EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of several articles from the diary of Fanny Destin, a member of the Leonard Destin family and the fishing industry.
This diary provides a window to the past and tells what life was like when today’s Destin was rural and undeveloped. It was referred to as East Pass.
Leonard Destin who gave his name to this area was born in New London, Conn., in 1813. He married Martha J. McCullom of South Carolina, who was born in 1835. They arrived here on the remote East Pass Peninsula in the 1850s and came for the coastal fishing.
Their daughter, Fanny Destin (1869-1902), who was 11, kept this diary about her life during the late spring and early summer of 1881. Most of her days during the week were similar.
After breakfast, she worked on her lessons with a woman named Aunt Ellen. Then she appeared to be free for a while before she went to the kitchen and helped a woman named Priss prepare dinner. Since Fanny was from a family of fishermen, the weather was very important to her and the others at East Pass. Each day Fannie never failed to report the wind direction. Below are some of her entries with my notes in parenthesis.
April 28, 1881 — This morning when I woke up and found that it was a very nice morning. Father and his men went fishing very early indeed, and I think that they will get fish. I hope they will. After breakfast I came in and recited my lesson to Aunt Ellen. I am getting along in my studies very well and so are my brothers. Today I have been very busy pulling up grass from our yard. It makes it look very nice and clean. (People did not allow grass or weeds to grow in their yards. They wanted the ground barren so they could sweep it clean if necessary.)
Our flowers are growing very nice and some of them are blooming. They smell very nice. The mulberries are getting ripe, and I shall be very glad, I like them. After dinner I came in and read my lesson to Aunt Ellen. The wind is blowing quite strong. Father and his men have come from fishing. They caught 102 pompano.
(Destin was a small community at that time. Whenever Leonard Destin and his crew caught enough fish, his son George took the fish to market in Pensacola. When the wind was with him, he made good time. But he could get becalmed and stuck on the boat until the wind began blowing again at any time. He and the rest of the fishermen relied on sails and oars to get anywhere they wanted to go.)
Apr. 29, 1881 - This morning it was very nice indeed. The sun shone out very bright, and Father and men are fishing. After breakfast I came in and read my lesson to Aunt Ellen. I am studying grammar, and I get along very well with it. After I had finished with my lessons, I went out and ate some mulberries. I like them very much. I am glad to say they caught fish. I hope they will catch more tomorrow. Very soon the bell rang, and so we ate our dinner. Wind is west, and the sun is shining bright.
(In the early days. Destin and other men fished near the Gulf beaches with their seine nets. They trawled from yawls or “pull boats,” manned by long oars called sweeps, because they did not yet have motors. Two fourteen-foot seine boats, with four men to a crew fished as a team. The Captain and two crewmen occupied one boat and handled the seine. The fishermen in the other boat served as tenders. Their nets were 136 fathoms and the seine boat could handle approximately 2,000 pounds of fish.)
4/30/1881 — This morning I woke up and found it to be a very nice day. Father and his men went fishing. After my lessons I went out and gathered some mulberries to eat. Father came home but I am sorry, very sorry, to say they caught no fish. So George went to Pensacola with the fish they had already caught. After dinner I came in and recited my lesson for Aunt Ellen. Wind from the west — sun is shining beautiful.
(When George took fish to Pensacola he sold them to E.E. Saunders of the Warren Fish Co. On the return trip, George brought ice for transporting the next catch of fish to Pensacola. They packed this ice with sawdust to cut down on the melting.)
(Fruits and vegetables were very important to the families. They could not go to the store as we do today. Just about everyone had a garden where they grew vegetables and fruit. They also took advantage of the berries that grew wild. It was not unusual to see grown men in the woods gathering berries to eat.)
Sunday - 5/1/1881 — Sun shining bright. Wind from the east blowing quite strong. After breakfast I gathered some pretty flowers for Aunt Ellen then Mother, Alfred, Andrew and myself went over to the hill. Father and his men went fishing. Soon dinner was ready and we ate. Then Mother, Andrew, Alfred and myself went to gather blackberries but did not get many. This afternoon the bees swarmed.
(On Sundays the Destins broke the daily routine, and the children did not have lessons. Besides Fanny, Aunt Ellen taught her brothers, but at a different time. Sometimes Fanny commented about them in her diary.)
5/2/1881 — Sun bright. Father and his men went fishing very early. Now the wind is east, blowing quite strong. Aunt Ellen washed out clothes. I pulled up some grass out of the yard. It makes it look very clean. Today George came back from Pensacola. Father caught 250 fish. After dinner, I came in and read my lessons to Aunt Ellen.
5/3/1881 — Sun shining. Father and his men went fishing. I gathered some mulberries to cook for dinner. Father came in from fishing. They caught enough to make out a load. So George left for Pensacola. I do not like to see him go off again. Wind blowing from the south, very softly.
(After a catch in the seine fishing business, the boat received three shares, the captain one share, the cook one share, and the crew members each drew one share.)
Stay tuned to future editions of The Log for more stories from the diary.
Marlene Womack is a local historian and author living in Panama City. She writes a weekly column for the Panama City News Herald about the history of the Florida Panhandle.