HISTORY MYSTERY: Why was Leonard Destin not in the 1840 and 1850 Federal Census?

H. C. “Hank” Klein
History Mystery

In doing research for my book, "DESTIN’S Founding Father...The Untold Story of Leonard Destin," I was never able to locate Leonard Destin in the 1840 or 1850 federal Census. Only by locating the ownership of his fishing vessel in Volumes III, IV and V of the New Orleans Ships Register and Enrollment was I finally able to determine exactly where Leonard Destin was living along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and I also discovered when he actually settled at East Pass, or what we call Destin today.

But why wasn’t Leonard in the 1840 Federal Census, which is taken of everyone in the United States every 10 years? More importantly, why were his future wife, her brother, and her father also missing from the 1850 Federal Census?

In our History Mystery this month we do not actually solve a mystery but present one that possibly our readers can solve.

In 1837, Leonard Destin listed his residence as New London, Connecticut, and the home port of his vessel, Creole, as New Orleans when he registered his 39-foot sloop at the US Customs House in New Orleans. Then in 1845,he listed his residence as Mobile, Alabama, and the home port of his vessel, Nelson, as New Orleans when he registered his next vessel at the same customs house. Finally, in November of 1851, Leonard listed his residence as Lake Pontchartrain, Orleans Parrish, when he registered his new 36-foot sloop, Alabama, which was homeported in New Orleans, but newly built in Santa Rosa County. So we know he was living along the northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico, probably in New Orleans, in 1840 and possibly Mobile when the Census was taken in 1850.

Both New Orleans and Mobile were large cities and both had City Directories, but Leonard Destin was not listed in either the Census anywhere in the United States or the City Directory in New Orleans or Mobile for either year 1840 or 1850. Very possibly he was aboard his fishing sloop, out fishing, when the census taker came around, and just wasn’t counted. But to make matters even more mysterious, the woman he married at Four Mile Landing in Walton County on May 29, 1851, Martha McCullom, is not listed in the 1850 Census either. And neither is her father, John McCullom, or her brother, Gaines McCullom.

Who is listed in the 1850 Census at Moreno Point, Washington County, in dwelling 115 is: 1) 45-year-old Rebecca McCullom, who had been born in South Carolina, 2) 13-year-old daughter Nancy who had been born in South Carolina, and 3) 7-year-old Harriet who had been born in Florida. Rebecca McCullom’s husband, son, and oldest daughter are missing from the 1850 Census taken at Moreno Point on Nov. 2, 1850. Not only are they not at Moreno Point, but they also are not found anywhere in the 1850 federal census. Where could they be?

My best guess is that they are with Leonard Destin. I believe Leonard Destin is aboard his sloop, Alabama, and his crew is John McCullom, age 67, who was born in Ireland, his son Gaines, and his daughter, 15-year-old daughter, Martha. Leonard Destin would marry Martha McCullom a year later. But why can’t they be found in the Census and why are they not in the 1850 City Directory for either New Orleans or Mobile?

I believe they were a part of Leonard Destin’s crew and they were out fishing in the Gulf of Mexico when the census taker came to take the Census. By 1860 they are all living at Moreno Point, which was called East Pass by then, and all are recorded in that year’s Census. John and Rebecca were 77 years old and 50 years old, respectfully. All of their children were grown. The oldest daughter, Martha, had married Leonard Destin in 1851. Daughter Nancy had married Calvin Lewis in 1858, while daughter Harriet had married Alfred Lewis in 1856. Son Gaines McCullom is listed as a sailor in the 1860 Census. The map drawn by the Union Army shows the location of their homes at East Pass in 1864.


We are going through the 2020 Census process right now. It is not a perfect process, but the federal government works hard to count everyone who is in the United States.

Sometimes names are spelled incorrectly, especially in the 1800s when so many were uneducated. Also sometimes remote locations are often missed. Moreno Point was just such a remote location, but the McCullom family was counted in 1850 and 1860. Well, at least those of the McCullom family that were actually living at Moreno Point were counted in the 1850 Census. It is a mystery why John McCullom, Gaines McCullom, Martha McCullom, and Leonard Destin were not counted in 1850.

I’ve given you my best guess and that is all it is — an educated guess. I hope some of our readers who do genealogy research will take an interest and possibly solve once and for all this History Mystery of Destin.

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.