Ais (tribe)

Ais (tribe)

:"For other uses of the word, or the acronym, see AIS."The Ais, or Ays were a tribe of Native Americans who inhabited the Atlantic Coast of Florida. They ranged from present day Cape Canaveral to the St. Lucie Inlet, in the present day counties of Brevard, Indian River, St. Lucie and northernmost Martin. They lived in villages and towns along the shores of the great lagoon called "Rio de Ais" by the Spanish, and now called the Indian River.

Little is known of the origins of the Ais, or of the affinities of their language. The Ais language has been tentatively assigned by some authors to the Muskogean language family, and by others to the Arawakan language family.

Observations on the appearance, diet and customs of the Ais at the end of the 17th Century are found in Jonathan Dickinson's "Journal". Dickinson and his party were shipwrecked, and spent several weeks among the Ais in 1696. By Dickinson's account, the chief of the town of Jece, near present day Vero Beach, was paramount to all of the coastal towns from the Jaega town of Jobe (at Jupiter Inlet) in the south to approximately Cape Canaveral in the north (that is, the length of the "River of Ais").Andrews, Charles Mclean and Evangeline Walker Andrews. 1945. "Jonathan Dickinson's Journal or, God's Protecting Providence. Being the Narrative of a Journey from Port Royal in Jamaica to Philadelphia between August 23, 1696 to April 1, 1697". Yale University Press. Reprinted (1981) Port Salerno, Florida: Florida Classics Library.]

The Ais had considerable contact with Europeans by this time. Spain had established some control over the coast, with the Ais regarding the Spanish as "comerradoes" and non-Spanish Europeans as enemies. A number of Ais men knew a little Spanish, and a patrol of Spanish soldiers from St. Augustine arrived in Jece while the Dickinson party was there. There was one man in Jece who had been taken away on an English ship to work as a diver on a wreck east of Cuba. He got away when the ship put in for water in Cuba, and had made his way back to his home via Havana and St. Augustine. The Ais had many European artifacts from ship wrecks. As there was a group from another English shipwreck in Jece when the Dickinson party reached the town, it may be presumed that European and African survivors of shipwrecks were fairly common along the coast. There was also some trade with St. Augustine. Dickinson reports that one man of Jece had approximately five pounds of ambergris, and that he "boasted that when he went for Augustine with that, he would purchase of the Spaniards a looking-glass, an axe, a knife or two, and three or four "mannocoes" (which is about five or six pounds) of tobacco." [Andrews and Andrews, p.43.]

The Ais did not survive long after Dickinson's sojourn with them. Shortly after 1700 settlers in Carolina started raiding the Ais to capture slaves. By 1743, when the Spanish established a mission among them, the Ais numbers were declining due to slave raids, disease and rum. The Ais were all but gone from the area by 1760. Some remained on the Island of John in the Indian River. (citation needed)


Dickinson stated that the Ais "neither sow nor plant any manner of thing whatsoever" (p. 36), but fished and gathered palmetto, cocoplum and seagrape berries. Dickinson described the fishing technique of the neighboring Jaega people of Jobe thus:: [T] he Casseekey [of Jobe] ... sent his son with his striking staff to the inlet to strike fish for us; which was performed with great dexterity; for some of us walked down with him, and though we looked very earnestly when he threw his staff from him could not see a fish at which time he saw it, and brought it onshore on the end of his staff. Sometimes he would run swiftly pursuing a fish, and seldom missed when he darted at him. In two hours time he got as many fish as would serve twenty men [.] [Andrews and Andrews, p.13.]

The Ais boiled their fish, and ate them from 'platters' of palmetto leaf::About noon was some fish brought us on small palmetto leaves, being boiled with scales, head and gills, and nothing taken from them but the gut [.] [Andrews and Andrews, p.25.]

Dickinson also recorded a gift of clams to his wife: :This day the Cassekey [of Jece] ... made presents to some of us, especially to my wife; he gave her a parcel of shellfish, which are known by the name of clams; one or two he roasted and gave her, showing that she must serve the rest so, and eat them. [Andrews and Andrews, pp.25-6.]

The Ais dried some of the berries they gathered for future use: :This week we observed that great baskets of dried berries were brought in from divers towns and delivered to the king or Young Caseekey [of Jece.] [Andrews and Andrews, p.39.]

Dickinson does not say anything about the Ais hunting, but they did use deer skins, and the neighboring Jaega people of Jobe gave the Dickinson party a hog they had killed.


The Ais men wore a "loincloth" of woven palm leaves. Dickinson describes this as: :being a piece of platwork of straws wrought of divers colors and of a triangular figure, with a belt of four fingers broad of the same wrought together, which goeth about the waist and the angle of the other having a thing to it, coming between the legs, and strings to the end of the belt; all three meeting together are fastened behind by a horsetail, or a bunch of silkgrass exactly resembling it, of a flaxen color, this being all of the apparel or covering that the men wear. [Andrews and Andrews, pp.23-4.]

He has little to say on how the women dressed, recording only that his wife and female slaves were given "raw deer skins" with which to cover themselves after their European clothing had been taken away. Women of the Tequesta tribe, to the south of the Ais, were reported to wear "shawls" made of woven palm leaves, and "skirts” made from draped fibers from the Spanish dagger (Yucca), similar to the "grass" skirts of Hawaii.


Dickinson states that the town of Jece "stood about half a mile from the seashore within the land on the sound, being surrounded with a swamp, in which grew white mangrove trees, which hid the town from the sea." [Andrews and Andrews, p.29.]

Dickinson describes the Cacique's house in Santa Lucea as "about forty foot long and twenty-five foot wide, covered with palmetto leaves both top and sides. There was a range of cabins, or a barbecue on one side and two ends. At the entering on one side of the house a passage was made of benches on each side leading to the cabins." [Andrews and Andrews, p.23.]

ubject tribes

The Surruque to the north and the Jaega to the south were politically subordinate to the Ais.


* [ Article on Ais Indians]
*"Let us Alone". 1983. William R. Ervin. ISBN 0-915447-00-2
*Melbourne and Eau Gallie. Karen Raley and Ann Raley Flotte. Arcadia Publishing. 2002.
*Andrews, Charles Mclean and Andrews, Evangeline Walker (1945). "Jonathan Dickinson's Journal or, God's Protecting Providence. Being the Narrative of a Journey from Port Royal in Jamaica to Philadelphia between August 23, 1696 to April 1, 1697". Yale University Press. Reprinted (1981) Florida Classics Library.
*Austin, Daniel W. (1997). The Glades Indians and the Plants they Used. Ethnobotany of an Extinct Culture. "The Palmetto", 17(2):7 -11. (14 September, 2002). [] - accessed 27 November 2005
*Bullen, Adelaide K. 1965. Chapter XXIV Florida Indians of Past and Present, in Tebeau, Carson. "Florida from Indian Trail to Space Age". (pp. 317-350). Southern Publishing Company.

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