Destin, What’s in a Name?
What is the meaning behind the notable name that is now synonymous with some of the most beautiful beaches and most abundant fishing in the world? Interestingly, the name “Destin” has a French origin and means “destiny.” Many think it was indeed destiny that brought a resilient and determined young man named Leonard Destin to the area in 1840.
Those who knew Leonard knew he was courageous and tough and had an immense appreciation for family and hard work. Leonard was one of the six children whose father, George, was a sherman in New London, Connecticut. As Leonard grew older, he would sail each winter with his father from Connecticut down the eastern seaboard to Key West to work in the wrecking business. Ships would frequently sink on the reefs around the Keys, providing a very lucrative business for ship captains in the early 1800s.
On the trip down, Leonard, his father, and one of his brothers, William, ran into a hurricane near Cape Canaveral, Florida. His father and brother were lost at sea, but Leonard managed to survive the storm. It is believed he made his way to Key West and stayed in the area for a while before sailing up the (west) coast of Florida in search for the best fishing. He found an abundance of red snapper in the warm waters outside the East Pass in the Florida Panhandle and decided to settle in the area.
In 1845, Leonard met and married Martha McCullom from South Carolina. The region was largely a military reservation and Leonard claimed a parcel of land near the East Pass, where he built his home. Frequent battles in the region between militia and Creek and Seminole Indians were common, and Leonard was always prepared to defend himself and his family. As the intensity of the Civil War increased, Leonard’s Yankee upbringing made him a target. He was suspected of being a spy and nearly killed. Since two of Martha’s brothers served in the Confederate army, Leonard was taken into custody and imprisoned near Freeport, Florida. With his execution looming, Leonard’s life was ultimately spared by a judge who was a fellow Mason and would not persecute a member of the Masonic Lodge.
By the late 1870s, Leonard had built a thriving commercial fishery and employed many people in the community (known as East Pass). In 1879, he hired a thirteen-year-old boy named William Marler. In a few short years, Leonard gave William command of his own ship, and “Captain Billy” created an informal post office in the East Pass. With only a small number of families in the region, it was a close-knit community and each family helped one another while living a relatively primitive life.
Leonard cherished time with his family, including his wife, four sons and three daughters, until his death in 1884. After Leonard’s death, his commercial fishing business, led by his sons, continued to flourish.
Meanwhile “Capt Billy” Marler was made the area’s post master, and when Washington D.C. asked the name of the town, Capt Billy proudly said “Destin” in honor of his boss and friend, Leonard Destin
Courtesy of Captain Justin Destin
by Tracy Louthain (Published in VIE magazine) and gently edited by Isabel Smith Art and Design