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Why did Destin wait until 1852 to settle Moreno Point?

Staff Writer
The Destin Log
The Destin Log

Locals and visitors alike have heard the story of how the Founding Father of what we know today as Destin founded the small fishing village in the mid-1800s. As outlined in my book, “DESTIN’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin,” a total of 10 fishermen left their homes in New London, Connecticut, in late August 1835. Leonard Destin, his brother Nathan were in one fishing smack (the sloop Gallant) and Leonard’s father, George, and his brother, William, were in another fishing smack (the sloop Empress). These fishermen were extending their fishing season by sailing to the Florida Keys to fish in the winter of 1835-36.

While on that voyage, they ran into a hurricane off the east coast of central Florida on Sept. 15, 1835. Four of the five crew members of the sloop Empress drowned, including Leonard Destin’s father, George Destin, and his older brother, William Destin. Leonard and his younger brother Nathan Destin, along with three other crew members of the sloop Gallant did not drown when their vessel was wrecked. However, they were marooned on a Florida barrier island for over two months. Our History Mystery this month reveals why Leonard Destin left Florida after his shipwreck and why he did not return to Florida and settle at Moreno Point (Destin, Florida) until 1852.

The sloop Gallant had a crew of five. The master (captain) of the Gallant was Frederick Gallup. Based upon his age, Leonard Destin (age 22) was probably his first mate. Upon finally being rescued from the barrier island off what is today Vero Beach, they arrived at Key West on Nov. 19, 1835.

Upon arrival in Key West, Frederick Gallup became the master of the sloop Two Brothers. The Two Brothers was an older vessel having been built 40 years earlier in Stonington, Connecticut, in 1795. The Two Brothers might have been too old a vessel to make the return trip in the Atlantic Ocean to New London. In the spring of 1836, Frederick Gallup and the crew of the Two Brothers left Key West for New Orleans. They arrived at New Orleans on May 4, 1936. Why New Orleans?

There were several reasons they probably wanted to leave Key West when spring arrived:

They had been through a terrible hurricane, and Leonard’s father and older brother had died. He had been marooned on a barrier island in Florida for over two months. Florida had not been very hospitable to him.

When spring came so did yellow fever and malaria, and many of the fishermen left Key West and went back home until the next fall.

Florida was still a territory, was untamed, and was 10 years from statehood.

The Second Seminole War broke out a month after they arrived in Key West and continued to 1842, which may have been the most practical reason.

The Second Seminole War began on Dec. 28, 1835, in Central Florida in an area that is today in Sumter County. It was known as the Dade Massacre and all but three of 110 men of an Army command were killed. Then on Jan. 9, 1836, the settlement at New River (Fort Lauderdale) was attacked. The settlement was abandoned and the settlers moved to Key West.

This was less than two months after Leonard Destin and the crew of the Gallant arrived in Key West. The Second Seminole War may have been the main reason or just another good reason why they decided to leave Key West the next spring.

The Creek Indians were also at war in Northwest Florida. In the March 11, 1837, edition of the Pensacola Gazette newspaper, there was an article titled: “INDIAN AFFAIRS – Creek Hostilities.” The article mentions that “ravages and murders” were being committed by a band of Creek Indians to settlers in areas around the Blackwater River, Yellow River, Alaqua, and lower Alabama.

Florida, even Northwest Florida, was nowhere for Leonard Destin to settle down while Florida was still a territory. The Second Seminole War continued until Aug. 14, 1842. So we now know why they might have wanted to leave Key West, and for that matter Florida, in the spring of 1836. But what beckoned them to go to New Orleans, Louisiana?

The Louisiana Purchase was made in 1803, and Louisiana had become a state of the Union in 1812. So it was more advanced and probably offered more opportunities than Florida at that time.

Additionally, Leonard Destin didn’t have his own vessel yet, so he had to stick with someone who was a master and had a vessel. The master of the sloop Gallant was Frederick Gallup, who knew his way around and had been to Florida four times before. In the 1831-1840 New Orleans Customs House records there were 22 vessels in New Orleans from New London County. And Leonard’s captain (master), Frederick Gallup, already had relatives in New Orleans.

One possible reason they ventured to New Orleans is the fact that others from the Gallup family were already in New Orleans, Louisiana. Joseph Gallup and Simeon Gallup were also in Volume III of the New Orleans Ship Register along with Frederick Gallup. These were probably all relatives, and maybe even his brothers. This may have provided the reason for Frederick Gallup and the sloop Two Brothers to voyage to New Orleans after leaving Key West, instead of returning to New London, Connecticut. Leonard Destin may have just tagged along looking for adventure and to make his living fishing in the Gulf of Mexico where fishing was good all year long.

On Nov. 28, 1837, Leonard Destin is listed in the U.S. Customs House records in New Orleans as the master of a vessel. This is the first time Leonard Destin is an owner and master of his own vessel. His vessel is the Creole, a 39-foot sloop rig, built in Waterford, Connecticut, in 1835. Leonard listed his home as New London, Connecticut, and one of three owners when the vessel was enrolled in New Orleans. The homeport of the sloop Creole was New Orleans, Louisiana.

So, we see that Leonard Destin did not return to his home in New London, Connecticut, when he left Key West. However, it appears that he still considered his home as New London, Connecticut, when he registered his first vessel in New Orleans. That was to change with his next vessel.

The next time we find Leonard Destin in the U.S. Customs House records in New Orleans was in 1845. He is now one of the five owners of the Nelson, a 36-foot sloop rig, built in New London, Connecticut in 1829. The homeport of the sloop Nelson was New Orleans, Louisiana, and Leonard listed his residence as Mobile, Alabama. He had been gone from his family home in New London, Connecticut, for nearly 10 years at this point.

The third and final time we find documentation of Leonard Destin was in 1851. His vessel was now the Alabama, a 36-foot sloop rig, newly built in Santa Rosa County. He is not only the master but also three-quarters owner of the sloop Alabama. The other owner is Stephan Rhodes, and both owners are from Lake Pontchartrain, Orleans Parrish.

It wasn’t until 1852 that Leonard Destin permanently settled at Moreno Point. He began calling his home East Pass after the pass that took his sloop to the Gulf of Mexico. The fishing here was some of the best he had ever seen along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Today we know the village he named East Pass as Destin, named after Leonard Destin who founded Destin, which is also known as the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.”

H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian, author, and speaker on local history. 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 Amazon.com, The Destin History & Fishing Museum in Destin, Henderson Beach Resort in Destin, The Indian Temple Mound in Fort Walton Beach, and Sundog Books in Seaside. Klein can be contacted directly at klein@aristotle.net.