Atlantic Ais in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: Maritime adaptation, indigenous wrecking, and buccaneer raids on Florida's central east coast

Peter John Ferdinando, Florida International University


The Ais were a Native American group who lived along the Atlantic shoreline of Florida south of Cape Canaveral. This coastal population’s position adjacent to a major shipping route afforded them numerous encounters with the Atlantic world that linked Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Through their exploitation of the goods and peoples from the European shipwrecks thrown ashore, coupled with their careful manipulation of other Atlantic contacts, the Ais polity established an influential domain in central east Florida during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The pre-contact peoples of Florida’s east coast, including the ancestors of the Ais, practiced a maritime adaptation concentrated on the exploitation of their bountiful riverine, estuarine, and marine environments. The Ais then modified their maritime skills to cope with the opportunities and challenges that accompanied European contact. Using their existing aquatic abilities, they ably salvaged goods and castaways from the Spanish, French, English, and Dutch vessels dashed on the rocks and reefs of Florida’s coast. The Ais’ strategic redistribution of these materials and peoples to other Florida Native Americans, the Spaniards of St. Augustine, and other passing Europeans gained them greater influence. This process, which I call indigenous wrecking, enabled the Ais to expand their domain on the peninsula. Coastal Florida Native Americans’ maritime abilities also attracted the attention of Europeans. In the late seventeenth century, English buccaneers and salvagers raided Florida’s east coast to capture indigenous divers, whom they sent to work the wreck of a sunken Spanish treasure ship located in the Bahamas. The English subsequently sold the surviving Native American captives to other Caribbean slave markets. Despite population losses to such raids, the Ais and other peoples of the east coast thrived on Atlantic exchange and used their existing maritime adaptation to resist colonial intrusions until the start of the eighteenth century. This dissertation thus offers a narrative about Native Americans and the Atlantic that is unlike most Southeastern Indian stories. The Ais used their maritime adaptation and the process of indigenous wrecking to engage and exploit the arriving Atlantic world. In the contact era, the Ais truly became Atlantic Ais.

Subject Area

Latin American history|History|Native American studies

Recommended Citation

Ferdinando, Peter John, "Atlantic Ais in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries: Maritime adaptation, indigenous wrecking, and buccaneer raids on Florida's central east coast" (2015). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3721473.