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English Voyages before Cabot

Although the European re-discovery of Newfoundland is generally credited to John Cabot in 1497, we know that as early as the 1480s, English ships were venturing into the unknown Atlantic Ocean.

The first known voyage, by John Day, occurred in 1480. In 1481, two Bristol ships, the George and the Trinity, sailed in search of "a certain Isle called the Isle of Brasile," a fabled place whose name was derived from a Gaelic word meaning "blessed" or "fortunate". The ships in 1481 carried salt, suggesting that the purpose of the voyage had been to fish. In 1498, a Spaniard in London claimed that the people of Bristol had sponsored a number of voyages over the previous several years in search of the fabled island of Brazil. Finally, there is the letter written by John Day, an English merchant active in the Spanish trade, reporting on John Cabot's expedition of 1497; Day claimed that what Cabot discovered "is assumed and believed to be the mainland that the Bristol men found."

John Day's letter John Day's letter.
This letter was written by the English merchant John Day to an unidentified Spanish 'Lord Grand Admiral' who is believed to have been Christopher Columbus.
From Ian Wilson, John Cabot and the Matthew (Tiverton, England: Redcliffe Press, © 1996) 6. Courtesy of the Spanish National Archives. Valladolid, Spain.