Monument Avenue: Matthew Fontaine Maury Monument

In December 1912, nearly 40 years after Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873) died, Richmonder Gaston Lichtenstein authored a letter to the editor that “the capital of his own State ought to take pleasure in erecting a statue to his memory.”

By Christina K. Vida
Elisa H. Wright Curator of General Collections
The Maury Monument with a bronze globe on top of a pedestal with a figure of a seated Maury in the fenced median of Monument Avenue with trees.
Matthew Fontaine Maury Monument, around 1955, V.86.153.698, The Valentine.

Lichtenstein had been inspired by seeing Maury’s name displayed at the Seaman’s Institute in Hamburg, Germany.  The Matthew Fontaine Maury Association organized in 1915, but the United Daughters of the Confederacy took over fundraising efforts in 1920. They selected Richmond sculptor Frederick William Sievers and filled the 1922 cornerstone box with “a tiny Confederate flag” from every division of their ranks.   

Although Maury’s service in the Confederate Navy was not specifically detailed on the monument, his oceanic and meteorological accomplishments are visually represented in the bronze globe surrounded by allegorical figures representing “a storm raging on land and sea, encircling the earth.”  

Printed ticket with an image of Maury’s head and chest at the top surrounded by an anchor with a Confederate battle flag on the left side and an American flag on the right. The ticket reads: “Please present his card at the reserved seat enclosure on Monument Avenue at three o’clock November 11, 1929”
Ticket for the unveiling ceremony for the Matthew Fontaine Maury, November 1929, X.2020.03.91, The Valentine.

The last major Confederate monument erected on Monument Avenue, the UDC and Maury Association unveiled the monument on Armistice Day, November 11, 1929, signaling the start of a new era of the Lost Cause mythology.   

Sixty-four years after Union victory in the Civil War and a decade after American victory in the Great War, many white Southerners equally embraced their Confederate heritage and their American patriotism.  

Women and children standing in the rain in front of the Maury Monument with a wreath.
Children from Maury Elementary School and the United Daughters of the Confederacy placing a wreath at the Maury Monument, January 1967, Michael O’Neal, L.67.156.39, The Valentine.

During the 20th century, Maury never became a household name or figured prominently in Civil War histories. Similarly, the monument did not generally attract protestors as it lacked visible Confederate symbols, but it was still considered part of the city’s Confederate backdrop.  

In the late 1970s, after the City of Richmond elected a majority Black city council and selected its first Black mayor, Henry L. Marsh III, the city’s political leaders still did not seek to remove the monuments.  

Interviewed about them in 2020, former City Councilman Chuck Richardson noted that “at that time we had such a plate full of issues – housing, transportation education, unemployment, that the statues were not on the top item of our plate.”  

Willie Dell, the City’s first Black councilwoman also recalled, “Robert E. Lee is dead. It ain’t him I got to worry about.  It’s the racist living and sitting across from me at Council.”  

But in 2020, Maury’s Confederate service drew the ire of spray-paint-laden social justice advocates. The bronze elements came off on July 2, 2020, and Team Henry removed the pedestal in February 2022.    


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Authors Christina K. Vida
Work Title Monument Avenue: Matthew Fontaine Maury Monument
Published October 3, 2023
Updated May 24, 2024
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