“Pathfinder of the Sea”

Matthew Maury 1806-1873 — by Roy McGinnis [God’s World News]

Matthew clung tightly to the halyard of the mainsail as the U.S.S. Brandywine plied the icy waters of the North Atlantic. The ship had been traveling for weeks from its home port, the Washington Navy Yard. The famous Frenchman, Marquis de Lafayette, was on board. He had fought for the United States nearly 50 years earlier to help free the Americans from British rule. Now, as a reward, President John Quincy Adams had decided to rename the ship the Brandywine to commemorate the famous battle in which the Marquis was wounded.


Nineteen-year-old Matthew knew it was important that the ship arrive safely and on time in France, but storms and contrary winds had blasted the small frigate for three weeks. As he looked out at the surging sea, the ship’s Captain Morris came on deck and saw the new recruit clinging to the ropes. “Sometimes the sea cooperates. Sometimes she does not,” the Captain said as he looked at the seasick young man. “Only God knows what she will do.”    “Yes, sir,” Matthew managed to say. “Indeed, God knows.”
That night, as he lay below deck in his bunk, a whale oil lamp lighting his room, the Captain’s words echoed in Matthew’s mind. God knows. As he did every night, he took his well-worn Bible from the swaying bedside table and turned to his favorite book, the Psalms. In his boyhood, his father had read him the Psalms. He opened the book to chapter eight. At verse eight, suddenly he sat up in bed. Could it be, he wondered? The scripture read simply: “The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.” Paths of the seas? Could there really be paths that ran through the oceans? If so, why had no one studied them? It must be true, he thought. Everything God says is true, even if we don’t understand it.

From that day forward, Matthew Maury began reading old ship’s logs and records, studying thousands of journal entries from sailors from around the globe. He discovered that yes, there were currents that ran in predictable paths through the seas year after year. He found prevailing winds that blew across the waves during certain seasons.  By starting with and believing the Bible, Matthew Maury was able to discover what God had created long before.

Born in 1806 in Virginia, Matthew had always longed for the sea. But when his older brother died after fighting pirates, Matthew’s father discouraged his younger son from joining the Navy. Still, like many natural-born sailors, Matthew felt he must be at sea. So in 1825, no longer under his father’s authority, he signed aboard the Brandywine.

Matthew sailed and wrote and studied and plotted charts for 13 years as he  crisscrossed the Atlantic. He studied the stars and weather as well as currents and winds. His knowledge grew and before long, kings, queens, and other national leaders insisted that their sailors send Matthew information about their many voyages so he might record it on his charts.  His career was going well. But then, in 1839, when he was only 33, tragedy struck.

While on shore leave, he was injured in a stagecoach accident, breaking his hip and knee. His days at sea were over. However, his fame and career had just begun. Though he could no longer sail, he could take the years of lessons he had learned and use it for God’s glory. He soon realized that his accident was part of God’s plan. It allowed him to study even closer the movements of the waters without being distracted by travel. Being on land let him write to the U.S. Congress about his work. With their help, he published his famous book Wind and Current Chart of the North Atlantic. Soon the book was being used on all U.S. naval vessels. Other ships and boats studied the charts as well. No longer were sailors completely at the mercy of the waters. They could begin to plan their voyages carefully and work with the currents and winds.

Matthew Maury continued to study for his entire life. After decades of hard work averaging 14 hours a day, he received many honors. He was  knighted, given medals by kings and the Pope, and became a wealthy man. Since his death, a college, high school, lake, several naval ships, and even a moon crater have carried his name. Many statues have been erected in his honor as well. One statue in his home state of Virginia reads: “Every Mariner, for countless ages, as he takes his chart to shape his course across the seas, will think of thee. His Inspiration, holy writ, Psalms 8:8, Psalm 107:23, 24, and Ecclesiastes 1:6. In appreciation of his services to the Mariners of the world.”

God had taken one man, inspired him with God’s word, and through his obedience and hard work, transformed a scared young sailor into the Pathfinder of the Sea!

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