Leonard Destin came from a whaling family

Hank Klein
This painting shows a crew in a long boat harpooning a sperm whale. [CONTRIBUTED PHOTO]

I just returned from a wonderful vacation to Hawaii (Honolulu and Maui) with my wife, Muriel, and our 15 year old granddaughter, Mallory. The trip reminded me of one of the very first documents that Dewey Destin gave me in 2012 that got me interested in the history of Destin and its founder, Leonard Destin. Dewey gave me a copy of the will of Fannie (Rogers) Destin, Leonard Destin’s mother, and a 1865 quit claim deed signed in Maui, Sandwich Islands, by Leonard’s sister, Ellen (Destin) Hempstead. Those two documents started me on a five-year historical search that ended with the publication of my latest book – "DESTIN’S Founding Father…The Untold Story of Leonard Destin."

This month’s History Mystery is about the background of the family of the founding father of what we know today as Destin – Leonard Destin. Of course, the Sandwich Islands are known today as Hawaii. Back in the 1800s, Lahaina, a town on the island of Maui, and Honolulu, a town on the island of Oahu, were known as the “Whaling Capital of the World.” Leonard Destin came from a family of whalers that traveled the world.

Whale oil was in high demand in the 1700s and 1800s for lubrication and illumination. Whale oil fueled home lamps, street lights, locomotive headlights and lighthouse lights. Before spring steel and plastic, whalebone (baleen) was also in great demand. Light and flexible, whalebone could be heated and shaped and would retain that shape when cooled. Whalebone was used for corsets, skirt hoops, umbrellas and buggy whips. New London, Connecticut, the town where Leonard Destin was raised, was the third largest whaling port in the nation.

While Leonard Destin was never a whaler, his father, George, went on the first whaling voyage that members of the Destin family took on Feb. 4, 1804. He signed aboard the 72-foot brig Fanny as a seaman that sailed to the West Indies. The brig Fanny was stranded and lost (sunk) in 1807, bringing an unpleasant end to their voyage. That experience may have affected George Destin’s feelings for traveling far from home on whaling voyages and may have convinced him to switch occupations to fishing in his local waters.

However, three of George and Fannie Destin’s sons took up the lucrative career of whaling. Sons George Jr., Nathan and Andrew Destin were whalers, and some of the Destin daughters married men who were also in the whaling industry. Whalers traveled on voyages all over the world in search of whales, and they were often gone from home for two years or more on those voyages.

George Destin Jr. took to the sea on the longest whaling career of any of the Destin family. His 14 whaling voyages took him to the Brazilian Banks twice, the South Atlantic five times, the Indian Ocean three times, the Pacific Ocean three times, and the Pacific Artic Circle. His whaling career began at the age of 19 when he signed on as a cabin boy on June 27, 1828. His last voyage began in New London on May 24, 1858, when he took the bark Nile out with a 31-man crew. George Destin was the master of that vessel. His career ended in Lahaina, Isle of Maui, Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) when he took the 152-day trip back to New London. His whaling career ended when he arrived in New London on April 6, 1861. However, the whaler Nile stayed in the Pacific and continued whaling for a number of years under five more masters (captains), after George Destin Jr. retired in New London, Connecticut.

Nathan Destin also went to the sea on whalers. His whaling voyages took him to the South Atlantic Ocean twice, the Pacific Ocean twice, the North Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. His whaling career began at the age of 19 on June 5, 1837, when he signed on as a seaman. His last voyage ended in New London in July 1851 as a 32-year-old first mate.

Younger brother Andrew Destin also took to the sea on whalers. His four whaling voyages took him to the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, Hudson Bay and the North Atlantic Ocean. Andrew’s whaling career began at the age of 22 on Oct. 21, 1850, when he signed on as second mate. His last voyage ended in New London in 1866 at the age of 36.

Of the whalers in the Destin family the most famous was by far George Destin Jr. (1808 – 1865). He not only had the most extensive career, but he was the master of nine whaling voyages from May 11, 1839, to the end of his whaling career in 1861. Additionally, he also had the distinction of being the master that took the bark Nile out of New London, Connecticut, on what would turn out to be the longest recorded voyage in whaling history. Next column we will learn about Leonard’s brother George Destin Jr., the whaling ship Nile and that epic voyage.

H. C. “Hank” Klein is a Destin historian who visits often and lives in North Little Rock, Arkansas with his wife (the former Muriel Marler of Destin). Klein recently published historic books about Destin - 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, Tony Mennillo of Arturo Studios at 850/585-2909, Dewey Destin's Restaurants in Destin, the Magnolia Grill in Fort Walton Beach, and Bayou Books in Niceville. Klein can be contacted directly at