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Swamp Rat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Aug-16-06 02:14 AM
Response to Reply #34
46. Mathias De Sousa ... More info:
Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Mathias de Sousa
MSA SC 3520-2810
Freeman in attendance at the Legislature, 1642


Founding of Maryland - Educational Project for Elementary and Middle School Students
Maryland Public Television and Maryland State Archives (January-February 2003)
written by Maria A. Day, MSA Archival Intern

Historians know very little about an early settler to Maryland named Mathius de Sousa. Only a few documents record the details of his life. Some people recognize Mathius as the first, free person of African descent living in Maryland. Others simply find his life inspiring. Mathius was a servant who learned skills as a sailor and fur trader to win his freedom. There are some details about Mathius' life we will probably never know, but there are enough facts to tell his story.


We don't know exactly what Mathius did in the first few years he lived in Maryland. He probably worked very hard with other indentured servants building houses and the new church for the Jesuits. Many servants also planted and harvested crops for food. He probably traveled by boat to Maryland's Eastern Shore with Father White. The priests visited the Native American people who lived there. We know that one of the Jesuit priests identified Mathius as, "Mathias Sousa, a Molato" in an important land record3 The record listed all of the people who came to Maryland with the Jesuits. Governor Leonard Calvert said the Jesuits owned farmland near St. Mary's City. The Governor allowed the priests and their servants to continue to lived and grow crops for food on this land.

The term "molato" used by the priest, is the old spelling for "mulatto," defined in the seventeenth-century as a person of mixed African and European descent. It is sometimes difficult to find out about a person's race if they lived in the seventeenth-century. "Mulatto" can also refer to the complexion (lightness or darkness) of a person's skin. We can only guess if this refers to Mathius' ancestry or to the color of his skin tone.4 His last name, "de Sousa," is common in Portugal, where perhaps Mathius' father was born. We also do not know how Mathias de Sousa thought of himself. Mathius left us no written record of what he said or thought. Several priests and public officials who knew Mathius recorded all of the information known about him.


During his years of service to the priests, Mathius had learned how to sail the small ship owned by the Jesuits. Mathius decided to earn his living as a fur trader and sailor. He earned money by trading English goods with Indians for animal furs and food. For a few years, he continued to work for the priests. The priests made him captain of their trading ship. Later, Mathius was captain of a trading ship owned by John Lewger, who was Secretary in the Maryland government. In March 1641, Mathius was elected as a representative at a Maryland Assembly meeting. This proves that Mathius was no longer a servant. He voted as a citizen. Then, colonists had a very hard year in 1642. The Susquehannock Indians attacked the English settlers. Mathius could not trade for furs during the Susquehannock invasion. He had trouble paying his rent and buying food. He owed money to three wealthy men: Governor Leonard Calvert, Captain Thomas Cornwaleys and John Hallowes.


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