlantic. In 1496, Henry VII authorized him and his three sons to search, at their own expense, for unknown lands to the west. Cabot left Bristol on 2 May 1497 with 18 men.


On 24 June 1497 he landed somewhere on the North American coast the actual place of landing most likely being either Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland or Cape Breton Island. Cabot claimed the land for England and returned to Bristol, arriving in August. Early in 1498, Henry VII authorized a second expedition consisting of 5 ships and 300 men. After landing in Greenland, Cabot sailed southward, probably as far as Chesapeake Bay, but failing to find the rich lands he had envisaged. Because supplies were running low, he turned back towards England.

It appears that Cabot perished on this voyage, though one or more of his ships may have returned to Bristol. Most historians maintain that he was probably lost off the coast of Newfoundland. Because the fact that Cabot had found a new continent soon became known in Europe, Cabot made what has been called "the intellectual discovery of America." His voyages provided the basis for England's claim to North America and led to the opening of the rich northwest Atlantic fishery.