Matthew F. Maury, who served on the VMI faculty from 1868-1872. (Photo courtesy of VMI)

Matthew Fontaine Maury to be Featured at RHS Picnic Meeting

The fourth of the Rockbridge Historical Society’s bi-monthly local history programs for 2006 will include a picnic supper at 6:00 pm., in the large Multipurpose Pavilion at Glen Maury Park on Monday, July 31st. The menu will be barbequed chicken breast, pasta salad, carrots, green beans, bread, tea and lemonade, and assorted desserts. The price per meal is $16.00 for (paid up) members, and $18 for non-members.

Attendees will also be treated to an exclusive tour of the historic Elisha Paxton House, which they can take anytime from 5:00 pm to 8:00pm.

Paid meal reservations should be received no later than Wednesday, July 26th, and may be mailed to The Rockbridge Historical Society, P. O. Box 514, Lexington, VA 24450, or delivered to Campbell House, at East Washington and Randolph Streets. Reservation forms are in the RHS newsletter, or can be picked up at the Visitor Center or Campbell House.

COL Keith E. Gibson, Executive Director of Museum Programs and Architectural Historian for the Virginia Military Institute, will present a lecture following the meal illuminating the life of Matthew Fontaine Maury, “Pathfinder of the Seas,” who was born 200 years ago this year.

Born in Spotsylvania, Virginia, Maury joined the United States Navy as a midshipman in 1825 at the age of 19. His first assignment was aboard the frigate Brandywine. His ship would take The Marquis de Lafayette back to France after his last visit to America. Almost immediately he began to study the seas and record methods of navigation.

When a leg injury left him unfit for sea duty, Maury devoted his time to the study of navigation, meteorology, and winds and currents, holding a number of important government positions responsible for ocean navigation. He published numerous reference books on the subject, which became (and remain) the worldwide gold standard.

With the outbreak of the Civil War, Maury resigned his commission as a U.S. Navy commander and joined the Confederacy, spending most of the war in England on various assignments.

Following the war, Maury accepted a teaching position at the Virginia Military Institute, holding the chair of physics—the position previously held by Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. He died at VMI in 1873.

The Society is one of the oldest, largest, and most active, county historical societies in Virginia. Its mission is primarily local history education and historic preservation. It owns a half-square block of downtown historic Lexington, including three historic buildings, formal gardens and extensive grounds. It sponsors local history scholarship, produces related publications, operates a museum of local history, publishes a newsletter, and conducts six free public local history programs each year.

Information regarding the Society’s upcoming events, retail sales items, and membership can be obtained by calling (540) 464-1058, or visiting its Web Page at

This photograph was taken before Maury returned from England after the Civil War; he is shown in academic robes. (Photo courtesy of VMI)

A seated professor Maury. (Photo courtesy of VMI)

Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury (Faculty 1868-72). Full length. Signed on reverse. (Photo courtesy of VMI)

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