The History of Cape Canaveral: Ais and Timucuans
While Cape Canaveral spent much of its history underwater, when it finally formed, the sea levels surrounding it were 20-30 feet below current levels. Early life in Cape Canaveral included camels, bison, mammoths, mastodons, and giant armadillos mixed in with the animals you can still find here today—rabbits, squirrels, deer, opossums, and raccoons. All of this early life was also coupled with the bounty of marine life pulled from the sea, making Cape Canaveral a prime location for living because of its plentiful resources that helped sustain life. At one point in our history, there were more types of animals here than anywhere else in North America.
The first area settled around Cape Canaveral was near Indian River Lagoon and the St. Johns River. Around 2000 BC, pottery and weapons were made, and the hunter/gatherer lifestyle flourished. As time moved forward towards Colonial times, two distinct tribes formed along the Indian River, known as the Ais and the Timucuans.
Europe first encountered the indigenous people of Cape Canaveral when Juan Ponce de Leon met Ais Indians right near Cape Canaveral. At the time, the Ais were powerful warriors. In the early days of European settlement, the Ais would attack shipwrecked parties and settlements. Over time, however, the Ais considered the Spanish friends and non-Spanish Europeans as enemies.
The Timucuans were much more docile than the Ais neighbors, but were a large tribe with significant resources. Primarily, the Timucuans were hunter/gatherers who were well accomplished at growing and farming crops. By the time European adventurers had arrived, they were known to have already developed ways to dry and store surplus food. They also grew and cultivated tobacco.
Neither the Ais nor the Timucuans should be confused with our state’s most famous tribe, the Seminoles. The Seminoles didn’t migrate to Florida until the 1700s, long after both the Ais and Timucuans were well established in and around Cape Canaveral.
Both tribes were eventually decimated by diseases brought by the European explorers and settlers, but their rich history is still alive in many places, such as during the upcoming five-day festival in nearby St. Augustine that will celebrate its 450 years of history (Friday, September 4th-Tuesday, September 8th).
Sharing Great Florida Coast stories from the Cape Winds Resort in Cape Canaveral,