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John Marshall House

Mary Willis Ambler “Polly” Marshall

Mary Willis Ambler “Polly” Marshall

John Marshall married Mary Willis Ambler Marshall on January 3, 1783. By all period accounts, they were devoted and attentive partners throughout their union. John Marshall shared many of his concerns about the shaping of the nation with his wife and respected her opinion on many issues. His letters to her help to build an understanding of Marshall's character and concerns.

Mary or as Marshall called her "my dearest Polly" was born in Yorktown in 1766. She was the second of five girls born to Rebecca Burwell and Jacquelin Ambler. Rebecca was courted earlier by Thomas Jefferson, who called her the "Fair Belinda." Her spurn of Jefferson to marry Ambler may have led to some hostility between Jefferson and Marshall later in life.

Mary Marshall grew up learning many of the traditional lessons of girls at the time. She made a sampler around 1775 that is still on exhibit in the John Marshall House. Family tradition relates that John Marshall fell in love with Mary Ambler soon after meeting her. After spending time with her at many dances, Marshall asked the sixteen year old to marry him. Becoming flustered, Mary refused. She quickly realized her error and sent a cousin riding after Marshall to give him a lock of her hair. Marshall returned the lock of hair, entwined with a lock of his own, which was encased in a locket. They were soon married after a short courtship.

Mary Marshall wore the locket until shortly before her death in 1831. She gave the locket back to Marshall who wore it as a reminder of her until his death in 1835. He wrote a year after her death "I have lost her! And with her I have lost the solace of my life! Yet she remains still the companion of my retired hours--still occupies my inmost bosom. When I am alone and unemployed, my mind unceasingly turns to her."

John and Mary Marshall had ten children, only six of whom survived to adulthood--five boys and one girl.