"This year, on St. John the Baptist's Day [24 June 1497], the land of America was found by the Merchants of Bristow in a shippe of Bristowe, called the Mathew; the which said the ship [sic] departed from the port of Bristowe, the second day of May, and came home again the 6th of August next following.” 1
We have prepared a special page for our American visitors interested in the "discovery" of the Americas.
The quote above comes from the Bristol “Kalendars” of 1496-97 and is one of a number of claims for the discovery of the Americas, in this case by John Cabot. Other academics point to Columbus, the great yet rather anonymous Portuguese seafarers and the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci. Vikings and the Chinese (the fabled eastern land of Fu Sang) are also contenders and our friends over the Severn Estuary will no doubt cite Madog, ab Owain Gwynedd, a Welsh prince who, according to folklore sailed to the Americas in 1170. Fascinating research by Bristol scholar Alwyn Ruddock also points towards Cabot, but with a great twist to this mystery by virtue of all her research is lost; destroyed in accordance of her will and never published.
As Bristol based company, we clearly favour the adventures of John Cabot. There exists an intriguing suggestion of the naming of America, published over 100 years ago in the 1909/10 Proceedings of the Clifton Antiquarian Club (www.cliftonantiquarian.co.uk). It proposes that John Cabot named the newly discovered lands after local merchant and sheriff of Bristol who sponsored the construction of the ship and the voyage. This man was Richard Ameryke.
It is further suggested (by the BBC no less) that the coat of arms of the Ameryke family formed the inspiration for the of the stars and stripes. This heraldry can be spotted today, if you know where to look, in the Lord Mayors chapel in Bristol. It is probably also worthy of note that George Washington’s Coat of Arms also comprises of some stars and stripes. Come and visit and make your own mind up.
These events of the late 15th century reside in a dim and distant past, clues hiding in diaries, letters and the occasional official record. Whatever the truth, Bristol and America share strong links through these historic journeys of discovery. Today it is possible to take a “voyage” along the River Avon on a replica of that “shippe of Bristowe”, the Matthew. Combine this with a visit to some of Bristol’s historic (albeit early 17th century) pubs and, of course, the Lord Mayors chapel (built 1230 AD) and you are not far from an authentic reenactment of those exciting and pioneering Tudor days.
Whereas Cabot and America are synonymous, Barangia and Doggerland perhaps do not elicit such a familiar connection and reside in a significantly dimmer and more distant past than Tudor England. Yet both certainly represent equally adventurous qualities of late Pleistocene and early Holocene hunter gatherers responding to climate change. Both created access to the US and UK respectively via the rather poorly termed land bridges across the Baring Strait and North Sea respectively. In the West of England and Wales are to be found some fascinating Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites and it is interesting to compare the material culture, the stone tools with those of the Palaeo and Archaic Indian sites in the US. At the time of writing, April 2017, the newspapers are reporting evidence of human activity in America 150,000 years ago.
Bristol offers particularly immersive history for US visitors and its location in the heart of the West of England is the perfect spot to spend a few days exploring the city, its amazing museums and culture, and the fabulous quintessential English landscape in the surrounding countryside. Join us at the Travelling History Company for a local tour or archaeological or historical expedition in this part of the United Kingdom exploring the history and culture of Bristol in the context of US history.
1. G.E. Weare, Cabot's Discovery of North America, (London, 1897), p. 116