Some years ago, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the home of Professor David Beers Quinn, who had devoted a lifetime’s research to the early exploration and colonisation of America. Quinn’s specialist subject was those storm-tossed adventurers who – with salt in their hair and pluck aplenty – set sail across the Atlantic in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. I asked him if anyone might have reached North America before John Cabot’s 1497 landfall. Furthermore, could anyone have crossed the Atlantic before Columbus?
Quinn thought it possible. Fishermen from the West Country had been fishing the Newfoundland Banks for decades before Columbus. Indeed, one of them even wrote to Columbus to inform him that his recent discoveries were nothing new. America (he obviously didn’t use the name) had already been ‘found