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Collection Matthew Fontaine Maury Papers

About this Collection

The papers of naval officer and oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873) consist of 14,650 items (22,151 images) scanned from original materials. Spanning the years 1825-1960, with the bulk concentrated in the period 1830-1880, the collection is composed mainly of correspondence, letterbooks, diaries, journals, speeches, writings, articles, notebooks, an electrical experiment book, charts, printed matter, and other papers pertaining chiefly to Maury’s naval career, scientific activities and interests, his service to the Confederacy during the Civil War, and to the Maury family.

The collection documents Maury’s service as a midshipman in the U.S. Navy in the 1820s and 1830s, and as superintendent of the U.S. Depot of Charts and Instruments and of the U.S. Naval Observatory between 1842 and 1861. The collection also records his resignation as an officer of the U.S. Navy and subsequent service on behalf of the Confederate navy, international advocacy for the Confederacy during the Civil War, and postwar career as an author and university professor. There is also material concerning the medals and honors conferred upon him for his scientific contributions. Subjects covered in the papers include meteorology, mining, oceanography, torpedoes, the physical geography of Virginia, and the proposed colonization of Mexico by former Confederates. Included in the Miscellany series are papers of Charles Alphonso Smith regarding Maury, and an unpublished typescript copy of a life of Maury by Catherine Cate Coblentz.

A significant portion of the correspondence consists of Maury family correspondence, including many of Matthew Fontaine Maury’s own letters. Family correspondents include Maury’s wife, Ann Hull Herndon Maury (1811-1901), and their children, particularly Matthew Fontaine Maury, Jr. (1849-1886), Richard L. Maury, Mary Herndon Maury Werth, Eliza Hull Maury Withers, and Diana “Nannie” Maury Corbin and her husband, Spotswood Wellford Corbin. Most of Matthew and Ann Maury’s children had nicknames by which they frequently were referred to in family correspondence. These nicknames can be found in the Timeline in this online presentation. Matthew Fontaine Maury’s cousins, Ann Maury (1803-1876) and Rutson Maury, and his kinsman, Franklin Minor, are also represented among the correspondents. Maury often dictated letters to his children, who served as his scribes. Thus, the text of some of Maury’s correspondence is in the handwriting of one or more of his children.

Prominent among his other correspondents are William M. Blackford, William C. Hasbrouck, Nathaniel J. Holmes, Marin H. Jansen, Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico, James Hervey Otey, Francis Henney Smith, and Francis W. Tremlett.

Maps have been transferred to the Library’s Geography and Map Division where they are identified as part of these papers.

A finding aid (PDF and HTML) to the Matthew Fontaine Maury Papers is available online with links to the digital content on this site.

Description of Series

This collection is arranged in six series:

Series 1: General Correspondence, 1825-1910 (Containers 1-46)
The largest series in the collection, the General Correspondence series contains both incoming correspondence received by Matthew Fontaine Maury, as well as copies and originals of some of Maury’s outgoing correspondence. In addition to general correspondence, this series contains an abundance of family letters written to and from Matthew Fontaine Maury. The material is arranged chronologically. Researchers interested in Maury family correspondence should also consult Series 5: Additions.

Series 2: Writings, Addresses, and Lectures, 1856-1872 (Containers 47-51)
Consists of manuscript copies of addresses before institutions including the Minnesota Historical Society, Cambridge University, and the National Agricultural Association, and writings on subjects such as torpedoes, the Atlantic Cable, the physical survey of Virginia, astronomy, and internal waterways. The materials are arranged chronologically.

Series 3: Letterbooks, 1859-1891 (Containers 52-56)
Contains bound volumes of transcribed and letterpress copies of Maury’s outgoing correspondence. The material is arranged chronologically.

Series 4: Miscellany, 1836-1953 (Containers 57-63; some digital content not yet available)
Includes account books, diaries, photographs, printed matter, a scrapbook of published material, and additional writings by Matthew Fontaine Maury. The writings include proofs of his unpublished work “Astronomy.” Materials about Matthew Fontaine Maury can be found in the Charles Alphonso Smith collection within this series, as well as in Catherine Cate Coblentz’s unpublished manuscript, “Naval Lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Maury, First Citizen of the World, 1853-1953.” The series is arranged alphabetically by type of material.

Series 5: Additions, circa 1831-1960 (Containers 64)
Consists of general and family correspondence, each arranged chronologically. Miscellaneous material includes genealogical records and news clippings. The material is arranged in two additions. The 1978 addition contains correspondence between various Maury family members, 1858-1878, including Diana “Nannie” Maury Corbin, Spotswood Wellford Corbin, Matthew Fontaine Maury, Jr. (1849-1886), Mary Herndon Maury Werth, and Eliza Hull Maury Withers. Of particular interest are the letters Maury received when he served as special Confederate agent to Great Britain in London and as an immigration official for Southern expatriates in Mexico. The 1997 addition consists primarily of letters written by Matthew F. Maury to his cousin, Ann Maury, relating his daily activities.

Series 6: Oversize, 1855-1873, undated (Containers OV 1-OV 2; digital content not yet available)
Contains diplomas, awards, and probate papers. The material is organized and described according to the series and containers from which the items were removed.