Maury, Matthew Fontaine (fŏntānˈ môrˈē) [key], 1806–73, American hydrographer and naval officer, b. near Fredericksburg, Va. Appointed a midshipman in 1825, he saw varied sea duty until a stagecoach accident (1839) made him permanently lame. In 1842 he was placed in charge of the Depot of Charts and Instruments (later the U.S. Naval Observatory and Hydrographical Office). Soon his wind and current charts of the Atlantic began to appear, and they eventually cut sailing time on many routes. He wrote widely on navigation and naval reform, and his Physical Geography of the Sea (1855) was the first classic work of modern oceanography. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he resigned and served the Confederacy, first in harbor defense and then as an agent in England. After the war he served (1865–66) under Maximilian in Mexico, where he attempted to establish colonies of ex-Confederates. He returned to the United States in 1868 and was professor of meteorology at the Virginia Military Institute until his death.
See biographies by F. L. Williams (1966), C. L. Lewis (1927, repr. 1969), and V. P. Parriott (1973).