Ais Tribe – Meaning unknown; there is no basis for Romans’ (1775) derivation from the Choctaw word “isi” (deer). Also called:
- Jece, form of the name given by Dickenson (1699).
Connections. Circumstantial evidence, particularly resemblance in town names, leads to the conclusion that the Ais language was similar to that of the Calusa and the other south Florida tribes. (See Calusa.) It is believed that it was connected with the Muskhogean stock.
Location. Along Indian River on the east coast of the peninsula.
Villages. The only village mentioned by explorers and geographers bears some form of the tribal name.
History. Fontaneda (1854) speaks of a Biscayan named Pedro who had been held prisoner in Ais, evidently during the sixteenth century, and spoke the Ais language fluently. Shortly after the Spaniards made their first establishments in the peninsula, a war broke out with the Ais, but peace was concluded in 1570. In 1597 Governor Mendez de Canço, who traveled along the entire east coast from the head of the Florida Keys to St. Augustine, reported that the Ais chief had more Indians under him than any other. A little later the Ais killed a Spaniard and two Indians sent to them by Canço for which summary revenge was exacted, and still later a difficulty was created by the escape of two Negro slaves and their marriage with Ais men. Relations between the Floridian government and these Indians were afterward friendly but efforts to missionize them uniformly failed. An intimate picture of their condition in 1699 is given by the Quaker Dickenson (1803), who was shipwrecked on the coast farther south and obliged, with his companions, to travel through their territory. They disappear from history after 1703, but the remnant may have been among those who, according to Romans (1775), passed over to Cuba in 1763, although he speaks of them all as Calusa.
Population. Mooney (1928) estimates the number of Indians on the southeastern coast of Florida in 1650, including this tribe, the Tekesta, Guacata, and Jeaga, to have been 1,000. As noted above, the Ais were the most important of these and undoubtedly the largest. We have no other estimates of population applying to the seventeenth century. In 1726, 88 “Costa” Indians were reported in a mission farther north and these may have been drawn from the southeast coast. In 1728, 52 “Costa” Indians were reported.
Connection in which they have become noted. The Ais were noted as the most important tribe of southeastern Florida, and they were probably responsible for the fact that the watercourse on which they dwelt came to be called Indian River.