New Englanders started fishing industry on the Gulf

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
E.E. Saunders & Co. Fish & Ice in Pensacola in this photo from the Florida Memory Project.

The Pensacola area had three major industries in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They were lumbering, brick making, and fishing. In our History Mystery this month we will explore the fishing industry in Northwest Florida and how men from New England were the major players.

Destin’s Fishing Rodeo has been a major event in Destin since 1948. Destin is known as “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” and fishing has been its major industry ever since Captain Leonard Destin, a native of New London, Connecticut, arrived, married a local girl (Martha McCullom) and permanently settled the area in 1852. But he wasn’t the only New Englander to find fishing was great along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Museum of Industry in Pensacola has a display of Pensacola’s Early Fishing Partnerships. In 1869, New Englander Sewell Cobb founded Pensacola Fish Company. In 1880, New Englander Andrew Fuller Warren founded Warren and Company. In 1882, New Englander Thomas E. Welles founded E. E. Saunders Company.

Sewell Cobb was born in Warren, Maine, in 1829. Initially, Mr. Cobb and his wife resided in Boston, Massachusetts, and wintered in Pensacola. Mr. Cobb was involved in various industries while in Pensacola, selling lumber and ice during and after the Civil War before expanding to fishing. He shipped ice to the south and fish to the north and had a large fleet of fishing vessels.

In 1869, Sewell Cobb founded the Pensacola Fish Company, which was the first fish company in Pensacola. Mr. Cobb was not only a businessman in Pensacola, but he was also in politics. He was elected mayor of Pensacola and also served in the state legislature.

Andrew Fuller Warren was born in Cabotsville, Massachusetts, on Dec. 18, 1842. Warren attended Brown University. He invested the money he got after the death of his mother into an ice shipping business. Before artificial ice was invented he shipped ice from Maine to Pensacola.

He married in 1872 and permanently moved to Pensacola. He started his fish company with his brother-in-law, Silas Stearns, in 1880.

Thomas E. Welles was born in Mystic, Connecticut, which was across the Thames River from New London, on Nov. 24, 1855. He came to Pensacola in 1878 and went to work at the Pensacola Fish Company. In 1882, he entered into a partnership with E. E. Saunders, a fishing captain, to create E. E. Saunders and Company.

Welles also had an interest in horses, and he helped organize the Pensacola Livery and Sales Stables. He had many other business ventures too, including being involved in the management of two banks and the Gulf of Mexico Marine Railway. He married in 1882 and was elected mayor of Pensacola in 1903.

On July 7, 1931, when the War Department began selling their property at the Moreno Point Military Reservation, E. E. Saunders & Company of Pensacola bought Lot 7-F on the Destin harbor, which contained 1.71 acres for $90. They purchased this land so they could establish an ice house right at the harbor where the Destin fisherman brought in their fish. They sold ice directly to the Destin fisherman and bought their catch of fish so it was no longer necessary for Destin fishermen to deliver their fish to Pensacola to be sold.

Today, Lot 7-F is owned by the Destin Fishing Co-operative and Broutula’s operates a restaurant at 210 Harbor Blvd. The Co-op has helped charter boat fishermen with fuel, dockage, fishing and boat supplies such as ice since 1989.

Snapper and grouper fishing was a big industry in Northwest Florida from the 1870s through the late 1930s. The fish companies’ owners were all from New England and worked together to establish fair prices for their catches. Pensacola’s fishing industry grew by nearly 300 percent by the 1890s. Pensacola fishing firms employed between 700 and 800 people and supplied fish to cities across the United States, mostly by railroad.

At this time Pensacola’s population was about 20,000, and as you can see, the fishing industry was made up of New Englanders. That includes Leonard Destin, who was from a fishing and whaling family in New London, Connecticut.

Today, Pensacola has many industries, but fishing is no longer its major industry. Leonard Destin is no longer with us, but his legacy remains and his decedents still call Destin home. In Destin, fishing is still a way of life and a major industry. The Destin harbor has the largest fishing fleet in the United States with over 125 charter boats waiting to take locals and visitors out to fish in the Gulf of Mexico, especially during the 71st Destin Fishing Rodeo.

H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian, author, and speaker. He visits often and lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas, with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published two Destin history books - DESTIN’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin and DESTIN Pioneer Settlers...A Land History of Destin, Florida from 1819-1940. Both can be obtained from, The Destin History & Fishing Museum, in Destin, The Indian Temple Mound in Fort Walton Beach, Magnolia House Gifts at Grand Boulevard, and Sundog Books in Seaside. Klein can be contacted directly at