Matthew F. Maury "Pathfinder of the Seas", Commodore (USN), (CSN)

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Matthew F. Maury "Pathfinder of the Seas", Commodore (USN), (CSN)'s Geni Profile

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Matthew Fontaine Maury

Birthplace: Spotsylvania County Virginia
Death: Died in Lexington Virginia
Place of Burial: Hollywood Cemetery Richmond Henrico County Virginia
Immediate Family:

Son of Richard Lancelot Maury and Diana Maury
Husband of Ann Hull Maury
Father of Richard Launcelot Maury and NN Maury
Brother of Lieutenant John Minor Maury (USN); Mary Maury Ludlow; Walker Maury; Matilda Maury; Elizabeth Maury and 3 others

Managed by: Private User
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About Matthew F. Maury "Pathfinder of the Seas", Commodore (USN), (CSN)

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.

The Father of modern Oceanography, he has also been called the Pathfinder of the Seas.

Born near Fredericksburg, Virginia, to a farming family, his family moved in 1810 to Franklin, Tennessee, where he attended school, including the Harpeth Academy. Following in the footsteps of his brother, Maury joined the US Navy in 1825 as a Midshipman, and for years he would cruise across the oceans, circumnavigating the world, until 1835, when a stagecoach accident made him permanently lame in his right leg, and unfit for sea duty. In 1830, he had published his first book, "Navigation After a Voyage Around the World," and in 1836, his second book, "A New Theoretical and Practical Treaty on Navigation." In 1842, he was appointed superintendent of US Naval Observatory in Washington DC, and having access to the logbooks and charts from across the world, he began a scientific study and compilation of the data on wind and currents. In 1847, he published "Wind and Current Charts of the North America" and in 1851, "Explanations and Sailing Directions to Accompany the Wind and Current Charts." Both volumes gave excellent instructions to sailors and seamen then sailing in North American waters, and have been republished several times, with several revisions. When the Civil War broke out, Maury resigned his commission of Commander to join with the Confederacy. During the war he went on several missions to England to acquire war vessels and supplies for the Confederacy, and worked on harbor defense, inventing an electrical torpedo to launch against enemy ships. In 1865, when the Civil War was over and fearful that former confederate officers might be tried for treason, he went to Mexico, where he helped the Emperor Maximilian establish a haven for ex-confederates. 

Upon learning that former confederates would not be tried as traitors, he finally returned to the US in 1868, where he became a professor of meteorology at the Virginia Military Institute. He died in 1873, in Lexington, Virginia, following a short illness. Despite his support of the Confederacy, he was honored with a Maury Hall at the US Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, and was elected to the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1930. There have been four US Navy ships named after him, the last being the USS Maury (AGS-39). Maury's accomplishments were not in being the first to discover currents or the effects of wind, but in putting together a simple and easy to use book on ocean navigation and the known effects of wind and ocean currents upon navigation. He was the first person to systematize the knowledge of ocean phenomena.

His books saved navigation time and reduced risk of ocean travel by allowing ships to take advantage of ocean currents and wind. Navies and commercial shipping around the world adopted his system of using and documenting ocean data.

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Matthew F. Maury "Pathfinder of the Seas", Commodore (USN), (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