The name Mathieu Da Costa resonates deeply with African Canadians.
Da Costa, an interpreter of African descent, is believed to have traveled throughout the Atlantic World in the late 1500’s and early 1600’s. He likely spoke French, Dutch, Portuguese and ‘pidgin Basque’ (a common trade language in the era of early contact between First Nations people and Europeans).
In the early 1600’s, the French and Dutch competed in court for the right to his services, and in 1608 Da Costa was contracted to act as an interpreter for Sieur de Mons on voyages to Canada and Acadia.
Evidence continues to emerge for an early African presence in the Americas. Europeans had employed Black interpreters for more than a century by Da Costa's time, in voyages off the African coast and, occasionally, in the Americas.
Jan Rodriguez, a man of African descent, interpreted for the Dutch in 1613-1614 in present-day New
York State. Marc Lescarbot describes another Black man (not Da Costa) onboard the Jonas in 1606 en route to Port-Royal.
Research on Da Costa continues.