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Matthew Fontaine Maury papers

Identifier: MS-0103
The Matthew Fontaine Maury papers consist primarily of letters written by Maury to various members of his family, including daughter Diana Fontaine Corbin (Maury) (1837-1900), son-in-law Spotswood Wellford Corbin (1835-1897), and wife Ann Hull Maury (Herndon) (1811-1901). Other correspondents include Maximilian (1832-1867), Emperor of Mexico, and Empress Carlotta.

In addition to personal and domestic matters, topics include:
  • Lecture series
  • Career at the National Observatory in Washington, D.C.
  • Confederate service in Richmond, Virginia
  • Activities in England
  • Colonization efforts in Mexico
  • professorship at VMI
The papers also include related correspondence and printed material.


  • 1833-1873


Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions

Conditions Governing Use

Manuscript collections in the VMI Archives are made available for educational and research use. The VMI Archives should be cited as the source. The user assumes all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any copyright holders. Materials from our collections may not be redistributed, published or reproduced without permission from the VMI Archives. Contact the VMI Archives for additional information


175 items


This collection consists largely of personal letters written by Matthew Fontaine Maury to various members of his immediate family, 1840-1873.

Biographical / Historical

Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873) was a naval officer and oceanographer known as the "Pathfinder of the Seas." He was notable for his pioneering scientific work in the fields of navigation, hydrography, and meteorology.

Maury joined the United States Navy at age 19, and in 1842 was named head of the Navy's Hydrographical Office and of the United State Naval Observatory.

Beginning in the 1830's, he published a number of significant works on the Gulf Stream, ocean currents, and navigation, and was involved in research concerning deep-sea sounding and transoceanic cables.

A native of Virginia, Maury resigned his commission as Commander in the United States Navy at the outbreak of Civil War in April 1861. He entered the Confederate Navy and undertook research in the new technology of torpedo warfare. He was subsequently ordered to England as a special agent with instructions to purchase ships for the Confederate government.

At War's end, he was enroute to the United States with a cargo of torpedo equipment when, upon arriving in port at Havana, Cuba, he learned that the War had ended. Maury then went to Mexico, where he served Emperor Maximilian, and later returned to England where he worked until 1868.

The last five years of Maury's life were spent as a Professor of Physics at VMI in Lexington, Virginia. At VMI, Maury did not have regular classroom duties, but instead gave occasional lectures to the cadets and was primarily involved in overseeing an extensive physical survey of Virginia. He died in 1873.

Physical Location

Manuscripts Stacks

Repository Details

Part of the Virginia Military Institute Archives Repository

VMI Archives
Preston Library
Lexington VA 24450