John Cabot (1450?-1499), Italian navigator and explorer, who attempted to find a direct route to Asia. Although Cabot was probably born in Genoa, as a youth he moved to Venice, where his seafaring career probably began. He became a naturalized Venetian in 1476, but about eight years later settled in Bristol, England. Cabot had developed a theory that Asia might be reached by sailing westward. This theory appealed to several wealthy merchants of Bristol, who agreed to give him financial support. In 1493, when reports reached England that Christopher Columbus had made the westward passage to Asia, Cabot and his supporters began to make plans for a more direct crossing to the Orient. The proposed expedition was authorized on March 5, 1496, by King Henry VII of England.
With a crew of 18 men, Cabot sailed from Bristol on May 2, 1497, on the Matthew. He steered a generally northwestward course, and on June 24, after a rough voyage, he landed, perhaps on present-day Cape Breton Island; he subsequently sailed along the Labrador, Newfoundland, and New England coasts. Believing that he had reached northeastern Asia, he formally claimed the region for Henry VII. Cabot returned to England in August and was granted a pension. Assured of royal support, he immediately planned a second exploratory voyage that he hoped would bring him to Cipangu (Japan). The expedition, consisting of four or five ships and 300 men, left Bristol in May 1498. The fate of this expedition is uncertain. It is believed that in June, Cabot reached the eastern coast of Greenland and sailed northward along the coast until his crews mutinied because of the severe cold and forced him to turn southward. He may have cruised along the coast of North America to Chesapeake Bay at latitude 38° North. He was forced to return to England because of a lack of supplies, and he died soon afterward.