Born in the late 1500’s, Mathieu Da Costa was a remarkable man. He was a translator who used his skills to become the first person of African descent to reach Canada in recorded history. A Liberian by birth, he was a free African Seaman during the time of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
Little is known about his life, but we do know, in the early 1600’s Da Costa was employed by the French until the Dutch kidnapped him. Da Costa signed a three year contract to work for the Dutch as a translator. He spoke French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Pidgin Basque; a language used in the Americas for trade.
It is still a mystery as to how Da Costa came to learn languages of the Americas, but he used them well to help guide himself, Du Gua de Monts and Samuel de Champlain through Acadia and the St. Lawrence River area. Using the navigation skills he possessed, he was able to lead his employers on expeditions throughout North America during a time when the average African in North America was enslaved. While employed by De Monts, he was able to accumulate some wealth to sustain a decent life until he was imprisoned in December of 1906.
There is no information to show why he was imprisoned, but many suggest that he spoke his mind and was accused of insolence. De Costa was able to use his genius to make a life for himself. He also was a pioneer in reaching the land many enslaved Africans would eventually call home, Canada. Mathieu De Costa, we stand on your shoulders.
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