Port-Royal National Historic Site of Canada
Mathieu Da Costa and Early Canada
Mathieu Da Costa and Early Canada: Possibilities and Probabilities
by A. J. B. Johnston
Parks Canada, Halifax
Mathieu Da Costa was an interpreter of African descent who likely travelled extensively throughout the “Atlantic world” in the late 1500s and early 1600s. As an interpreter, he was sought after by both the French and the Dutch to help in their trading with Aboriginal peoples. Da Costa likely spoke French, Dutch, Portuguese, as well as “pidgin Basque.” The last-named language was the most common trade language used in dealing with Aboriginal peoples in the era of early contact. The tradition of Europeans relying on Black interpreters was more than a century old by Da Costa’s time. It began with voyages off the African coast and continued as Europeans and Africans came across to the Americas. Mathieu Da Costa probably sailed on many different voyages, travelling up the St. Lawrence River and all along the coast of what is now Atlantic Canada.
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