The Car­bon­ear con­nec­tion to John Cabot

The Compass - - OPINION - Bur­ton K. Janes bur­tonj@nfld.net

What role did Gio­vanni An­to­nio de Car­bonariis, aka Gio­vanni An­to­nio Car­bonaro, the deputy col­lec­tor of papal rev­enues in Eng­land, play in John Cabot’s voy­age of 1498?

If the late Al­wyn Amy Rud­dock is to be be­lieved, de Car­bonariis and his fel­low Au­gus­tinian fri­ars par­tic­i­pated with their own ship. A Span­ish am­bas­sador re­ported in July of 1498 that a ves­sel trans­port­ing de Car­bonariis was forced into an Ir­ish port by a storm on her out­bound pas­sage. Rud­dock main­tained that de Car­bonariis and his ship made it all the way to New­found­land.

Be­fore ze­ro­ing in on Rud­dock’s as­ser­tion, it is in­struc­tive to briefly look at her life and ca­reer.

Born in 1916, the re­spected his­to­rian made what many be­lieved to be sig­nif­i­cant finds about Cabot’s voy­ages of dis­cov­ery to the New World in the late 1400s. She drafted, then de­stroyed, a book about the Ital­ian nav­i­ga­tor and ex­plorer. The sec­ond ver­sion of her book re­mained in­com­plete at the time of her death in 2005 at 89 years of age.

Fol­low­ing Rud­dock’s wishes, her trustees de­stroyed all 78 bags of her un­pub­lished life’s work. It was a sub­stan­tial loss.

Dou­glas Hunter, writ­ing in his book, “The Race to the New World,” states, “The reve­la­tion was a stun­ning coda to a per­plex­ing and tragic ca­reer. What lit­tle Rud­dock had pub­lished on Cabot was first-class stuff.” She dis­played “an­a­lyt­i­cal and archival skills. In wait­ing for her book, schol­ars were per­suaded for four decades that Rud­dock was poised to turn the story of Cabot and the dis­cov­ery of North Amer­ica (in her own words) ‘up­side down.’ “

Un­for­tu­nately, we will never know the ex­tent of Rud­dock’s find­ings.

As Hunter notes in an ar­ti­cle archived on­line at his per­sonal web­site, “Hav­ing dug up so much of the past, she did her best to re­bury it.”

Let’s re­turn to Rud­dock’s claim about the scope of the role that Gio­vanni An­to­nio de Car­bonariis played in John Cabot’s voy­age of 1498.

She be­lieved that de Car­bonariis and his ship made it to New­found­land. Ac­tu­ally, her con­vic­tion went even far­ther. As Hunter puts it in his book, “There they es­tab­lished a set­tle­ment with a church on Con­cep­tion Bay, in a lo­ca­tion that was pre­served through folk mem­ory as Car­bon­ear.”

It must be clearly borne in mind that Rud­dock’s con­tention, as tan­ta­liz­ing as it is, has to be taken with a shaker full of salt, for it is sim­ply un­proven.

To be clear, the link be­tween Car­bon­ear and de Car­bonariis orig­i­nated, not with Rud­dock, but with David O. True, a ge­og­ra­pher in Mi­ami who, in 1954, in Hunter’s words, “found Car­bon­ear res­o­nantly in­trigu­ing.” Another scholar, James A. Wil­liamson, noted: “Its sim­i­lar­ity to the unique per­sonal name of de Car­bonariis is sug­ges­tive. It might be sup­posed that An­to­nio de Car­bonari­iswas in some way linked with this place in the voy­age of 1498, or equally that he was there in the course of some sub­se­quent ex­pe­di­tion.”

Rud­dock, in­spired by True’s ob­ser­va­tion, ad­vanced it by sev­eral steps by posit­ing, again in Hunter’s words, “a sce­nario in­volv­ing an ac­tual set­tle­ment. The fri­ars over­win­tered at present-day Car­bon­ear....”

Mean­while, Memo­rial Univer­sity ar­chae­ol­o­gist, Peter Pope, sug­gests that ver­i­fi­ably lo­cat­ing de Car­bonariis at Car­bon­ear in 1498 is “a real long­shot. But be­cause the claim is so as­tound­ing, it ups the ante, and makes search­ing worth the gam­ble.”

The de Car­bonariis / Car­bon­ear con­nec­tion is but one of scores of sto­ries Hunter tells in his book, which is sub­ti­tled “Christo­pher Colum­bus, John Cabot, and a Lost His­tory of Dis­cov­ery.”

“To un­der­stand the ca­reer of ei­ther Cabot or Colum­bus,” Hunter says, “we now must un­der­stand the ca­reer of the other. The cour­ses they shaped are more deeply in­ter­twined than pre­vi­ously imag­ined. To­gether, they al­low us to see one of the most monumental events in world his­tory – the Euro­pean dis­cov­ery of two con­ti­nents in the Western Hemi­sphere where no one had thought to look for even one – with a fresh and com­pre­hen­sive vi­sion.”

In­ter­est­ingly, Hunter ded­i­cates his book in mem­ory of three peo­ple, in­clud­ing Al­wyn Amy Rud­dock, “who be­gan the voy­age but were un­able to reach the dis­tant shore.”

Stephen R. Bown, in an en­dorse­ment of Hunter’ book, says the au­thor “de­liv­ers an in­tel­lec­tual and his­tor­i­cal mys­tery sure to en­thrall those in­ter­ested in the early Euro­pean ex­plo­ration of the Amer­i­cas.” Ken McGoogan calls it a “vivid, orig­i­nal nar­ra­tive.”

“The Race to the New World: Christo­pher Colum­bus, John Cabot, and a Lost His­tory of Dis­cov­ery” is pub­lished by Dou­glas & McIn­tyre.

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