Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562

Author: Peter Martyr  | Date: 1497

Peter Martyr’s Account

These north seas have been searched by one Sebastian Cabot, a Venetian born, whom being yet but in manner an infant, his parents carried with them into England having occasion to resort thither for trade of merchandise, as is the manner of the Venetians to leave no part of the world unsearched to obtain riches. He therefore furnished two ships in England at his own charges: And first with three hundred men, directed his course so far toward the north pole, that even in the month of July he found monstrous heaps of ice swimming on the sea, and in manner continual day light. Yet saw he the land in that tract, free from ice, which had been molten by heat of the sun.

Thus seeing such heaps of ice before him he was enforced to turn his sails and follow the west, so coasting still by the shore, that he was thereby brought so far into the south by reason of the land bending so much southward that it was there almost equal in latitude with the sea called Fretum Herculeum, having the north pole elevate in manner in the same degree. He sailed likewise in this tract so far toward the west, that he had the island of Cuba [on] his left hand in manner in the same degree of longitude. As he traveled by the coasts of this great land (which he named Baccallaos) he saith that he found the like course of the waters toward the west, but the same to run more softly and gently than the swift waters which the Spaniards found in their navigations southward.

Wherefore, it is not only more like to be true, but ought also of necessity to be concluded that between both the lands hitherto unknown, there should be certain great open places whereby the waters should thus continually pass from the East into the west: which waters I suppose to be driven about the globe of the earth by the incessant moving and impulsion of the heavens: and not to be swallowed up and cast out again by the breathing of Demogorgon as some have imagined because they see the seas by increase and decrease, to flow and reflow. Sebastian Cabot him self, named those lands Baccallaos, because that in the seas thereabout he found so great multitudes of certain big fishes much like unto tunnies (which the inhabitants call Baccallaos) that they some-times stayed his ships. He found also the people of those regions covered with beasts skins: yet not without the use of reason.

He saith also that there is great plenty of bears in those regions, which use to eat fish. For plunging them selves into the water where they perceive a multitude of these fishes to live, they fasten their claws in their scales, and so draw them to land and eat them. So that (as he saith) the bears being thus satisfied with fish, are not noisome to men. He declareth further, that in any places of these regions, he saw great plenty of laton among the inhabitants. Cabot is my very friend, whom I use familiarly, and delight to have him sometimes keep me company in mine own house. For being called out of England by the commandment of the catholic king of Castile after the death of Henry king of England the seventh of that name, he was made one of our counsel and assistance as touching the affairs of the new Indies, looking daily for ships to be furnished for him to discover this hid secret of nature. This voyage is appointed to be begun in March in the year next following, being the year of Christ M.D.XVI. What shall succeed, your holiness shall be advertised by my letters if God grant me life. Some of the Spaniards deny that Cabot was the first finder of the land of Baccallaos: And affirm that he went not so far westward. But it shall suffice to have said thus much of the gulfs & straits, and of Sebastian Cabot….


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Chicago: Peter Martyr, "Peter Martyr’s Account," Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562 in Great Epochs in American History, Vol.1, Pp.51-53 Original Sources, accessed April 14, 2024,

MLA: Martyr, Peter. "Peter Martyr’s Account." Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562, in Great Epochs in American History, Vol.1, Pp.51-53, Original Sources. 14 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: Martyr, P, 'Peter Martyr’s Account' in Discovery and Exploration, 1000-1562. cited in , Great Epochs in American History, Vol.1, Pp.51-53. Original Sources, retrieved 14 April 2024, from