Dabney Herndon Remembers his Father, John Minor Maury

Maury, Dabney Herndon, 1822-1900, Recollections of a Virginian in the Mexican, Indian, and civil wars (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1894)

See this article on John Minor Maury.


“In 1824, my father, Captain John Minor Maury, while serving as flag captain of Commodore David Porter’s fleet against the pirates of the West Indies, died in the twenty-eighth year of his age. He had been an officer of the Navy since his thirteenth year, and had led a most active and adventurous  life; and at the time of his death he was the highest ranking officer of his age in the service. Some years previously he sailed with Captain William Lewis as first officer of a ship bound for China. They had both obtained furloughs for this voyage. Maury, with six men, was left on the island of Nokaheeva to collect sandal-wood and other valuable articles of trade against the return of the ship.

“The war with England broke out, and Captain Lewis was blockaded in a Chinese port. Maury and his men were beset by the natives of one part of the island, though befriended by the chief of that portion where ships were accustomed to land, and at last all of the party save Maury and a sailor named Baker were killed by the savages. These two constructed a place of refuge in the tops of four cocoanut trees which grew close  enough together for them to make a room as large as a frigate’s maintop. A rope ladder was their means of access. Here they were one day, when their eyes were brightened by the sight of a frigate bearing the American flag. It proved to be the Essex, Captain David Porter commanding, which had touched at the island for fresh water. Captain Porter had with him a very fast British ship which he had just captured. He named her the Essex Junior, and armed her as his consort, placing Lieutenant Downs in command, with Maury as first lieutenant. After refitting they sailed away to Valparaiso, where the British ships Cherub and Phœbe, under Captain Hilliard, fought and captured them.

“Maury’s next service was with McDonough in the battle of Lake Champlain, whence he wrote to a friend in Fredericksburg: “We have gained a glorious victory. I hope the most important result of it will be to confirm the wavering allegiance of New York and Vermont to the Union. They have been threatening to secede unless peace be made with England on any terms!” This was in 1815.

“About 1822, Porter organized his fleet for the extinction of the pirates of the West Indies. He was allowed to select his officers, and his first choice was of John Minor Maury to be his flag captain. After serving with distinction on that expedition, he died of yellow fever on his homeward voyage, and was buried almost within sight of Norfolk harbor, where his young wife and two little children were anxiously awaiting his coming.

“After my father’s death his younger brother, Matthew Fontaine Maury, became practically the guardian of my brother, William Lewis Maury, and myself. My brother died at the age of twenty, of heart disease, a victim to the barbarous medical practice of the day.

“He was a very handsome, attractive young fellow, and a great favorite in society. The doctors subjected him to the “moxa,” a cruel invention of that time. A spot as large as a half dollar was burned into the flesh over his  heart. He was bled frequently. It was proposed to bleed him periodically. For several years he ate no meat, and for the last year of his life was kept in bed.  Our uncle protested vainly against this practice, which he realized was killing my brother, but the highest medical authorities of the day upheld this system of depletion. At last, after ever increasing torture, he was released from a life which had dawned full of brightness and promise for him, and had become one of continued suffering.”