London, Aug.28 (ANI): A Bristol merchant going by the name of William Weston was the first Englishman to set foot in North America, seven years after Christopher Columbus.
Two years earlier, the Venetian explorer Giovanni Cabotto - better known as John Cabot - had sailed from Bristol under a patent from King Henry. He is thought to have landed in Newfoundland or Nova Scotia, in what is usually seen as the first European expedition to land in North America proper.
In the early 16th century, several English expeditions are known to have followed, but Dr Evan Jones, senior lecturer in Economic and Social History at the University of Bristol, has unearthed previously overlooked evidence that Weston was in fact the first.
In a letter from the King to his Lord Chancellor sent on March 12, 1499, Henry instructs his minister to suspend an injunction against Weston because the merchant was about to "with God's grace pass and sail for to search and find if he can the new found land".
"Up until now, no one had ever even heard of William Weston. Yet this letter reveals him to be the first Englishman to lead an expedition to North America," The Times quotes Dr. Jones, as saying.
The letter was found 30 years ago and mis-catalogued among a bundle of Chancery files in what is now the National Archives, but had previously been overlooked by historians.
Weston was allowed to undertake the voyage because he had been one of Cabot's leading supporters, Dr Jones believes.
Although Cabot had sold himself to Henry as an expert navigator, he had been forced to leave Venice because of unpaid debts and had no money for an expedition.
"He went to backers in Bristol to provide finance for the expedition in exchange for a share of any proceeds," Dr Jones said.
Weston was likely to have been one of these backers, and would have been able to use Cabot's patent for the King for his own expedition. (ANI)