Titusville, Florida Centennial — 1867-1967
ExplorationThe first accurate account of the Cape Canaveral area was made by the noted Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon when on May 8, 1513, he and his men anchored off shore from an Ais Indian village just below the Cape. By the year 1550, Spanish ships were sailing with regularity northward through the Caribbean and up the Florida straits to catch the prevailing western winds that drove their ships home to Spain loaded with gold and treasure from the New World.
In addition to the perils and uncertainty of the sea, these early Spanish explorers were faced with the presence of scurvy, an additional and equally perilous danger. On Columbus' third or fourth voyage almost every sailor eventually died of scurvy because of the absence of any citrus fruit. As possible solution each departing ship was required to have stored in the Captain's cabin a keg of lime for each sailor aboard. This solution was beset with problems. The D.me juice would sour and ferment in the kegs to such a point that the sailors who drank it became drunk. Eventually the fermentation would split the kegs. Later the King in another vain attempt dictated that each sailor who came to the new world would plant 100 orange seeds. However, the hot Florida sun and the lack of care killed all the plants which sprouted from the seeds.
At last the King decreed that each sailor bring ten young orange trees with him to the New World and plant them ashore. This plan not only eliminated the problem of scurvy among the Spanish sailors but also gave birth to the Indian River Orange.
The Spaniards were not renowned for their charitable inclinations toward the New World and its savages. As a result their ships were often heavy with contributions of gold, silver and assorted treasure. Many of these vessels wrecked along the shores of Florida in general and the Brevard area in particular. The Ais were quick to grasp the realities of the situation. They killed the shipwrecked Spanish CL."I.d took the treasure. When a ship went ashore anywhere near an Ais village, the Ais would, upon the acknowledged signal, take the ship, kill the survivors and capture the gold and silver. This booty was then carried back tc the village and buried under the chief's tent for safekeeping. The Ais therefore became the wealthiest tribe in North America when measured by the white man's standard.
The exploration of the French touched on the Cape Canaveral area in 1565 when Admiral Jean Ribault passed by Cape Canaveral on his journey to the mouth of the st. Johns River to reinforce an established French garrison. 1".11s French fort established near Jacksonville was known as Fort Caroline. On this trip it is written that Ribault paused briefly in an Ais village and rescued two sailors who had been captured by the Indians. One of the two had been a prisoner of the Ais for fourteen years.
Phillip II of Spain considered the French a threat to Spanish settlement and sent Admiral Pedro Menendez de Aviles to destroy the French colony at Fort Caroline. Accompanying Menendez were 2,646 persons aboard 34 Spanish vessels. The ensuing massacre of the French resulted in the settlement and establishment of the City of St. Augustine in 1565.
There were no major incidents between the Spaniards and the Indians between 1513 to 1564. The Spanish had declared the majority of Florida as off limits since the Indians were so hostile and the land virtually impenetrable. During this period the fun and profit lay in exploitation of Mexico and Central and South America. However, after the destruction of their colony by Menendez and his Armada, the Frenchmen who survived fled south to the Canaveral area where they established a smaller fort and began to construct a ship. Menendez was informed of this activity by friendly Indians and began a journey in belated pursuit. He found the infant French fort, destroyed it and captured all of the survivors.
During this journey through the Cape Canaveral area, Menendez passed through several Ais villages and established friendly relations by presenting gifts to the local fhiefs. In on" of these villages in the Indian River area Menendez discovered a Spaniard who had lived with the Indians for eighteen years. His ship had run ashore near Cape Canaveral and the Indians had killed every survivor of the wreck except this man. He was a silversmith and his life had been spared for that reason. The Indians delighted in having the silverman make small trinkets and rings to hang on their ears. The Spaniard had given up all hope of escape or rescue and had married an Indian who bore him two daughters.
Menendez was incensed when he became aware of the fate of his shipwrecked countrymen at the hands of the Ais. A story is told that on this trip through the Brevard area he became intent upon seeking revenge. As a consequence he and his men entered .into an Indian village under the pretense of friendship and good will. He decreed that a great banquet would be prepared for all the village men. However, he had instructed his men for action at a prearranged signal - three claps of his hand: Each Spaniard positioned himself beside an Indian and upon the thrice clapping of Menendez's hand, leaped to his feet and with his knife killed the startled Indian sitting beside him. Thus it is said that a thousand Indian men were killed that day by the Spaniards.
The Ais quite naturally became resentful of these 'and other ruthless acts inflicted upon the n by the Spaniards. The Ais and the other tribes resolved to renounce all elements of civilization and return to savagry. They renounced everything that carne from Spain. They cut down and burned their orange trees, killed their horses and cattle and destroyed everything the Spaniards had given or taught them in the previous 150 years. As the ultimate renouncement and a drarnat ic expression of their intense desire to revert back to savagry, all of the Indians symbolically removed their clothing and burned them on the tribal bonfire. They then bathed in the Indian River and shed themselves of all vestiges and Spanish civilization and thereby returned to savagry. Open hostilities soon erupted and from about 1566 to around 1600 the Spanish did not frequent the land of the Ais.
In 1604, when Pedro de Ybarra was Governor of the Florida territory, the relationship between the Spaniards and the Ais improved. Many of the local chiefs and leaders of the Ais visited in St. Augustine at the request of Ybarra. In turn in June of 1605, Ybarra sent a soldier, Alvaro Mexia, at the request of the Ais, on a good will mission to visit the local Ais tribal villages. Mexia travelled with his peace offering through the mosquito lagoon area, Playalinda Beach and near where the Vertical Assembly Building now stands. He went as far south as Sebastian and then returned up the Indian River. His diplomatic success was such that he secured an agreement from the local Ais chiefs that they would confine their killing to the Dutch, French and English who occasionally appeared in the area and would report any shipwrecked Spanish sailors to the settlement at St. Augustine. However, this agreement was readily violated by the Ais to the disadvantage of numerous shipwrecked Spanish sailors. In spite of this, a friendly relationship existed for almost 100 years. It was during this period in October of 1696 that Johnathan Dickerson made his famous journey to the Ais country. His Journal indicates that their culture was still aboriginal, with little evidence of Spanish influence.
As the years passed, the Ais became more friendly with all white men. It is still not known with certainty to what extent the Ais accepted Christianity. In 1675 Bishop Calderon who had just visited the Indian River area listed the Ais as a heathen tribe.
Meanwhile events were taking place that ultimately led to the extinction of the Ais. Incited by the British, the Greeks and other Indian tribes of the Georgia and Carolina areas began around 1680 to raid the Spanish missions in Florida. These raids were extended further and further into Florida with increasing frequency. By 1763 the Ais had been disbursed and driven from the Indian River area and were no longer a recognized tribe. These northern tribes developed into what is today referred to as the Seminole Indians.
In 1753, as a result of her involvement in the French and Indian War, Spain was forced to surrender Florida to England. The English activity was confined to northern and western Florida, due to the hostility of the Seminoles. Spain again gained control of Florida after the American Revolution. Large land grants were given to soldiers and to persons to whom Spain was indebted. The Delesplne Grant was one such land grant. The southern part of Titusville is located in the extreme northwest corner of this grant. The Delesplne Grant was the last grant conveyed by the Spanish before Florida's cession to the United States. The Grant was made in 1818 to the King's physician, Dr. DeLespine. in recognition of professional and political service to his Majesty. Few of these land grants were ever actually occupied by their title holders.