Chief Justice John Marshall, Fauquier’s Native Son

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“I can never forget this county was the revered author of my being…that in this county I first breathed the vital air, that in it my infancy was cradled and my youth reared up and encouraged; that in the first dawn of manhood I marched from it…Here my affections as well as my interest still remain, and all my sons are planted among you. The brave people of Fauquier – brave soldiers in time of war, good citizens in time of peace and intelligent patriots at all times.” So said John Marshall, one of Fauquier County’s native sons, in 1825.

John Marshall was a statesman, U.S. Congressman and Supreme Court Justice, born on September 24, 1755. Among his many accomplishments, Marshall is considered a great defender of the constitution whose legacy has endured for well over 200 years.

2017 marks the 262nd anniversary of Marshall’s birth, as well as the 230th anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution of the United States. Through his lifetime of work, John Marshall is forever linked to the U.S. Constitution.

On September 23rd the Twentieth Judicial Circuit of Virginia and the Bar Association of Fauquier County will conduct a Special Session of Court to commemorate the 230th anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution of the United States and the 262nd anniversary of the birth of John Marshall.  The Twentieth Judicial Circuit includes Loudoun, Rappahannock and Fauquier counties. The Session of Court will be held at 2 p.m. in the old Fauquier County (General District) Courthouse.

But who was this native son?

The early years

John Marshall, first son of Thomas Marshall and Mary Randolph Keith, was born on September 24, 1755, in Germantown, near today’s Midland. In 1765, the family, which would eventually include 15 children, moved to a small house called The Hollow near present day Markham. By 1773 the family moved again to Oak Hill, a larger home west of present day Marshall.

Marshall was close to his father, Thomas, and served with him in the Continental Army, including the hard winter at Valley Forge. During his time of service he took leave to study law in Williamsburg and was admitted to the bar in 1780, at the age of 25. He practiced law in Richmond, where he met and married Mary “Polly” Willis Ambler in 1783. They lived with their 10 children in both Fauquier’s “Oak Hill” and in Richmond.

Career and legacy

Marshall’s roots as a farm boy growing up in the foothills of the Blue Ridge provided a different background from most of the Founding Fathers.  Marshall served in the Constitutional Convention, Virginia House of Delegates, U.S. House of Representatives and as Secretary of State. In 1801 President John Adams appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court as its fourth Chief Justice.

At that time, the federal judiciary was viewed as less powerful than the executive and legislative branches of the federal government. That changed in 1803 during the famous case of Marbury v. Madison when Marshall’s court affirmed the Constitution, to which the other branches must defer on questions of law, setting a historical precedent for all Supreme Court cases going forward. Marshall has been called the Defender of the Constitution. With 34 years of service, he is also the longest-serving Chief Justice in U.S. history.

Final years

Marshall’s heart remained in Fauquier County. Although he had a lovely home in Richmond, he often returned to Oak Hill, spending summers and weekends there with his large family. He was a loving father and a devoted husband to Polly. His health quickly declined after Polly’s death in 1831, and he died soon after in 1835.

Reminders of John Marshall still surround us – our courthouse statue, The Hollow and Oak Hill, the library and town that bear his name, and in his many descendants who call Fauquier home.

The commemorative Special Session of Court will be presided over by Judges of the Circuit and General District Courts of Fauquier County.  At the Session of Court, the John Marshall Commemorative Address will be delivered by Justice William C. Mims of the Supreme Court of Virginia.  The Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Virginia, Judge Glen A. Huff, will also speak at this Session, along with Henry N. Butler, the Dean of The Antonin Scalia Law School of George Mason University.

To learn more about John Marshall, visit the Virginiana Collection at the Warrenton central library.  A partial listing of resources about John Marshall, available at the Fauquier County Public Library, will also appear in the September 20 edition of The Library Page, in the Fauquier Times. Other resources can be found at the Fauquier Heritage and Preservation Foundation in Marshall, and the Fauquier Historical Society in Warrenton.

Deborah, Branch Manager, John Marshall branch library



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