John & Polly – One True Love

Mary Willis Ambler, also known as Polly, had it all—an exotic look, the dark complexion of her French Huguenot ancestry, soft curls and brown eyes. The daughter of Virginia’s treasurer, she was accustomed to the bustling life of Williamsburg. Polly had even dated Thomas Jefferson before she met John Marshall.  

 

John met Polly while he was studying law at the College of William and Mary. It seemed to be love at first sight.

While at school sometimes, John’s mind would wander and he would write Polly’s name in the margins; on one page, her name appears three times.

After two years, at the age of 27, John Marshall asked 16-year-old Polly to marry him. Although she wanted to accept, and had thought about marrying John since they first met, for some reason Polly declined. After John left her home upset, Polly became hysterical, regretting her answer.

However, Polly’s cousin, John Ambler, saw what had happened. Assuring her that all was not lost, he cut off a lock of Polly’s hair and brought it to Marshall. When the future Chief Justice of the United States returned to Polly’s home – to ask the important question a second time – Polly accepted. They were married in John Ambler’s home on January 3rd, 1783.

Polly placed that strand of her hair (together with a strand of John’s) into a locket which she wore every day of their nearly 49-year marriage.

Marshall routinely called his wife “Dearest Polly” in letters he sent to her. Of their ten children, three died as infants and one died in early childhood. Those tragedies greatly weakened Mrs. Marshall. During the last 25 years of her life she was frail and ill, rarely leaving the master bedroom. Despite everything however, John and Polly’s marriage remained strong.

Throughout his 34 years serving as the country’s Chief Justice, John Marshall made a point to always spend about six months of every year at home. He wrote judicial opinions there, saw guests, managed his household and attended to the needs of his family.

On Christmas morning, 1831, Polly was extremely ill. Dying, she was too weak to remove her locket. John did that for her and, at Polly’s insistence, transferred the locket from her neck to his. John wore the locket every day until he died in Philadelphia, four years later, at age 79.

A year after Polly’s death, the John Marshall 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.”

 

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