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Collection Matthew Fontaine Maury Papers


A chronology of key events in the life of Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873), naval officer and oceanographer.

Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873)

  1. 1806, Jan. 14

    Born near Fredericksburg, Va., the seventh child of Richard Maury (died Jan. 30, 1843) and Diana Minor Maury (died May 19, 1843). Siblings included Mary Maury, John Maury (died 1824 of yellow fever), Walker Maury, Matilda Maury, Betsy Maury Holland, Richard Launcelot Maury, Charles Maury, and Catherine Ann Maury.

  2. 1810, Fall

    Maury family moved to Franklin, Tenn.

  3. 1818

    Entered Harpeth Academy, near Franklin, Tenn.

  4. 1825, Feb. 1

    Midshipman’s warrant, U.S. Navy

  5. 1825, July

    Ordered to report to the USS Brandywine, transporting the Marquis de Lafayette back to France after his extended tour of the U.S.

  6. 1834, July

    Published “On the Navigation of Cape Horn External” in the American Journal of Science and Arts

  7. 1834, July 15

    Married Ann Hull “Nannie” Herndon (Aug. 1811-Feb. 1901) at Laurel Hill, near Fredericksburg, Va. Herndon was the eldest daughter of Dabney Herndon and Elizabeth Hull Herndon. After the death of her parents, Ann and her brother Brodie Herndon lived with their aunt and uncle, Edward Herndon and Elizabeth Maury Herndon, of Laurel Hill.

  8. 1835, June 25

    Birth of daughter Elizabeth “Betty” Herndon Maury (died January 8, 1903); married William A. Maury (1832-1918) in 1857

  9. 1836

  10. 1836, Summer

    Superintendent, United States Gold Mine, Spotsylvania County, Va.

  11. 1836

    Promoted to lieutenant

  12. 1837, June 25

    Birth of daughter Diana “Nannie” Fontaine Maury Corbin External (died Feb. 6, 1900); married Spotswood Wellford Corbin (1835-1897) in 1858

  13. 1839, Oct.

    Severely injured in stagecoach accident in Ohio, resulting in permanent damage to his right leg; not assigned to sea duty thereafter

  14. 1839-1842

    Resided in Fredericksburg, Va., during recuperation from stagecoach accident and leg injuries

  15. 1840, Apr.

    First authored “Scraps from the Lucky-Bag External” articles for the Southern Literary Messenger External under pseudonym “Harry Bluff.” Maury continued to contribute pieces to this publication into the 1850s, writing under different pseudonyms and his own name.

  16. 1840, Oct. 9

    Birth of son Richard Launcelot “Dick” Maury (died Oct. 14, 1907); married Susan Elizabeth Crutchfield (1841-1911) in 1862

  17. 1842, Oct. 21

    Birth of son John Herndon (“Davy,” “Dave”) Maury (died near Vicksburg, Miss., January 27, 1863)

  18. 1842-1844

    Superintendent of the Navy Department’s Depot of Charts and Instruments, Washington, D.C.

  19. 1843

    Father Richard Maury died on January 30, and mother Diana Maury died on May 19

  20. 1843, Jan.

    Director, National Institute for the Advancement of Science

  21. 1844, Apr. 2

    Delivered lecture “The Gulf Stream and Currents of the Sea External” to the National Institute for the Promotion of Science, Washington, D.C.

  22. 1844, Nov. 13

    Birth of daughter Mary Herndon (“Molly,” “Tots”) Maury Werth (died Nov. 17, 1928); married James Rhodes Werth (1844-1929) in 1877

  23. 1844-1861

    Superintendent of the Naval Observatory and Hydrographical Office, Washington, D.C. The U.S. Naval Observatory was then located on 23rd Street, between D and E Streets, in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood.

  24. 1846, Dec. 5

    Birth of daughter Eliza Hull (“Elie,” “Glum”) Maury Withers (died 1881); married Thomas Withers in 1878

  25. 1847

    Issued first Wind and Current Charts (U.S. Hydrographical Office) showing best “tracks” for sailing ships in the North Atlantic

  26. 1849, Jan. 9

    Birth of son Matthew Fontaine (“Matsy,” “Brave”) Maury, Jr. (died Dec. 31, 1886); married Rose Robinson (1856-1937) in 1877

  27. 1851, May 8

    Birth of daughter Lucy Minor (“Sat Sing”) Maury Van Doren (died Nov. 7, 1915); married Meverell Locke Van Doren in 1877

  28. 1855

    Published The Physical Geography of the Sea External (New York: Harper & Bros.), the first modern oceanographic textbook

  29. 1855, Sept. 14

    Placed on inactive duty by the U.S. Navy

  30. 1857, Sept.

    Brother-in-law William Lewis Herndon, to whom Maury was close, drowned after his steamship Central America sank off the coast of North Carolina during a hurricane

  31. 1858, Jan.

    Restored to active duty by presidential order; promoted to commander retroactive to September 14, 1855

  32. 1861, Apr. 20

    Resigned from U.S. Navy

  33. 1861, May 2

    Commissioned a commander of the Navy of Virginia before subsequently accepting commission as commander in Confederate Navy

  34. 1862, Oct.

    Arrived in England to serve as special agent of the Confederate government

  35. 1865, May

    Departed England for North America, stopping first in the West Indies and Cuba

  36. 1865, June

    Arrived in Mexico, hoping to establish a “New Virginia” settlement of former Confederates in exile

  37. 1865, Sept.-1866, Mar.

    Imperial commissioner of colonization to Maximillian, Emperor of Mexico

  38. 1866, Mar. 29-1868

    Resided in England

  39. 1868

    Published First Lessons in Geography External (New York: Richardson & Co.)

    Published The World We Live In External (New York: Richardson & Co.)

  40. 1868, May 28

    Received doctorate of civil law, Cambridge University, England

  41. 1868, Sept.-1872

    Professor of meteorology and physics, Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Va.

  42. 1870

    Published Manual of Geography External (New York: University Publishing Co.)

  43. 1871, Apr.-Sept.

    Offered, and briefly accepted, presidency of University of Alabama, but ultimately remained at the Virginia Military Institute

  44. 1873, Feb. 1

    Died, Lexington, Va.; interred in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Va.

  45. 1929, Nov. 11

    Matthew Fontaine Maury monument unveiled on Monument Avenue, Richmond, Va. Statue removed July 2020