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Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873), who never lived at Maury Place, was a native Virginian, born near Fredericksburg. An astronomer, historian, oceanographer, meteorologist, cartographer, author, geologist, and educator, Maury is known as Pathfinder of the Seas, Father of Oceanography, founder of Naval Meteorology, and Scientist of the Seas.

He joined the U. S. Navy at age 19 and began to study the seas and to record methods of navigation. He wrote some of the first text books of what became modern oceanography. We have two of his textbooks in the Maury Place library! He published works in the mid-nineteenth century on sea navigation and became internationally known for his work and study of oceanography, meteorology, and navigation of the seas.

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Virginia Magazine Publication about Matthew Maury

Maury was Superintendent of the Depot of Charts and Instruments of the U.S. Navy, a position from which he resigned to join the Confederacy when Virginia seceded from the Union in 1861. He became Commander of the Confederate Navy, and lived and worked in Richmond for a short time while developing the electric torpedo before he was assigned to Europe in the Confederate Secret Service. After spending his post-Civil War years in England, he returned to Lexington, Virginia, where he served as professor of meteorology at Virginia Military Institute. He died in Lexington, and his body was carried through Goshen Pass en route to his burial in Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, where it remains today. Maury is buried between Presidents Monroe and Tyler.

The Maury Monument

2009 marked the 80th anniversary of the monument honoring Matthew Fontaine Maury, which is directly in front of Maury Place.  The balcony in our Pathfinder Suite overlooks this statue. The Maury Monument was the last of the Confederate Monuments to be erected on Monument Avenue. It was paid for by donations from the Women’s Club of Virginia, the State of Virginia, and the City of Richmond. Its total cost was $60,000, and it was unveiled on November 11, 1929.

Unveiling of the Maury Statue on Monument Ave Nov 11 1029

The sculptor was Richmonder William F. Sievers, who also designed the Stonewall Jackson Monument. Sievers composed the statue with images of water, land, and sky, which relate to Maury’s achievements in oceanography, navigation, and meteorology. Jellyfish are sculpted in the arms of Maury’s chair, and bats, swallows, and fish encircle the base supporting the globe. Stylistically, the statue (which faces eastward toward the Atlantic Ocean) is perhaps the most complex of all the monuments on Monument Avenue.

also read the history of Maury Place at Monument

The globe behind Maury is the most dramatic aspect of the statue, and it tilts off axis with figures of humans and animals divided into scenes of desperation and struggle on water and land. Unlike the other monuments on Monument Avenue, it conveys a feeling of movement and rotation. The woman standing adjacent to the globe is a representation of Mother Nature between land and sea.

The statue is not a confederate war monument per se. It was originally to have been placed in Washington, D.C., but was rejected because Maury abandoned his career with the Union to support the Confederacy.

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