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Title page of the 1769 copy of the Holy Bible. Handwritten across the top is “James S Maury. The Gift of His Father 1828”Title page of James Maury’s Bible. Photo courtesy Brian Nilsson

Recently, the Jefferson Library at Monticello received a gift from the Fontaine-Maury Society of a historic family Bible. The Bible was published in 1769 in Oxford, England. It belonged to James Maury (1746-1840), an American merchant who served as the first United States consul in Liverpool, England, from 1790-1812 and 1815-1829. In it, he recorded an extensive family tree, starting with John de la Fontaine all the way through to his own children.

James Maury, the owner of the Bible, was a childhood friend of Thomas Jefferson. Maury’s father, the Rev. James Maury (1718-1769), ran a school which Jefferson attended. On one page of the Bible, consul Maury recorded the name and birthdays of their class of five: Thomas Jefferson, Dabney Carr, John Walker, Matthew Maury (James’ older brother), and James himself.

A large leather-bound book with a number 2 pencil for scale. The book is at least 3 inches thick.James Maury’s Bible. Photo courtesy Brian Nilsson.

These men reflected fondly on their days as classmates. At the end of a 1797 letter from James to his brother Matthew, the consul told a story “to put you in mind of how much I hold in sweet Remembrance the students of the Brick floored School Home!” [1] Thomas Jefferson, in turn, often referred to James as “my ancient friend and classmate.” [2]

James had moved to Liverpool, England, in the mid-1780s, in hopes of being appointed a consul for the United States. He was in the first group of consular appointments signed by George Washington in 1790. Because he was already in residence in Liverpool when he was assigned to that consulate, he is sometimes considered the first active consul in US history. As consul, he facilitated American trade and was responsible for the welfare of American sailors throughout his district, which in the 1790s stretched up the west coast of Britain all the way to Greenock in Scotland.

A large leather-bound book with a number 2 pencil for scale. The book is at least 3 inches thick.James Maury’s entry for his classmates in his family Bible.

His first wife, Catherine Armistead Maury, died in 1794. Respecting her wishes, her body was returned to Virginia and buried near her father in the grounds of St. George’s Church, Fredericksburg. In 1796, James married Margaret Rutson, an Englishwoman. They had five children: James Sifrein, William, Matthew, Ann, and Rutson. James recorded all of their births in the Bible, along with the dates of their baptisms and the names of their godparents.  

Although James did not return to the United States during Jefferson’s lifetime, the two men remained good friends, exchanging letters and getting updates on each other’s welfare from mutual friends. There were a number of members of the Maury family resident in Albemarle County who could have shared news between the two men. 

Close up of a handwritten page giving birth dates and godparents for three children born 1797-1800.Birth and baptismal information on James Maury’s three eldest sons.

The Rev. Matthew Maury, James’s older brother who had been his and Jefferson’s classmate, served Fredericksville Parish from 1769-1808. Rev. Matthew officiated the wedding between Martha Jefferson, Jefferson’s daughter, and Thomas Mann Randolph in 1790. One of Matthew’s sons, Thomas Walker Maury, who was an Albemarle county neighbor, kept Jefferson updated on debates in the Virginia General Assembly in the 1810s; he also served as Secretary for the Rockfish Gap Commission which met under Jefferson’s leadership and guidance to identify a location for the University of Virginia. 

A woman at a podium speaking to a seated crowd.Endrina Tay, Fiske and Marie Kimball Librarian at the Jefferson Library, addresses members of the Fontaine-Maury Society.

Consul Maury’s three eldest sons themselves visited Monticello during Jefferson’s lifetime. William and Matthew exchanged a handful of letters with Jefferson. James Sifrein had no need to send letters, as he moved to Albemarle County in the 1820s and could make neighborly visits in person. When Consul Maury returned to the United States in 1831, he set out on a tour around Virginia visiting family and old friends, including a stop to visit Martha Jefferson Randolph and her children at Monticello. 

Two women standing behind a large book on a small table. Standing and seated members of the audience take photos with their cell phones.

The Thomas Jefferson Foundation is deeply grateful to the Fontaine-Maury Society for this generous gift. It provides a window into the close relationship between Thomas Jefferson and the Maury family. We were delighted to host some 70 members of the Society in a presentation ceremony held at the Jefferson Library on Saturday, October 14, and to hear remarks from Dr. J. Jefferson Looney, Editor in Chief of the Thomas Jefferson Papers: Retirement Series documentary project, and from Society Librarian Brian Nilsson.   


Footnotes

[1] James Maury to Matthew Maury, December 8, 1797, Manuscripts and Archives Division, The New York Public Library. "James Maury letters" New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed October 17, 2023. https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/35032200-c3c6-0133-8c2d-00505686d14e 

[2] “Thomas Jefferson to James Maury, 25 April 1812,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-04-02-0551. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 4, 18 June 1811 to 30 April 1812, ed. J. Jefferson Looney. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007, pp. 669–671.]; “Thomas Jefferson to William Roscoe, 27 December 1820,” Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-16-02-0404. [Original source: The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Retirement Series, vol. 16, 1 June 1820 to 28 February 1821, ed. J. Jefferson Looney et al. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019, pp. 499–500.]