Matthew Fontaine Maury’s “Physical Survey of Virginia” (1868), with Maury’s update to Bucholtz’ state map

F. Maury L.L. D. & c. , &c., Professor of. Physics Virginia Military Institute, PHYSICAL SURVEY OF VIRGINIA. GEOGRAPHICAL POSITION OF; ITS Commercial Advantages, AND National Importance. (PRELIMINARY REPORT [No. 1]). Richmond: W. A. R. Nye, Book and Job Printer, 1868.
1st ed. 8vo. 90,[1p errata], three very large folding maps. Printed wraps. Minor toning and chipping throughout. Mends and reinforcements to more significant wear on first two leaves, with slight loss to a single letter of title. Maps lined on versos, with separations and some losses along old folds repaired, edge chips and binding tears (first map with long, un-mended vertical tear at point of binding and quite fragile). Wraps repaired with spine replaced and edge chips reinstated. In all, a better-than-acceptable copy of a very fragile volume.

A powerful argument for the central place of post-Civil War Virginia in the American and global economy, produced by famed geographer Matthew Fontaine Maury on behalf of the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). With Maury’s revision of the Bucholtz-Ludwig map of Virginia and two other very interesting maps. Very rare on the market.

The end of the Civil War found Matthew Fontaine Maury serving the Confederate cause abroad. After Maury was pardoned by the Federal Government in 1868, VMI Superintendent Francis Hervey Smith (VMI) enticed him to accept a professorship there. Among Maury’s many responsibilities, Smith engaged him to conduct a “physical survey of Virginia”, the objects of which were to:

“… develop the physical resources of the State, to make known its geography, and to point out the great commercial advantages which naturally arise from its situation with regard to the sea and the interior; to show the national importance of that situation and the benefits to arise from turning it to account; also to collect from the people all the information already possessed by them, as to the climate, soil, and productions of the State, its mineral resources, water power and manufacturing facilities, to the end that industry may be stimulated, enterprise encouraged, the material prosperity of the people advanced, and the general welfare of the country promoted.” (Preliminary Report No. 1, p. 3)

As envisioned by Smith the physical survey would include an entirely new map of Virginia based on a sophisticated “trigonometric” survey, replacing Ludwig Bucholtz’ 1858 Map of the State of Virginia.

Time was pressing, though: By the time of Maury’s arrival at VMI in the Summer of 1868, the Transcontinental Railroad was nearly complete, raising the question of which regional economies on the East and Gulf Coasts would most benefit. As much for this reason as any other, within mere months Maury hurried into print this Preliminary Report No. 1, with the narrower—but more urgent—goals of:

“… pointing out [Virginia’s] commercial advantages, its bearing upon the common defence and the national importance which it gives to the two grand lines of internal improvement which are designed to connect the Western States with our seaport towns.”

Accordingly, the Preliminary Report No. 1 consists of an extended series of economic, geographic and geopolitical arguments for the singular potential of Hampton Roads and the city of Norfolk as the entrepot of the East Coast, coequal with San Francisco in the West. To this end, Maury argues for the development of a second transcontinental rail line (the Southern Pacific) and of rail and water connections linking the two lines to the lower Chesapeake Bay.

The maps
Maury supports his arguments with three large and most interesting maps:

STEAM LINE BETWEEN NORFOLK & FLUSHING Showing the back country geographically tributary to each, and the internal improvements connected therewith. 1868. 8 ¼”h x 44 ¾”w at neat line plus margins, uncolored.


VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE MAP OF VIRGINIA Compiled chiefly from C.L. Ludwig’s Map and from other more recent data… by M. F. Maury L.L.D. &c. Prof. Physics V.M.I. Dec. 1868. 18 ½”h x 35”w at neat line plus margins, wash and outline color.


MAP OF THE United States… BY J.H.Waddell, Asst. Prof. of Drawing; prepared under the instructions of M.F.MAURY, L.L.D. Prof. of Physics, V.M.I. Sept., 1868. 18”h x 26 ¼”w at neat line plus margins, outline color.

Roughly speaking, the first map places Maury’s arguments for Norfolk’s advantages in a Transatlantic context. The third makes Norfolk’s case in a continental context and shows in some detail the “internal improvements” required to realize its potential.

The second map is particularly interesting for the history of the cartography of Virginia. As mentioned above, having just returned from abroad in mid-1868, Maury had no time to assemble the men and resources necessary for, much less to conduct, a sophisticated trigonometric survey of the state.

“Notwithstanding all the possible resources for a new map, there was not enough time (and probably not enough money) to carry out the process of surveying, triangulating, taking astronomical observations, and compiling a new map of Virginia as envisaged by General Smith. Maury would not have reached America until July 1868 and the first edition of the Preliminary Report for the physical survey went to the printer in December 1868.” (Wooldridge, “The Bucholtz-Ludwig Map of Virginia…”, p. 36)

Instead Maury fell back on the Bucholtz map: “Some time in the fall of 1868 Smith and Maury must have decided to use the 1858 Bucholtz map … with some changes. Bucholtz’s engraver, Charles Ludwig, was still in business in Richmond and had access to the 1858 stone or some derivative stone.” (ibid.)

Wooldridge provides an extensive analysis of the changes introduced by Maury for this new edition of the Bucholtz map. (ibid., pp. 29-30) Of particular relevance to Maury’s argument are the addition of a “projected” Norfolk & Great Western Railroad extending from Portsmouth through southern Virginia to the Cumberland Gap, and a projected Roanoke & Newport News Railroad connecting Newport News with the Ohio Valley. Both would of course complete the transcontinental connection between San Francisco and the lower Chesapeake envisioned by Maury, thus in theory cementing Norfolk’s position as the great entrepot of the Eastern United States.

In 1869 Maury issued a second, enlarged edition of Preliminary Report No. 1, with an entirely new map of Virginia by James H. Waddell, Assistant Professor of Drawing at VMI.

Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-73)
Maury was born near Fredericksburg to a distinguished Virginia family and numbered among his ancestors the Rev. James Maury, one of Thomas Jefferson’s most influential teachers. When he was five his family removed to Tennessee, where at 19 he received a commission in the U.S. Navy through the influence of Senator Sam Houston. During the early years of his service he developed a strong interest in hydrography, meteorology and navigation. At 33 a stagecoach accident ended his career at sea, but thereafter he was appointed to superintend the Navy’s Depot of Charts and Instruments, later renamed the United States Naval Observatory, a role he filled with great ability until the outbreak of the Civil War.

At the Observatory he sought the linked goals of extending science and improving navigation, in part through compiling and interpreting the raw data locked in the Navy’s vast collection of annotated charts and log books. More innovative still was his institution of a reporting system whereby shipmasters recorded and communicated to him the sea and weather conditions they encountered. This wealth of data enabled him to begin publishing his Wind and Current Charts of the world’s oceans, followed in 1855 by his Physical Geography of the Sea, the first comprehensive book on oceanography in any language.

Like his friend Robert E. Lee Maury was strongly anti-secession, but also like Lee his loyalty to his home state of Virginia superseded that to the Union. After Virginia’s secession Maury resigned his commission and was commissioned first as Commander of the Virginia navy and then as a Commander in the Confederate navy, in charge of its Naval Bureau of Coast, Harbor, and River Defense. In this latter capacity he helped develop an electrically-controlled mine, which throughout the war caused much damage to blockading vessels of the Union Navy. In the Fall of 1862 he was sent to Europe, where he spent the remainder of the war seeking—with little success–to acquire ships and supplies and to encourage European nations to intervene on the side of the Confederacy.

At war’s end he traveled to Mexico, where he participated in a short-lived scheme to encourage former Confederates to emigrate and establish a slaveholding colony. After receiving a pardon from the Federal Government, he returned to Virginia in 1868 and took a professorship at the Virginia Military Institute, a position he held until his death in 1873. During this time he produced the Physical Survey of Virginia and lectured extensively both in the United States and abroad.

Maury did not own slaves, but the historical record demonstrates his support for the institution. As a result he is very much back in the news today: In July 2020 the mayor of Richmond ordered his statue removed from its location, and Maury Lake on the grounds of the Mariners’ Museum in Newport News has been renamed. His supporters can take comfort in the many historical markers still dedicated to him, as well as the USNS Maury and even Maury Crater on the Moon.

References and rarity
OCLC 1979242 et al, listing numerous institutional holdings of the Physical Survey. Much background on the Physical Survey and the Virginia map from William Wooldridge, “The Bucholtz-Ludwig Map of Virginia and Its Successors, 1858-1868,” The Portolan 68 (Spring 2007), pp. 26-39) See also Wooldridge, Mapping Virginia. While Maury’s Physical Survey of Virginia is not institutionally rare, RareBookHub lists but a single example of the 1868 edition offered at auction in the past 30 years.