Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Lauren. Lauren Wonders, “What happened to the explorer John Cabot?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Lauren!

Do you know what happened in 1492? If you’ve ever heard the rhyme, you know that’s the year Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. You’ve probably heard all about that voyage and the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. But do you know what happened in 1497?

That’s the year most experts believe John Cabot became the first European to step foot in North America. He set sail from the port of Bristol in May 1497 hoping to reach Asia. He sailed with eighteen others on a ship named Matthew. On June 24 of that year, Cabot landed in North America, believing he’d reached Asia. It’s uncertain where his ship landed. Many believe it was Newfoundland or Cape Breton Island.

Wait, didn’t Columbus sail five years earlier? Wouldn’t that make him the first European in North America? It would if Columbus had ever actually gone to North America. Many don’t realize that the famed explorer never stepped foot there. He landed in the Caribbean Islands and explored the coasts of Central and South America. He never went to North America.

That means that when Cabot landed there in 1497, his ship held the first Europeans to visit North America. There, they could tell the area was inhabited, but they saw no people anywhere. They took possession of the land in the name of King Henry VII of England. The crew raised both the English and Italian flags, as Cabot was from Italy.

They continued to explore and found several islands along the coastline. Cabot named these places Cape Discovery, the Island of St. John, St. George’s Cape, Trinity Island, and England’s Cape. No one is certain which islands these were, but experts think they were in the area we now call Cabot Strait, after the explorer.

Cabot returned to England with good news. He announced that he had, in fact, reached Asia and that he would soon return. In May 1498, he set sail again. This time, he brought along 200 men on two ships.

This second voyage was not as successful as the first. It’s believed that the ships ran into a bad storm soon after setting sail. One ship was badly damaged. It landed in Ireland that July. The other ship, with Cabot aboard, was never seen again.

Did Cabot make it back to North America? Did he go ashore on a new island and live out the rest of his life there? No one knows. Experts believe his ship was likely destroyed in the storm. By 1499, most believed that John Cabot was lost at sea.

What do you think happened to the first European to touch North American soil? Are you hopeful he made it again to dry land? Or do you believe he went down with his ship? We can WONDER all we want. The fate of John Cabot will likely stay a mystery.

Standards: C3.D2.Geo.7, C3.D2.His.2, C3.D2.His.16, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.3, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.W.2, CCRA.W.3, CCRA.W.9 CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2

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