The John Marshall House, built in 1790 and now owned and operated by Preservation Virginia, was Marshall’s home in Richmond for 45 years.  (courtesy Preservation Virginia/John Marshall House)


John Marshall was born in a cabin at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in what is now Fauquier County, Virginia. The oldest of fifteen children, Marshall was the son of Mary Randolph Keith and Thomas Marshall. Thomas, a close friend of George Washington, was a surveyor for Lord Fairfax.

John Marshall’s education began with his father’s exceptional collection of books, which gave him access to works by Livy, Horace, Alexander Pope, John Milton, and William Shakespeare. At fourteen, Marshall was sent a hundred miles east to a school where James Monroe, the future president, was a fellow student.

While on military leave in 1780, Marshall met Mary Willis Ambler (“Polly”) during a visit with family in Yorktown. He was introduced to Polly, a neighbor, and soon thereafter began courting her.

Though she initially rejected Marshall’s proposal of marriage, Polly eventually accepted and married John in 1783. The pair would have ten children, six of whom lived into adulthood. Polly, having weathered the toll of multiple pregnancies and miscarriages, and the loss of four living children, spent the last three decades of her life in seclusion. After her death in 1831, John Marshall wore a locket containing the lock of hair she had given him almost fifty years early upon accepting his marriage proposal.

After joining the Supreme Court in 1801, Marshall divided his time between Washington, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Richmond at his home near the Virginia Capitol. Today the house is owned and operated by Preservation Virginia and is open to the public.