I've started writing a new novel. What has never happened to me before is that when I started researching the subject of my novel I was wondering how to write the life of a exceptional human being as fictionalized history.
On a Friday night as I was trying to go to sleep and it hit me. Make it his autobiography, like Robert Graves did with I Claudius and Margaret George did with the The Autobiography of Henry VIII.
Then I started writing the story in my head. I couldn't stop it. All night I was telling his story. Saturday night the same, Sunday night it was driving me nuts. Monday I finally got to the office and am ready to write down everything I've thought about for three nights.
Reality hit. As I started writing I found that I needed names, dates, and the little details. I went in thinking that I would just magically get it all down in one day. I would up buying four biographies of the man, in book form, only one was available as an e-book. Then I had to wait for them to come in.
I've written the first ten pages and have the man finally getting ready to leave to be a midshipman in the navy in 1825.
This is the statue on Matthew Fontaine Maury as it looked in Richmond, Virginia.
On July 2nd of 2020, Levar Stoney, the mayor of Richmond, Virginia ordered the removal of the statue of Matthew Fontaine Maury. The statue names Maury as “The Pathfinder of the Seas.” It was erected in 1929 on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. Governor Stoney used his emergency powers to bypass a state-mandated review process, calling the statue a “Severe, immediate, and growing threat to public safety.”
The statue had been vandalized with various colors of paint calling Maury a racist. When the Civil War broke out, he sided with Virginia, his home state and resigned his commission in the Navy as Commander of the U.S. Naval Observatory.
He became a midshipman at age 19 and never owned a slave. His entire life was devoted to the sea and making sailing faster, safer and understanding the world's oceans.
Judge for yourself if this man's statue should have been removed.
Here are the life’s works of a man today considered to be threat to public safety:
1. The father of Oceanography.
2. Father of meteorology.
3. Father of Physical Geography.
4. Compiled the first comprehensive study of the ocean currents, wind, weather, temperature, animal and plant life, depths; the Gulf Stream; the effects of currents on land weather.
5. Created the first scientifically detailed charts of all the world’s oceans and wind currents used by all military and merchant shipping from their introduction in 1848.
6. His study of the Atlantic Ocean’s depth made the telegraph cable connecting the United States with Europe possible.
7. In the 1830’s his articles in magazines criticizing certain problems in the Navy led to Congress creating the Naval Academy.
8. He published The Physical Geography of the Sea (1855). A textbook translated into numerous languages and used by most navies of the world in the 19th century. It was used at Annapolis into the 1920’s.
9. By 1858 Maury had over 137,540 vessels from most maritime countries gathering data to record the weather. This created the largest fleet to act in concert in history. It was the first time for the United States to lead in a branch of science.
10. He revolutionized naval defenses by perfecting floating mines and electric torpedo.
In September 26, 1927 in a forward to the book Matthew Fontaine Maury: Pathfinder of the Seas by Charles Lee Lewis, Admiral Richard E. Byrd wrote: Because I am soon to start my own expedition to the South Pole I am particularly interested in a letter (Matthew Fontaine) Maury wrote under the date of August 20, 1860, in which he said, “I have reason to believe that there is about the South Pole, a comparatively mild climate. The unexplored regions there embrace an area equal in extent to about one-sixth of all known land on the surface of the earth. I am quietly seeking to create in the minds of some an interest upon the subject, hoping thereby to foster a desire in the right quarters for an Antarctic expedition.”
Sixty-seven years after Maury wrote that letter and fifty-four years after his death his dream came true. Admiral Byrd reached the South Pole.
He wasn't infallible. You could hardly describe the climate of Antarctica mild, or that the continent was that large. He had no idea how much of the area was ice shelf.
The only scientist to have more impact on world knowledge in the 19th century was Charles Darwin.
Why have I decided to write his life story? I married a Maury.
The first time I met my soon to be Father-in-law and we were getting to know one another he mentioned MFM, and said "No one has heard of him because he was a rebel."
Shortly after Linda and I were married I found a biography of MFM at a used book store. I gave it to Ed and he enjoyed reading about his ancestor. He gave it back and I read it. What an eye opener and I felt at the time that his life would make a great novel.
I started writing Optimus: Praetorian Guard and it took me ten years, then when I retired I started writing other stories. MFM was always on the back burner until they removed his statue. I feel his story needs to be told to the world now more than ever. He was a man of his time and sided with his native state when the country split apart, but that should not negate all that he did and what he learned still has impact today.
The USNS Maury launched in 2013. It's an oceanographic survey ship. There have been other naval ships that bore his name.
Wow, great post. It looks like Maury is collateral damage in the present environment. I'd never heard of him until you posted on fb about him.
Fascinating. Like Yogi above, I'd never heard of him until I read your posts. I can't wait to read what you write.
His reasoning for siding with the South sounds a lot like Robert E. Lee's, and Lee more or less got a free pass in history (until recently, anyway) for doing much worse than Maury did.
Maury is a relative unknown because he chose the wrong side, but what he did changed the world. Thanks for coming by Yogi.
Berthold, at that time loyalty was to the state because it was more immediate due to distance and travel.
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