John Marshall, the immigrant, settled in Washington Parish on land in the Oak Grove vicinity which he purchased from William Underwood and John Washington. His son Thomas (1655-1704) farmed 1,200 acres, was captain of the County Militia, and was known as “John of the Forest.” His son Thomas (1730-1802) grew up with and was a school mate of George Washington. They learned and practiced surveying together new Oak Grove. One of they practice-survey sheets still survives.
In Virginia, by the 18th century, a plantation based society had developed with well defined social classes. Heading the society was the gentry, made up of so-called aristocrats who were scattered along the rivers throughout the Northern Neck and Tidewater areas. Connection with the gentry was through birth and marriage. Marshall, through his marriage to a Randolph, and through well-placed friendships with leaders such as George Washington and his land acquisition and speculation, may have been the first of his family to become elevated to the gentry.
John Marshall (1755-1835) was the oldest of Thomas’s fifteen children. He became a true Virginian by birth, upbringing, disposition, and property. The world of his youth left enduring marks upon his character. His early education came from his father, from tutors, and from Rev. Archibald Campbell’s parish school in Westmoreland County. It was here that he met James Monroe and developed a life-long friendship with the future president.
Marshall served as an officer in his father’s regiment in the Continental Army. During and after that, he studied law. He received his license to practice from Governor Thomas Jefferson in 1780. He became a celebrated jurist. He was a member of the Virginia convention to ratify the Constitution. He was appointed U.S. envoy to France. He was a member of Congress, Secretary of State, and in 1801 became Chief Justice of The Supreme Court, serving 34 years until his death.
He published a five volume biography on George Washington and was a leading defender of Washington’s administration. He was a staunch defender of the Constitution and the founder of the American system of Constitutional Law.
John Marshall’s four-generation ancestry in Westmoreland County and his youthful school days in Washington Parish, no doubt, contributed significantly to the extraordinary achievements of his long and distinguished career.
John Marshall was married in 1783 to Mary “Polly” Ambler, a member of a prominent Virginia family. Their long-time home in Richmond is now owned by the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities and is open to the public as a memorial museum.