THE FIRST SETTLERS, 10,000 BC to 1820
by Vera Zimmerman
Wave after wave of settlers have washed over the place we now know as Brevard County. Ancient stone spear points found on the shores of Lake Hell 'n' Blazes tell archaeologists that the earliest inhabitants were here about 12,000 years ago. (Bense 1990) They left no family photos of women and children gathering palm berries and coco plums. They left no stories of hunters waiting in ambush for herds of mastodon.
By 8000 years ago there were villages of people living a more settled life along the river we now call the St. Johns. Excavations at the Windover Site uncovered evidence of people who wove fine cloth, shaped tools of bone and shell and buried their dead in mortuary ponds. (Purdy 1988)
About 5000 years ago ocean level rose enough to flood the Indian River lagoon with salt water. Oysters and clams flourished and Native American populations increased. The first pottery in North America was made 4000 years ago along the east coast of Florida and Georgia. Broken pieces of that pottery, known to archaeologists as Orange fiber-tempered pottery, were first found along the St. Johns River at Orange Mound, just west of today's Orange-Brevard County line. (Bense 1990, Dickel 1992)
The St. Johns and Indian Rivers were highways for Indian dugout canoes. Trade routes connected the people here to other Native American populations. Shell mounds grew along the Indian River as generation after generation of families feasted on the rich harvest of the lagoon.
The arrival of the Spanish in the 1500s found the Native Americans living much the same as their ancestors had for thousands of years. The Spaniards called the people along the Indian River the Ays or Ais (pronounced Ah EES) for the chief of the largest village near today's Vero Beach. Ponce de Leon's first landfall is believed to have been in Ais territory somewhere south of Cape Canaveral. (Griffin and Miller, 1968)
Our best description of the Ais comes from Englishman Jonathan Dickinson who was shipwrecked near Jupiter Inlet in 1696 and made his way through Ais territory to the Spanish settlement at St. Augustine:
"They had their hair tied in a roll behind in which stuck two bones shaped, one like a broad arrow, the other a spearhead." They wore "a piece of plat-work of straw 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, coming between the legs, and strings to the end of the belt; all three meeting together and fastened behind with a horsetail, or a bunch of silk-grass exactly resembling it, of a flaxen color, this being all the apparel or covering that the men wear..." Jonathan Dickinson (Andrews, 1975)
European diseases and raiding by the English and their Indian allies reduced the number of Ais. By 1715 when the Spanish set up a salvage camp near the Rio San Sebastian to recover treasure from their shipwrecked fleet, they mentioned seeing only a few Ais fishermen. (Rouse 1951, 1981)
Most of the remaining Ais left with the Spanish when the British took control of Florida in 1763. What is now Brevard County was then part of British East Florida. Creek Indians from Alabama and Georgia began to move south into the peninsula. The British called this new wave of settlers Seminoles after the Creek word for Wild Ones or Separatists. (Gannon 1993) The Panton, Leslie Company set up trading posts along the St. Johns River to trade with the Seminoles.
Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution caused the population of British East Florida to swell from 3,000 in 1776 to 17,000 a few years later. There were some land grants in today's Brevard county during the British period, notably one grant of 10,000 acres on the west side of the Indian River across from the Haulover to Thomas Bradshaw and one of 20,000 acres to Col. William Faucitt at the head of the Indian River. (Seibert, Loyalists in East Florida, 1929) The Bisset plantation was located near the current boundary of Brevard and Volusia Counties. Bisset worked about 30 slaves on his grant, clearing about 137 acres and growing indigo. (Adams,1987)
When the Spanish returned to Florida in 1784, the population fell to under 2,000 and most plantations were abandoned, but some of the people remained. An oath of loyalty to the Spanish government was the only requirement for land ownership and the British Panton, Leslie Company continued trade with the Indians. The population during the second Spanish period included Spanish, Minorcan, Indian, Anglo, and Black, both free and slave. (Adams, 1987)
The Spanish encouraged settlement by making land grants. The Pouchard, Fontaine, Garvin, Acosta, and Segui Grants were north of what is now Mims. The Reyes Grant was on the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Delespine Grant covered an area south of Titusville. Merritt Island was granted to John H. McIntosh and the Fleming Grant was in the area of the San Sebastian River. (WPA, 1941, Land Grant map)
From 1803 until 1835 Domingo Reyes planted sugar cane and operated a sugar mill at his plantation. He was the inspector and overseer of the Spanish Royal Hospital at St. Augustine. The ruins of the mill are on the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The Delespine Grant was one of the largest ever granted by the Spanish. Governor Jose Coppinger conceded the 43,000 acre tract to Joseph Delespine, a French physician, in 1817. It was located at what was later called Indian River City. (WPA, 1941)
Spanish East Florida became a haven for runaway slaves and Seminole Indians. Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River provided a setting for contraband trade and slave smuggling. English freebooter, William Augustus Bowles, who declared himself Prince of the Muscogees, is reported to have used the Indian River as a center for contraband dealings. (Adams 1987)
Indian, Spanish and British settlement in the area that would come to be known as Brevard County left little evidence. The subtropical plant growth slowly covered Native American shell mounds, and palm thatched houses. When Andrew Jackson raised the United States flag over Florida in 1821, the banks of the Indian River did, indeed, appear unsettled.
Copyright Vera Zimmerman
Used with permission
by Vera Zimmerman
The Indian River was the Rio de Ays or the Laguna de Ays to the Spanish. The English called it the Hes and Jece and maps after 1820 labeled it the Indian River.
Cape Canaveral is the oldest place name in Brevard County. It is sometimes translated as "place of canes." Marjory Stoneman Douglas wrote "The name 'Canaveral,' meaning 'cane bearer' for the great reeds then in the swamp at the southward bight of the cape, appeared on Florida maps after 1520". She believed it was Spanish ship captain Francisco Gordillo who named the cape for the Ais indians who used arrows made from cane to repel Spanish invaders. (Gill, 1975)
Spanish soldier Alvaro Mexia came from St. Augustine to meet with the Ais chief in 1605. He drew a rough map of the Mosquito Lagoon and Indian River with place names of Surruque, Urribia, Urruya, Suyagueche, Potopotoya, Ulumay, Saboboche, Savochequeya, Pentoaya and the Baya Grande de Ays. (Rouse 1951, 1981) Only the name Ulumay has survived as the name of the Ulumay Wildlife Refuge on Merritt Island, named by naturalist and local historian Johnnie Johnson.
The St. Johns River was called Welaka or Illaca meaning String of Pearls by the Indians. The French called it the River of May. The Spanish first called it San Mateo and later San Juan. The English translated that to St. John and the 's' was added by early map makers. It was the first highway into the area for the Native Americans and later European settlers.
Sebastian and St. Lucie
The St. Sebastian and St. Lucie Rivers were both named by the Spanish. A settlement was attempted by Governor Pedro Menendez near the Rio San Sebastian, but conflicts with the Ais soon caused them to move south to the Rio Santa Lucia. This settlement was also soon abandoned. (Rouse, 1951, 1981)
Some sources say the name Pineda comes from the stands of piney woods in the area, but it is hard to believe that the person suggesting the name was unaware of the Spanish explorer Juan Pineda who made the first map that showed Florida to be a peninsula and not an island.
New Smyrna was named by Scottish physician Dr. Andrew Turnbull for Smyrna, Turkey, the birth place of his wife. Turnbull's plantation was on the northern boundary of what is now Brevard County. In 1766 he brought about 300 families from Minorca, Greece, and Italy as indentured laborers. Turnbull's indigo plantation was a failure and the surviving settler's fled to St. Augustine.
The Spanish referred to Merritt Island as Isla de Punta de Piedra or Stoney Point. The tip of Merritt Island has a distinctive outcropping of coquina rock eroded by water into fantastic shapes.
Merritt Island was referred to as Merritt's Island as early as 1803 and as recently as 1930. The post office was commissioned as Merritt Island on June 1, 1935. In John McIntosh's grant it is described as "An island in the Rio Ais, known by the name of the Isla de Punta de Piedra or by the Isla de Marrat, which name was given by the memorialist having a man of the same name residing thereon." (Spanish Land Grants in Florida, vol. IV, Con. M28b-c, M29) Some believe Marratt may have been Captain Pedro Marratt, head surveyor of the Spanish governor in East Florida from 1791-1800. McIntosh was said to have 250 people on his grant including five white men, two of them with their families. (Certificate of Grant, May 18, 1803) The earliest map on which Merritt's Island is named is the 1823 Tanner map
Copyright Vera Zimmerman
Used with permission
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