Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806 - 1873)

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Birthplace: Spotsylvania County Virginia
Death: Died in Lexington Virginia
Managed by: Doug Robinson
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About Matthew Fontaine Maury

Matthew Fontaine Maury (January 14, 1806 – February 1, 1873), United States Navy was an American astronomer, historian, oceanographer, meteorologist, cartographer, author, geologist, and educator.

He was nicknamed "Pathfinder of the Seas" and "Father of Modern Oceanography and Naval Meteorology" and later, "Scientist of the Seas," due to the publication of his extensive works in his books, especially Physical Geography of the Sea (1855), the first extensive and comprehensive book on oceanography to be published. Maury made many important new contributions to charting winds and ocean currents, including ocean lanes for passing ships at sea.

In 1825 at age 19, Maury joined the United States Navy as a midshipman on board the frigate USS Brandywine. Almost immediately he began to study the seas and record methods of navigation. When a leg injury left him unfit for sea duty, Maury devoted his time to the study of navigation, meteorology, winds, and currents. His hard work on and love of plotting the oceans paid off when he became Superintendent of the U.S. Naval Observatory and head of the Depot of Charts and Instruments. Here, Maury studied thousands of ships' logs and charts. He published the Wind and Current Chart of the North Atlantic, which showed sailors how to use the ocean's currents and winds to their advantage and drastically reduced the length of ocean voyages. Maury's uniform system of recording oceanographic data was adopted by navies and merchant marines around the world and was used to develop charts for all the major trade routes.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Maury, a Virginian, resigned his commission as a U.S. Navy commander and joined the Confederacy. He spent the war in the South, as well as abroad in Great Britain, acquiring ships for the Confederacy. Following the war, Maury accepted a teaching position at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia. He died at his home in Lexington in 1873 after completing an exhausting national lecture tour.


Matthew's son Richard Launcelot Maury (1840-1907) served in the 24th Virginia Infantry during the War Between the States, attaining the rank of Colonel in January 1865.

After studying law at the University of Virginia, he was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1860. One year later Richard joined the Virginia Militia as a Private, became a Lieutenant in the Virginia State Troops, and promoted to Major in the 24th Virginia Infantry Regiment by the end of 1861. He saw fierce fighting at Williamsburg [1862], and was badly wounded in the arm at Seven Pines (Fair Oaks) also in 1862. Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in April 1863, Maury received a much more severe hip wound during a skirmish in the aftermath of the second battle of Drewry’s Bluff in 1864, a wound from which he never fully recovered. Following the war he moved to Mexico and became the Mexican Commissioner of Immigration. Returning to Richmond in 1868, he formed a law partnership with former Governor John Letcher and became active in Confederate veterans affairs. He was the oldest son of Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury.

Richard married Susan Crutchfield on 17 July 1862 at Richmond. Their first child, Matthew, is born one week after the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.

Richard Maury's post-war passport application for travel to Mexico is on file with the GSA in Washington DC.

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Matthew Fontaine Maury "Pathfinder of the Seas", Commodore (USN), Commander (CSN)'s Timeline

January 15, 1806
Spotsylvania County Virginia
October 2, 1840
Age 34
Fredericksburg, VA, USA
February 1, 1873
Age 67
Lexington Virginia
Hollywood Cemetery Richmond Henrico County Virginia