João Fernandes Lavrador

Not to be confused with João Fernandes (explorer).
João Fernandes Lavrador
Born 1453
Kingdom of Portugal
Died c. 1501
Nationality Portuguese
Occupation Explorer, navigator
Known for Explorer of the coasts of the Northeast of Northern America.

João Fernandes Lavrador (Portuguese pronunciation: [ʒuˈɐ̃w̃ fɨɾˈnɐ̃ðɨʃ lɐvɾɐˈðoɾ]) was a Portuguese explorer of the late 15th century. He was the first modern explorer in the coasts of the Northeast of Northern America, including the Labrador peninsula, which bears his name. The popular dog breed Labrador Retriever is named after the peninsula and this by effect also bears his name.


His family name is Fernandes. As a landowner he was allowed to use the title lavrador "farmer - plower" (IPA: [lɐvɾɐˈðoɾ]).


Fernandes was granted a patent by King Manuel I in 1498 given him the right to explore the part of the Atlantic Ocean as set out in the Treaty of Tordesillas.[1]

Fernandes, together with Pêro de Barcelos, first sighted what is now known as Labrador in 1498. Fernandes charted also the coasts of Southwestern Greenland and of adjacent Northeastern North America around 1498 and gave notice of them in Europe. The areas are believed to have been named island of the Labrador and land of the Labrador (modern-day Labrador), respectively, after him.

In the 1532 Wolfenbüttel map, believed to be the work of Diogo Ribeiro, along the coast of Greenland the legend was added: As he who first sighted it was a farmer from the Azores Islands, this name remains attached to that country. For the first seven decades or so of the sixteenth century, the name Labrador was most often applied to what we know as Greenland.[2] This name Labrador, i.e., the land of the laborer. With time the name was shifted down to what is now Labrador, which is designated in the earliest maps merely as Terra Corterialis. This landowner ("lavrador" in Portuguese) is believed to be João Fernandes.

Upon his return from Greenland he sailed to Bristol and received a patent from King Henry VII and in 1501 Fernandes set sail again in discovery of lands in the name of England. He was never heard from again.

Fernandes was granted title to much of the lands he had discovered and is considered the first European landowner in Labrador.


  1. Kevin Major, As Near to Heaven by Sea: A History of Newfoundland and Labrador, 2001, ISBN 0-14-027864-8
  2. See James A. Williamson, The Cabot Voyages and Bristol Discovery under Henry VII (London, 1962), pp. 98, 120-1, 312-17.

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