Matthew Fontaine Maury was born January 14, 1806 in Spotsylvania, Virginia.
When his older brother caught yellow fever while serving in the United States Navy, his father forbade Mathew from joining the Navy.
Well this just made young Matthew want to join the Navy even more, and with the aide of Sam Houston, at the age of 19 in 1825, Matthew obtained a Naval appointment as a midshipman on board the frigate Brandywine.
The Brandywine with Matthew aboard carried Marquis de La Fayette home to France following the Marquis’ famous visit to the United States.
Later, serving on the USS Vincennes, Matthew circumnavigated the globe on the first warship to travel around the world.
At the age of 33, Mathew broke his right leg during a stagecoach accident, ending his seagoing days.
Thereafter, Matthew devoted his time to the study of naval meteorology, navigation, charting the winds and currents, and seeking the “Paths of the Seas” mentioned in Psalms 8:8.
Matthew’s hard work on and love of plotting the oceans paid off when he became the first superintendent of the United States Naval Observatory in 1842, holding that position until his resignation in April 1861.
At the Observatory, Matthew uncovered an enormous collection of thousands of old ships’ logs and charts in storage in trunks dating back to the start of the United States Navy. Matthew pored over these documents to collect information on winds, calms, and currents for all seas in all seasons. His dream was to put this information in the hands of all captains.
Matthew’s work on ocean currents led him to advocate his theory of the Northwest Passage, as well as the hypothesis that an area in the ocean near the North Pole is occasionally free of ice. The reasoning behind this was sound. Logs of old whaler ships indicated the designs and markings of harpoons. Harpoons found in captured whales in the Atlantic had been shot by ships in the Pacific and vice versa, and this occurred with a frequency that would have been impossible had the whales traveled around Cape Horn.
Matthew, knowing a whale to be a mammal, theorized that a northern passage between the oceans that was free of ice must exist to enable the whales to surface and breathe. This became a popular idea that inspired many explorers to seek a reliably navigable sea route. Many of those explorers died in their search.
Lieutenant Matthew Maury published his Wind and Current Chart of the North Atlantic, which showed sailors how to use the ocean’s currents and winds to their advantage and drastically reduced the length of ocean voyages; his Sailing Directions and Physical Geography of the Seas and Its Meteorology remain standard. Matthew’s uniform system of recording synoptic oceanographic data was adopted by navies and merchant marines around the world and was used to develop charts for all the major trade routes.
With the outbreak of the Civil War, Matthew Maury, a Virginian, resigned his commission as a U. S. Navy commander and joined the Confederacy. He spent the war in the South, as well as abroad in Great Britain, Ireland, and France. Matthew helped acquire a ship, CSS Georgia, for the Confederacy while also advocating stopping the war in America among several European Nations.
Following the war, Matthew accepted a teaching position at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia.
Matthew Fontaine Maury died at his home in Lexington February 1,1873 after completing an exhausting state-to-state lecture tour on National and International weather forecasting on land.
Matthew had also completed his book on his Geological Survey of Virginia and a New series of Geography for young people.
Matthew Maury became nicknamed “Pathfinder of the Seas” and “Father of Modern Oceanography and Naval Meteorology” and later, “Scientist of the Seas,” due to the publication of his extensive works in his books, especially The Physical Geography of the Sea (1855), the first extensive and comprehensive book on oceanography to be published.
Matthew Maury made many important new contributions to charting winds and ocean currents, including ocean lanes for passing ships at sea.
Now WE know em
- The only person in U.S. history to have attained the rank of Admiral of the Navy was born today in 1837. Now WE know em (carl-leonard.com)