John Walker Maury by William Arden Maury

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Washington, D.C.

I HAVE had the honour to be invited by the Columbia Historical Society to prepare a memoir of my father, the late John Walker Maury of this city, and if in complying with this invitation, family pride should seem to lead me too far away from my immediate subject, I shall not apologize for a departure which springs from a desire to give incitement to the present generation of the family.

Mr. Maury's devotion and usefulness to the city of his adoption were such that, I take leave to say, it is fitting that something with regard to his life and services should be placed on the files of this Society and my regret is that the performance of this service to his memory has not fallen to abler hands.

Mr. Maury was born in the County of Caroline, Virginia, on the 15th day of May, 1809. He came of Huguenot stock and his ancestors were among those who fled from France and religious persecution on the revocation of the famous Edict of Nantes, seeking the protection of the British flag in England and Ireland.

Matthew Maury and Mary Ann Fontaine, both refugees, married and soon afterwards emigrated to the then Colony of Virginia. From this union there have sprung a numerous progeny which are scattered throughout the country.

Conspicuous among the children of Matthew Maury and Mary Ann Fontaine was the Reverend James Maury who was born in 1707 and died in 1769. He is the great Propositus or, as Bishop Meade terms him, the "Old Patriarch" who stands at the head of the Maury [American] Genealogical Chart.

He was a Minister of the Established Church of England but had the courage to take an able and vigorous stand in support of the colonies in their struggle with the Mother Country.

Being an accomplished classical scholar and having a large family to educate he established a school in which Thomas Jefferson was a pupil for two years. In this way began a lifelong friendship between the instructor and his pupil.

In a letter written by Mr. Jefferson four months before his death, the original of which now lies before me, the writer, after reference to his bodily and mental infirmities, makes a feeling allusion to those early school days where he speaks of his preparation "to meet with welcome the hour which shall once more reassemble our ancient class and its venerable head."

I turn now to the testimony of Parton and Randall, two of the biographers of Jefferson, to add to what I have said about my progenitor. Mr. Parton, after stating that the first use Jefferson made of the liberty that came to him by the death of his father was to change his school, proceeds as follows:

"Fourteen miles away was the parsonage of Rev. James Maury, a man of great note in his time, and noted for many things; from whose twelve children have descended a great number of estimable persons of the name still living. Of Huguenot descent and genuine scholarship, he was free both from the vices and the bigotry which the refuse of the young English clergy often brought with them to Virginia in the early time. Pamphlets of his remain, maintaining the right and liberal side of questions bitterly contested in his day. He was one of the clergymen of the Established Church in Virginia, who opposed, with voice and pen, that senseless persecution of Dissenters, which at last brought the Church itself to ruin. He went so far as to say, in a printed address, that he should feel it an 'honor and happiness,' to promote spiritual good of 'any one honest and well-disposed person of whatever persuasion;' and, though he preferred his own Church, he thought he saw errors in it, as well as in the other sects, and should be glad to assist in the correction and improvement of both." (P.17.)

The other biographer, Mr. Randall, has this to say:

"Mr. Maury, whose distinction it is to have educated a number of the finest scholars that Virginia has ever produced, was himself an elegant classical scholar and a thorough, zealous teacher. " (Vol. 1, p. 18.)

The "Old Patriarch" was the plaintiff in the celebrated Parsons cause in which he was foiled in the endeavour to uphold the rights of the Established Church in the face of a popular uprising led on by Patrick Henry in an ad captanadum speech which first brought him into notice, and must have been violent and so insulting to the crown that it excited cries of "treason," "treason" from the bystanders. Indeed this case is sometimes called the opening gun of the Revolution because the court yielded to popular clamor in giving substantial effect to an act of the Colony which had been nullified by the disapproval of the King.

Rev. James Maury had a son named Walker who was my father's grandfather. Walker followed in the footsteps of his father and entered the Church and became Head Master of the Grammar School to which Mr. Rives refers in his Life of Madison (Vol.2, p.4, N.1) as a "distinguished classical school in Williamsburg of which Walker Maury was Head Master. " To this it may be added, that Mr. Madison also passed high commendation on this school (Mad. Wks., Vol.1, p.150).

I can not refrain from the pleasure of quoting the tribute paid this school and its Head by Mr. W. Gordon McCabe in his able and elegant address before the alumni of the University of Virginia on the 27th of June, 1888. It was as follows:

The Rev. Walker Maury, son of the James Maury of whom I have spoken, was conducting a large and admirable classical school in Orange County, and having been induced to remove it to Williamsburg in 1782, as a sort of appendage to William and Mary College, where there was then no professor of "the Humanities," it speedily attained a great reputation for elegance and thoroughness of scholarship, not only in Virginia, but throughout all the Southern colonies. More than one hundred pupils were in attendance from Maryland to Georgia inclusive. There were four Assistant Masters, or ushers, as they were called, and the school appears to have been managed with great zeal and good judgment. The boys acted the plays of Plautus and Terence in the original, and were well drilled in Greek and in the easy Mathematics. It was to this school, both while in Orange and afterwards in Williamsburg, that John Randolph, of Roanoke, was sent, together with his older brothers, Richard and Theodorick.

Walker Maury died at Norfolk, Va., in 1788 of yellow fever contracted while visiting the sick as Rector of St. Paul's Church.

James Maury had another son named for him. This James became widely known and was a warm and lifelong friend of Mr. Jefferson. In a published letter Mr. Jefferson addresses him as "My Dear and ancient Friend and Classmate."

He was appointed consul at Liverpool by President Washington which place he filled for over forty-five years, when he was removed by President Jackson acting under the war cry "to the victor belongs the spoils," to the general indignation, as might be inferred from the closing words of a letter from John Randolph, of Roanoke, to his friend Dr. Brockenbrough, of Richmond, which are as follows: Remove Mr. Maury ! You amaze me. What, the friend and schoolfellow and classmate of Jefferson, the first appointment to that consulate by Washington ! Pray, what is the matter ? And who is to be the successor ?

When the "Old Consul," as he was called, returned to America te take up his residence in New York he was warmly greeted and the Mayor of that city together with a number of distinguished citizens including Wm. B. Astor, James G. King, James Magee, James Brown, and Stephen Whitney tendered him a public dinner in a letter of which the following is a copy:

New York, 25th April, 1831.
James Maury, Esq.,
Dear Sir:

A number of the citizens of New York beg to congratulate you upon your safe arrival and to welcome your return to your native land, after an absence of many years--so honorably spent in the service of your country.

Most of us have experienced, and all of us are familiar with, the unvarying kindness, and constant zeal, of your private' and public deportment, and we have been proud to observe and acknowledge the important influence of your character upon the estimate among foreigners to which our country has become entitled. We therefore desire to invite you to a public dinner, upon such day as it may suit you to name, that an opportunity may be afforded for a more general expression of the high respect, and great consideration, with which, in common with others, we have the pleasure to remain, Your sincere friends.

I can not resist the pleasure of adding another letter of welcome which is from the pen of James Madison:

Montpelier, April 29th, 1833.
My dear Sir:

The mail has just brought us information, in one case under your own hand and name, that you have safely reached the land of your birth. I welcome you to it; and hope at an early day to welcome you at my own domicile, where I shall be able to express all the feelings awakened by your unexpected and gratifying visit. Meantime accept from Mrs. Madison and myself all our best wishes.


But I must not omit to refer to still another son of the "Old Patriarch" who was named Richard and had the distinction of being the father of Matthew Fontaine Maury whose achievements in the realm of science have made him widely known. Such was the lineage of the youth of seventeen who left the parental hearthstone to cast his lot in the city of Washington. How far he enlisted the respect and regard. of his adopted home will be shown by unmistakable evidence.

My father was not long in selecting a partner for life after coming to his adopted home. On the 6th of October, 1831, he was married to Isabel Foyles, the daughter of Thomas Foyles, an old resident of Washington city.

From this union sprang fifteen children, twelve of whom grew up to be men and women, a most united. and happy family, six of whom are still living.

My mother was a remarkable woman as will be shown by the fact that my father in his will, after giving some legacies, left the whole residue of his estate to her absolutely, and so well did this mother - left a widow at 42 - administer the great responsibility thus imposed upon her that nothing has ever occurred in all these years to create discontent or to shake the affection that holds the family together.

The children were often the subject of remark for their well cared for appearance. Indeed the late Senator Benton, a neighbor of ours, was so impressed with their tidy look that he used to say, their mother was able to command an army.

The records of the old Corporation of Washington show that my father was elected to the City Council in his twenty-sixth year, only nine years after his arrival here, and that he served in that character and as Alderman and finally as Mayor of the City continuously from 1835 until 1853, with the exception of the year 1840, when he declined to be a candidate for re-election, and his colleagues during this long service were among the most estimable and prominent of his fellow citizens.

Another mark of distinction he received was his election to succeed General John P . Van Ness as President of the Bank of the Metropolis (now the National Metropolitan Bank) which place he filled up to the time of his death.

His disinterested public spirit enabled him to be of great service to the City especially in business before Congress where his advice and suggestions were always welcome because known to be prompted by a sincere regard for the public good. It was largely owing to his eftorts that the Government Hospital for the Insane was established by Congress. I had from the lips of the late William W. Corcoran himself an account of my father's call at his house one Sunday morning and how he insisted on Mr. Corcoran accompanying him to the Capitol to fight for the Hospital appropriation before the Appropriations Committee of the House, then sitting in the last hours of Congress, and how the two when. they got to the Capitol climbed through a window of the closed building assisted by the connivance of a watchman, who had an inkling of the errand of mercy they were on, and how they boldly faced the Committee without apology.

None but men who stood high in the estimation of Congress would have dared to attempt such a feat. Instead of being ordered out of the building they were listened to with courtesy and respect. This interesting incident shows how thorough-going my father was in pressing measures of public import.

In his alms-giving he never allowed his left hand to know what his right hand had done, and it was not until after his death that his family had an idea of the extent of the good he had been doing all through life. I will now relate an instance that illustrates his life in this particular. Clark Mills, the sculptor, who had been employed to execute the statue of Jackson, having used up the money collected for that purpose with the work only partially done, my father came to his relief and supplied every pay day the money needed to carry on the work, without requiring a particle of security. This I had from the sculptor himself for the first time, a few days after my father's death, when he told me of it with tears in his eyes. This money the sculptor repaid out of the fifty thousand dollar appropriation Congress made for a statue of Washington to be executed by him.

After the close of my father's term. as Mayor "some of his many friends" presented him an elaborately encased service of silver consisting of two large ewers and twelve goblets on a handsome silver, each piece bearing this inscription: "To John W. Maury late Mayor of the City of Washington from some of his many friends: A testimonial to his public and private worth, 1854."

The presentation was made at the family residence, in the presence of a small company, by my father's old friend, Col. Peter Force, the Historian and Annalist.

Both the presentation and the acceptance of the testimonial were accompanied by appropriate remarks. An interesting feature of my father's life was the long standing intimacy that existed between him and his distant cousin, M. F. Maury, who, while generally known as a scientist, as has been said, was, at the same time, a Captain in the U. S. Navy and for a large part of the time Superintendent of the U. S. Naval Observatory. This intimacy was further strengthened by the marriage of their eldest children, Walker's eldest son-myself-and Matthew's daughter.*

Captain Maury's mind was occupied in wide, diversified fields, while his kinsman's ambition and abilities were centered on the community in which he lived, and yet each was proud of the other's success and when the man of science saw the deep and widespread grief of a whole community, caused by my father's death, he would sometimes say that perhaps Walker had chosen the better part in gathering in such a harvest of love. The manner of my father's death made a strong impression on Captain Maury in that it reminded him, he said, of the manner in which the patriarchs of the Bible saw death. And when the Captain himself lay in his own last moments the scene of my father's deathbed was present to his mind when he made the remark: "I want to die like Walker from my feet upward."

The profound peacefulness and hopefulness displayed in my father's death are shown in his last words which are well remembered by me and are literally quoted in the sermon preached at his funeral by the Rev. George D. Cummins. Being asked by the minister if he could commit the issue of his sickness to God and resign himself into His gracious hands, he replied: "Yes, all is peace, all is peace; I am perfectly resigned to His will; true it would be grateful for me to live for the dear ones around me, but if it is the will of God that I should go I can die without regret." When asked on what his hopes for eternity were based, his earnest reply was: "Only on the merits of the Saviour; I have nothing in myself on which to depend, nor do I wish to deceive myself at this hour-it is not an hour for self deception. " In assenting to the request that he would partake of the Holy Sacrament he said: "Nothing that I could do would strengthen one jot or tittle of my perfect confidence in the atonement of the Redeemer for my soul." My father was not quite forty six years old when he died and I think it remarkable that one so young should have accomplished so much and raised himself so high in the estimation of his fellow citizens.

In a tribute paid to him by his lifelong friend John Cabell Rives, under the caption, "A Good Man Gone," the writer remarks that it might be said, without giving offense to anyone, "that he was the most popular man in the city, and justly so." As further evidence of this I may say that there was, perhaps, never a greater outpouring of the people from President Pierce and the venerable Senator Benton down to the humblest citizen than was seen at his funeral.

As a mark of respect, the Mayor of the City issued his proclamation convening the Boards of Aldermen and Common Council to pay tribute to the memory of the deceased.

Similar action was taken by the various corporations and associations to which he belonged, all of which were represented at the funeral. A touching incident of the occasion was the young widow followed by her twelve children, the eldest 23 years old and the youngest a little lot.

Although the obsequies were held in an Episcopal Church (Trinity), which my father attended, it was an impressive feature of the occasion that there were present in the Chancel in company with the Rector of the Church prominent ministers of several other denominations, namely, the Rev. Dr. Smith, a Presbyterian, the Rev. Mr. Slicer, a Methodist, and the Rev. Dr. Hill, a Baptist, as so many witnesses to the broad-minded goodness of the deceased.

At this point I recall an incident in connection with my father's will, which was made in his last moments. The eminent lawyer Mr. Carlisle was summoned for the purpose, but there was serious delay in getting him owing to the feat that he was dining at the British Minister's. Finally he appeared fresh from the dinner in full dress. Seeing how weak my father's voice was, without saying a word and with the alertne88 that seemed to make him equal to any emergency, he climbed up on the high bed and placed himself at full length by my father's side, putting his ear close to the lips of the dying man and, after hearing what he had to say, went out with me into the hall and wrote the will, standing up and using a tall bureau for a desk. The witnesses were Mr. Carlisle and the two eminent doctors, James C. Hall and John Frederick May. When Mr. Carlisle signed, my father said, "I would know that signature by the sound."

Among the tributes paid my father, the one that appeared in the Union newspaper, the organ of the then administration, presents so just and complete an analysis of his character that I feel it due to his memory to subjoin it as the conclusion of this sketch:

His real wealth was, however, in himself—in that simple, chaste, and harmonious character which made his presence like a blessing, and his progress through life one calm summer's day. There was a beauty in the even consistency of his nature—in the subdued grace of his actions—in his quiet charities—in his enlarged and unostentatious public spirit, that marked him out, even among statesmen and scholars, as a distinguished man—showing that, even in the unobtrusive shades of private life, a man may grow into greatness by other qualities than those which shine best when seen and heard by the public. At home, in the hallowed atmosphere of his family, where he worshiped with unbounded affection, or in the avenues of the world, or while a candidate for the suffrages of the people, or in the expression of his opinions, he was the same gentle, tolerant, and generous spirit.

This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.