Early years (1755 to 1782)
John Marshall's Birthplace Monument in Germantown, Virginia.
Coat of Arms of John Marshall.
John Marshall was born on September 24, 1755 in a log cabin in Germantown, a rural community on the Virginia frontier, close to present-day near Midland, Fauquier County. In the mid-1760s, the Marshalls moved west to the present-day site of Markham, Virginia. His parents were Thomas Marshall and Mary Randolph Keith, the granddaughter of politician Thomas Randolph of Tuckahoe and a second cousin of U.S. President Thomas Jefferson. Despite her ancestry, Mary was shunned by the Randolph family because her mother, Mary Isham Randolph, had eloped with a man believed beneath her station in life. After his death, Mary Isham Randolph married James Keith, a Scottish minister. Thomas Marshall was employed in Fauquier County as a surveyor and land agent by Lord Fairfax, which provided him with a substantial income. Nonetheless, John Marshall grew up in a two-room log cabin, which he shared with his parents and several siblings; Marshall was the oldest of fifteen siblings. One of his younger brothers, James Markham Marshall, would briefly serve as a federal judge. Marshall was also a first cousin of U.S. Senator (Ky) Humphrey Marshall.[a]
From a young age, Marshall was noted for his good humor and black eyes, which were "strong and penetrating, beaming with intelligence and good nature". With the exception of one year of formal schooling, during which time he befriended future president James Monroe, Marshall did not receive a formal education. Encouraged by his parents, the young Marshall read widely, reading works such as William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England and Alexander Pope's An Essay on Man. He was also tutored by the Reverend James Thomson, a recently ordained deacon from Glasgow, Scotland, who resided with the Marshall family in return for his room and board. Marshall was especially influenced by his father, of whom he wrote, "to his care I am indebted for anything valuable which I may have acquired in my youth. He was my only intelligent companion; and was both a watchful parent and an affectionate friend." Thomas Marshall prospered in his work as a surveyor, and in the 1770s he purchased an estate known as Oak Hill.
After the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord, Thomas and John Marshall volunteered for service in the 3rd Virginia Regiment. In 1776, Marshall became a lieutenant in the Eleventh Virginia Regiment of the Continental Army. During the American Revolutionary War, he served in several battles, including the Battle of Brandywine, and endured the winter at Valley Forge. After he was furloughed in 1780, Marshall began attending the College of William and Mary. Marshall read law under the famous Chancellor George Wythe at the College of William and Mary, and he was admitted to the state bar in 1780. After briefly rejoining the Continental Army, Marshall won election to the Virginia House of Delegates in early 1782.