Mathias de Sousa
From Indentured Servant to Freeman
Possibly of African and Portuguese descent, Mathias de Sousa was one of the nine indentured servants brought to Maryland by Jesuit missionaries, and was on the Ark when Lord Baltimore’s expedition arrived in the St. Mary’s River in 1634. He was one of the first individuals of African descent to settle in the Maryland colony. His indenture was finished by 1638, and he became a mariner and fur trader. In 1641, he commanded a trading voyage to the Susquehannock Indians and in 1642 was master of a small cargo vessel belonging to the Provincial Secretary, John Lewger. While living here, he served in the 1642 legislative assembly of freemen. This would possibly make Mathias de Sousa the first man of African descent to participate in an Assembly in English America. No records remain of his activities after 1642. Keep in mind that until 1670, Maryland allowed all freemen (any man who was not a servant) regardless of color or religion, to participate and vote in the colonial assembly. Even freemen of color such as Mathias de Sousa had the right to vote.
In a document the Jesuits filed to claim his headright, Mathias de Sousa was referred to as “mulatto,” which in the 17th century usually refers to people with dark skin of mixed heritage. Historians think many “mulattos” were from Africa or had African ancestry.