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Maury,  Matthew Fontaine

Maury, Matthew Fontaine

Male 1806 - 1873  (67 years)

Personal Information    |    Media    |    Notes    |    Sources    |    All    |    PDF

  • Name Maury, Matthew Fontaine  [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
    Born 14 Jan 1806  Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Virginia, United States Find all individuals with events at this location  [3, 4, 7, 9
    Gender Male 
    Died 01 Feb 1873  VMI, Lexington, Rockbridge Co., VA Find all individuals with events at this location  [9
    • Age: 67
    Buried 27 Sep 1873  Richmond, Virginia, USA Find all individuals with events at this location  [9
    • Hollywood Cemetery
    Person ID I51237  My Genealogy
    Last Modified 30 Dec 2015 

    Father Maury, Richard Lancelot,   b. 19 May 1766, Albemarle County, Virginia, USA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 31 Jan 1843, Washington, DC Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 76 years) 
    Relationship Natural 
    Mother Minor, Diana,   b. 18 Aug 1768, Topping Castle, Spotsylvania County, VA Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 27 Jul 1843, Franklin, Williamson, Tennessee, United States Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 74 years) 
    Relationship Natural 
    Married 18 Jan 1792  Louisa, Virginia, United States Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Family ID F20119  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Herndon, Ann Hull,   b. 08 Aug 1811, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Virginia, United States Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 12 Feb 1875, Richmond, Virginia, United States Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 63 years) 
    Married 15 Jul 1834  Spotsylvania, Virginia Find all individuals with events at this location  [2
    Children 
     1. Maury, Richard Launcelot,   b. 09 Oct 1840, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Virginia, United States Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 14 Oct 1907, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Virginia, United States Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 67 years)  []
     2. Maury, John Herndon "Davy",   b. 21 Oct 1842, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Virginia, United States Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 27 Jan 1863, Buried at sea Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 20 years)  []
     3. Maury, Elizabeth Herndon,   b. 25 Jun 1835, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Virginia, United States Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 1903, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Virginia, United States Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 67 years)  []
     4. Maury, Diana Fontaine "Nannie",   b. 25 Jun 1837, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania, Virginia, United States Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 06 Feb 1900, Richmond, VA Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 62 years)  []
     5. Maury, Mary Herndon,   b. 13 Nov 1844, Washington, DC Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 17 Nov 1928, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia, United States Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 84 years)  []
     6. Maury, Eliza Hull "Ellie",   b. 05 Dec 1846, Washington, DC Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 06 Apr 1881, Kokomo, Summit, Colorado, United States Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 34 years)  []
     7. Maury, Matthew Fontaine Jr,   b. 09 Jan 1849, Washington, DC Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 31 Dec 1886, Cincinnati, Hamilton, Ohio, United States Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 37 years)  []
     8. Maury, Lucy Minor,   b. 08 May 1851, Washington, DC Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 07 Nov 1915, Richmond, Caroline, Virginia, United States Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 64 years)  []
    Last Modified 30 Dec 2015 
    Family ID F17115  Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Photos
    Matthew Fontaine Maury print from Library of Congr.jpg
    Matthew Fontaine Maury print from Library of Congr.jpg
    Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury.jpg
    Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury.jpg
    Find A Grave Memorial 8835b.jpg
    Find A Grave Memorial 8835b.jpg
    Bust at the HOF for Great Americans.jpg
    Bust at the HOF for Great Americans.jpg
    Matthew Fontaine Maury.jpg
    Matthew Fontaine Maury.jpg
    Matthew Fontaine Maury(1).jpg
    Matthew Fontaine Maury(1).jpg
    Matthew Fontaine Maury Statue.jpg
    Matthew Fontaine Maury Statue.jpg
    01MFM.jpg
    01MFM.jpg
    Matthew Fontaine Maury(2).jpg
    Matthew Fontaine Maury(2).jpg
    Matthew Fontaine Maury Family.jpg
    Matthew Fontaine Maury Family.jpg
    commodore matthew fontaine maury.jpg
    commodore matthew fontaine maury.jpg
    Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury(1).jpg
    Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury(1).jpg

  • Notes 
    • LLD, USN, CSN, Commodore, "Pathfinder of the Seas." Matthew's Physical Geography of the Seas (1855) was the first textbook on modern oceanography. His wife, Ann Hull Herndon, was the daughter of the President of the Virginia Bank at Fredericksburg, Va. They had eight children. Maury, Matthew Fontaine (1806--73) Oceanographer; born near Fredericksburg, Va. He entered the U.S. Navy (1825) and spent the next nine years on worldwide sea voyages. In 1839 a stagecoach accident left him permanently lamed. Considered unfit for active duty, in 1842 he was appointed superintendent of the Naval Observatory's Depot of Charts and Instruments. There he compiled information from numerous ships' logs, and gained an international reputation for his research in navigation, oceanography, and meteorology. By interpreting the crossing of the trade winds at the equator, he designed shipping routes which shortened an Atlantic-Pacific crossing by 40 days. In his most famous work, The Physical Geography of the Sea (1855), he proposed a transatlantic telegraph cable to be constructed on a level sea-floor plateau he had discovered between Newfoundland and Ireland. In 1861 Maury became a commodore in the Confederate Navy; while working to perfect underwater mines, he went to Europe where he also purchased and outfitted cruisers for the Confederate navy. After a brief self-exile in Mexico and Europe (1865-68), he returned to the U.S.A. to teach at the Virginia Military Institute (1868-73). He is known as the "Pathfinder of the Seas." THE CAMBRIDGE BIOGRAPHICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA edited by David Crystal Copyright (c) 1994, Cambridge University Press Reproduced with permission. Maury, Matthew (Fontaine) Pronunciation: [mawree] (1806--73) Naval officer and hydrographer, born in Spotsylvania, VA. He entered the US navy in 1825, and voyaged round the world (1826-30). After an accident in 1839, he was appointed in 1842 superintendent of the hydrographical office at Washington, and in 1844 of the observatory. There he wrote his Physical Geography of the Sea (1856), and his works on the Gulf Stream, ocean currents, and Great Circle sailing. He became an officer of the Confederate navy, and later professor of physics at Lexington. THE CAMBRIDGE BIOGRAPHICAL ENCYCLOPEDIA edited by David Crystal Copyright (c) 1994, Cambridge University Press Reproduced with permission. Saunders, James Edmonds. Early Settlers of Alabama. L. Grahm & Son. New Orleans. 1899, p 301-304: Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury was born in Spotsylvania county, Virginia, January 16th, 1806. His father was Richard Maury, who was the son of the James Maury (above mentioned).Mr. Richard Maury moved from Virginia to Williamson county, Tennessee, when his son Matthew was but a child. The country was then mostly a canebrake, but the soil wonderfully fertile. His farm was not large, and he had only a few slaves, but he was a solid, sensible and industrious man, and managed to rear and educate a family of ten children; commanding, however, whenever the crop required it, the labor of his sons. He made his home on Harpeth river, four miles below Franklin. His only amusement was a grist mill, which he erected on a small tributary of that stream, and which was a great convenience to the Perkinses, the Childress' and the Maurys. He rode this hobby very hard, little dreaming that his son "Matt" would mount one which he would ride around the admiring world, in the presence of Kings, Princes and peoples, and "take the purse" from all competitors--the renowned Humboldt being the judge. I never knew young Matthew Fontaine Maury until he entered Harpeth Academy-- then under the presidency of Rev. Gideon Blackburn, D. D. He was fortunate in having such a teacher and guide. Dr. Blackburn was an eminent minister of the Presbyterian church. He was of commanding person, graceful manners, and a scholar of extensive learning--for an age in which science did not constitute so large an element as now. As an orator, I think he was the equal of Dr. Samuel Davies of Nassan Hall. He never wrote his sermons, but spoke extemporaneously, sometimes for more than two hours. Judge Guild (who was an orator himself) says of him, in his "Old Times in Tennessee:" "Dr. Blackburn's eloquence as General Jackson's chaplain, inflamed the hearts and nerved the arms of the Tennessee volunteers, who carried the victorious flag of our country through the great campaigns of Jackson. He was the most eloquent and powerful minister I ever heard. I have heard many of the pulpit orators that have arisen since then, and my first impression has not been diminished, but deepened by the accumulation of years. Few American orators have shown themselves his equal, and none his superior." About this pupil, young Maury, there was a striking feature, and that was an undivided concentration of mind upon whatever he was doing. He was no dreamer. On the play-ground he was active, strong and cheery, and a favorite with his fellows; and when "books were called" he devoted his attention, as singly and earnestly, to his lesson; and so gained the approbation of his teachers. He was a fine example of "a sound mind in a sound body." We were school-fellows for some years. At length my father moved to Alabama, and I went to a college in another State, and he went into the Navy. About 1826 we happened to meet at Franklin, our old home. He wore the glazed cap, and the uniform, of a midshipman. There was quite a crowd of schoolmates around him, and a happy reunion took place. At length the young men began to look at their watches, for a quarter race was to come off. In a short time we were left alone, and had a most interesting conversation. He had been on a cruise in the Pacific Ocean--and talked, mostly, of the currents of the sea. I remember to this day, that he told me of a broad current of cold water which ran from South to North, up the Western coast of South America, and with so strong a current that a sail vessel to double Cape Horn would have to make an offing of one or two hundred miles from the coast to escape the resistance of the current. I mention this fact to show, that young as he was, he was a close observer of what he saw, and the tenacity with which his mind held on to a subject, and revolved it over and over again. It is this quality which distinguishes a great man from an ordinary one. Mr. Maury became Lieutenant in the Navy in 1837. "He had a leg broken and many other injuries (I think from the overturning of a stage) and during his convalescence he spent several years in Fredericksburg in study, and preparing a series of articles ("The Lucky Bag," by Harry Bluff), for the Southern Literary Messenger which wrought a revolution in the Navy Department, and led to the establishment of the Naval Academy. (Mr. R. A. Brock, in Vol. 5, New Series of Virginia Historical Collections). In 1842 he was made Superintendent of the Depot of the Charts and Instruments in Washington, which under his inspiration became the National Observatory. Here he made his renowned Current Charts and Sailing Directions, and wrote his "Geography of the Sea," which was pronounced by Humboldt "a new science." Conscious that his new system of navigation would not be perfected without accurate observations everywhere, he suggested a Congress of Maritime Nations at Brussels, where sailors on every sea were instructed to report to their governments--and in their turn these reports were sent to the National Observatory at Washington. What a triumph this was for the scientist at the head of it, who had barely attained to middle age! In recognition of his services in the cause of science, the leading powers of Europe showered honors and decorations upon him. The University of Cambridge, England, conferred upon him the degree of LL. D. President Tyler wanted him (though only a lieutenant) at the head of the Navy Department, and the position of the Hydrographer of the Southern Exploring Exposition was offered him. The Academies of Science of Paris, Berlin, Brussels and St. Petersburg conferred membership upon him. But he was not only honored by the great and learned, but as well by the common sailors of every nation. At first they were incredulous. They had never heard of "sailing by great circles." They thought the proper course from port to port was "plumb straight." These old tars had often crossed the ocean and had never seen any current in it, and did not believe there was any. But when the sailing master would spread out the new chart on the binnacle, lay his course as if sailing to a different port than the desired one--when after a while they would fall into a current which would waft them along without an adverse wind, and the voyage would be a short and easy one, they would begin to see the riddle. But then again when on the return voyage the sailing master, instead of laying his course on the same track on which they had come, so smoothly from home, would take a route entirely different, they would be again mystified. After a while, however, they would feel a steady wind at the backs-the sails when once set would not need trimming for days--and when they would reach the home port, in shorter time, and with less labor, than ever before, they would frankly acknowledge their mistake. In this way, the name of Columbus, when he discovered a New World, was not more universally known than that of "Maury," and had these mariners lived in ancient Rome, a new God would have been added to the Mythology, and his image would have been the figure-head for good luck on every vessel which floated on the ocean. When, in the war between the States, Virginia seceded from the Union, he resigned his commission in the Navy, and the charge of the National Observatory. When this became known, France and Russia invited him to become their guest, with every provision for his comfort and studies. He replied that his first duty was to Virginia, his birth place, and his home, since his marriage. His vindication of the South (to be found in Southern Historical Papers 1, Vol. 49) is a dispassionate and very able paper. In that contest we lost everything "but honor"--let us always keep that untarnished, by keeping in mind the grounds which justified our action. He was promoted to a Captaincy and a member of the Advisory Committee; the first act of which body was to recommend R. E. Lee as commander of the Virginia army. He gave much attention to torpedoes, believing in their efficiency as much as his cousin, Gen. Dabney H. Maury. In 1862 he was sent on a special mission to England, and remained there until 1865. On the downfall of the Confederacy Maximilian persuaded him to make his home in Mexico; and he was appointed Honorary Counselor of State, a member of the Cabinet, and an Imperial Commissioner of Immigration, and was sent on special mission to Europe. Shortly afterward Maximilian fell, and he remained there until 1868. He was elected to the Presidency of the University of Alabama, which he declined; (President Clayton). He was elected Professor of Physics of the Virginia Military Institute, which he accepted, and declining the charge of the Imperial Observatory at Paris, he returned to Virginia. After a most useful life he died at Lexington, Va., February 1, 1873. He was a sincere, humble Christian. Whilst some men, who have had no original ideas, and have never risen above text-books, have become skeptics from an exaggerated idea of their learning, he wrote text-books--books for the advancement of science into unexplored fields, and yet held fast to the faith which sustained his ancestors, the pious Huguenots in their afflictions-and the last words he spoke were "all is well." Commodore Maury married Anne, daughter of Dabney and Elizabeth Herndon. Her father was for many years President of the Virginia Bank at Fredericksburg, Va. A number of her brothers were men of distinction. William Lewis Herndon, when a Lieutenant in company with a friend of the same grade, explored the Amazon, the largest river in the world, from its head springs, in the Andes, which overlook the Pacific on the west for 4000 miles, to the Atlantic on the East, where through a mouth 100 miles wide, it pours out its immense accumulation of waters. It was a feat equal to the navigation of the Congo River by Stanley, with this difference: Stanley, in his first expedition to the interior of Africa, projected his plan, and when he did attempt the descent of the Congo, he had provided a vessel made in segments, which were carried across the portage on the backs of Indians to the great river; whereas, Herndon, from a U. S. vessel lying in port on the Pacific, took thirty-five or forty men (I speak from memory), and without any boat, but with a few tools to construct canoes, and depending on his gun and fishing tackle to save his company from starvation, he boldly embarked on an unknown stream, where for 2000 miles he never saw a human face except that of a savage. He became a captain and heroically went down with the ill-fated steamer "Central America," of which he was the commander, September 12, 1857, after having seen every passenger transferred from the decks of the sinking ship, and saved it. It was from such blood, mingled with that of the Fontaines and Maurys, that the children of Commodore Maury sprang. From long observation I feel authorized to say that the children of distinguished men, especially the sons are, in a majority of cases, failures, because the fathers let their light shine outside, instead of inside their families; but this was not the case in the family of Commodore Maury. He made his children his companions. He elevated their minds to the plane of his own great thoughts. Mr. Brook says that his four youngest children assisted him in preparing his charts and geography of the sea for the press. From no other source except free intercourse with their father could they have acquired the knowledge requisite, to give him help in so novel a work. I will now notice each of his children in their order 1. Elizabeth Herndon married, in 1857, her cousin, Wm. A. Maury. He is a man of extensive learning; was a Professor of Law in Columbia College; had the degree of L.L. D. conferred upon him; is now Assistant Attorney General of the United States, and I am informed by one of the ablest lawyers of the bar of the United States Supreme Court, is a man of decided ability. 2. Diana Fontaine, in 1858, married Spotswood W. Corbin. 3. Richard Launcelot married, in 1862, Susan Gatewood Crutchfield. He enlisted as a private in the Confederate army, in April, 1861. He was promoted, grade by grade, for his gallantry to a colonelcy; was badly wounded at the battle of Seven Pines, and again badly wounded through the hips at the battle of Drewry's Bluff, which permanently disabled him; but he rejoined the army on the evacuation of Richmond, and surrendered at Appomattox Court House. He is now a prominent member of the Richmond, Va., bar. 4. John Herndon, born in 1842. "He was a lieutenant in the Confederate States Navy. Going out alone from camp, opposite Vicksburg, January 27, 1863, to reconnoiter the enemy, his horse returned without its rider, who is supposed to have been murdered by an ambushed foe. He lies in an unknown grave." 5. Mary Herndon was married in 1877 to James R. Worth. 6. Eliza Hall, married in 1878 to Thomas Withers. She was the author of a paper on the State Debt. She died in 1881. 7. Matthew Fontaine, born in 1849; married Rose, daughter of Capt. John A. Robinson. He is a civil engineer. 8. Lucy Minor married, in 1877, Meverill Locke Van Doren of "Blenheim," Albemarle county, Va. I am indebted to R. A. Brook, Esq., the indefatigable secretary of the Virginia Historical Society, for most of the statistics on which this article is founded.

  • Sources 
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    2. [S1253] Virginia Marriages, 1740-1850, Ancestry.com, (Name: Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 1999.Original data - Dodd, Jordan R., et al.. Early American Marriages: Virginia to 1850. Bountiful, UT, USA: Precision Indexing Publishers.Original data: Dodd, Jordan R., et al.. Early Amer;).

    3. [S1] 1850 United States Federal Census, Ancestry.com, (Name: Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2005.Original data - United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Seventh Census of the United States, 1850. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1850. M432,;), Year: 1850; Census Place: Washington Ward 1, Washington, District of Columbia; Roll: M432_56; Page: 9A; Image: 24.

    4. [S1414] New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957, Ancestry.com, (Name: Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.Original data - Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820-1897; (National Archives Microfilm Publication M237, 675 rolls); Records of the U.S. Customs Service, R;), Year: 1836.

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    9. [S1480] Web: Virginia, Find A Grave Index, 1607-2011, Ancestry.com, (Name: Online publication - Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.Original data - Find A Grave. Find A Grave. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi: accessed 29 January 2012.Original data: Find A Grave. Find A Grave. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi;).