Letters & Notes

My Dearest Polly

John Marshall married Mary Willis Ambler on January 3, 1783. By all 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 build an understanding of Marshall’s character and concerns. Upon the occasion of their engagement in 1782, John Marshall gave a gold locket to his fiancée. This locket signifies the deep devotion and everlasting love between John and his “dearest Polly.” It represents the enduring qualities of this great American and the affection he held for his wife over the forty-eight years of their marriage. Polly wore the locket until shortly before her death in December, 1831. She gave the locket back to Marshall, who wore it as a reminder of her until his death in July, 1835. A year after her death, he wrote…

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.

This gold locket, containing a snippet of her own hair, was worn by Mary Willis Ambler Marshall until her death in December, 1831 and then was worn by her husband John until his own death in July, 1835. The locket is on display at the historic John Marshall House in Richmond and is in the collection of APVA Preservation Virginia.

Reproduction of a 1797 original portrait of Polly Marshall, on display at the John Marshall House. The original painting is in the collection of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Photograph courtesy of APVA Preservation Virginia.