The John Marshall Historical Collection

Portrait of John Marshall - Marshall has grey hair, glasses positioned on top of his head and wears a black jacket with white necktie

The John Marshall Center for Constitutional History & Civics (JMC) and the Virginia Museum of History & Culture (VMHC), following their union on July 4, 2023, launched the John Marshall Historical Collection. This exciting acquisitions initiative documents the public and private life of the United States’ longest serving chief justice through original manuscripts, estate papers, rare books, painted portraiture, and furnishings.

About the Collection

The Collection’s foundation is the VMHC’s existing John Marshall material, which includes thirty-five Marshall manuscripts and what are reputed to be the first two items in VMHC’s nearly 200-year-old collection: Marshall’s two-volume The Life of George Washington, presented by “the Author” himself (1832). In addition to paper items, the Collection features the James Reid Hamblin Marshall portrait painted from life (1832) and Marshall’s desk (17801805). Marshall’s only surviving judicial robe, owned by Preservation Virginia, is currently on loan and display in the VMHC’s The Story of Virginia exhibition.

Joining the Collection from the JMC’s holdings are over 250 documents, including a sketch of Agnes Spurlock, the daughter of Marshall’s enslaved butler, Robin Spurlock, as well as items from the “Papers of James K. Marshall,” Marshall’s son who served as executor of his estate (some of these items are indexed in William and Mary’s The Papers of John Marshall).  James C. Stribling, a Marshall descendent, is generously donating a new set of documents featuring more than 50 items from the Chief Justice’s estate papers, including an inventory of books from his library. Significantly, these papers document Robin Spurlock, Agnes’ father, and the enslaved people at Chickahominy Farm.

These three collections come together as one, a crucial addition to the wider John Marshall archive and a vital resource for researchers.

A list of book titles handwritten on sepia paper

Object Number Mss2 M35643 b 2. Gift of James C. Stribling.

Detail of John Marshall’s Richmond Home Library Inventory, 1835

Mostly self-educated and a voracious reader growing up, John Marshall studied books from his father's library, those borrowed from family friend Lord Fairfax, those he read as a student at Campbell Academy during his one year of formal secondary education, and those available to him at The College of William & Mary during his ten months of legal study under George Wythe. (He left early to join the Continental Army.)

This list represents one of four pages of books listed from the library in Marshall’s Richmond Home at the time of his death. It is likely James Keith Marshall, who served as executor of his father’s estate, organized the inventory effort with multiple sons and one nephew choosing the books they wanted and recording the titles and values.

The list boasts stalwarts like Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations—offering direct evidence to a long-speculated Smith-Marshall philosophical connection—and George Tucker’s Blackstone alongside a few surprises like Jefferson’s Correspondences and The American Temperance Society.

Handwritten script on sepia paper

Object Number Mss2 M35643 b 1. Gift of James C. Stribling.

Madeira Receipt, 1835

It has long been told that Chief Justice John Marshall often invited his fellow justices to settle their differences over some Madeira wine. The story goes that Marshall, a prudent man, would permit the indulgence only if it were raining. He would note, however, that their jurisdiction was so vast, it must be raining somewhere. And so, the Madeira flowed as did unanimous decisions. 

This 1835 receipt for nearly two hundred gallons of Madeira purchased by “Judge John Marshall” backs the tale’s mythic proportions. The document is part of a set of John Marshall’s estate papers generously donated by James C. Stribling, a John Marshall descendant.

A photograph of The Life of George Washington, by John Marshall

Object Number E312.M33. Gift of Ralph Higgins.

The Life of George Washington by John Marshall, 1805

John Marshall presented this copy of The Life of George Washington, Vol. 1, to his son, Jaquelin Ambler Marshall, a medical doctor and farmer, on January 7, 1816, shortly after Jaquelin’s 29th birthday. The inscription notes it was given at Prospect Hill, Jaquelin and wife Eliza’s Fauquier County home. 


A dark wood desk with three long drawers with golden pulls and a desktop folded down to show a set of small drawers and mail slots

Object Number 1959.28. Gift of Edna Moffet.

John Marshall’s Desk, 1780 to 1805

The walnut and yellow pine desk John Marshall used as a lawyer, statesman, legislator, and jurist from 1780 to 1835. Marshall is the longest-serving U.S. chief justice, leading the court for 34 years and shaping it into what it is today, coequal to the executive and legislative branches of government. The first of his great cases was Marbury v. Madison,1803, which established the U.S. Supreme Court’s authority to expound constitutional law and exercise judicial review, empowering the Supreme Court to declare laws unconstitutional. Marshall’s body of work includes over 1,000 decisions, more than 500 of which he authoredno doubt sitting at this deskthat consistently uphold the court’s authority to interpret the Constitution and the importance of a strong federal government to our nation’s health.

Handwritten script on sepia paper

Object Number 2023.0006. Gift of James C. Stribling.

Medical Bill for Robin Spurlock, 1835

This invoice for $2.00 was issued by Dr. James D. McCaw (17711845) for a “bleeding” treatment he performed on Robin Spurlock, John Marshall’s enslaved butler. Dr. McCaw is best known for helping save lives during the 1811 Richmond Theatre Fire by helping Gilbert Hunt, a formerly enslaved blacksmith, lower people to safety from the second story. Monumental Church, commissioned by Marshall in 1812, stands on the site as a memorial to the seventy-two who perished there.

A sketch of Agnes Spurlock Hilton in profile with a pipe in her mouth

Object Number 2007.0018. Gift of Elenor Douthat.

Sketch of Agnes Spurlock by Catherine Thomas Douthat, 1886 to 1901

This sketch of Agnes Spurlock, daughter of Robin Spurlock, Marshall’s enslaved butler, was drawn by Catherine Thomas Douthat, John Marshall’s great granddaughter, born in 1874. The date of the sketch is not known. Hilton was born into enslavement along with her brothers, Robin Jr. and Jack, in Richmond. Her mother’s name is not known. Agnes was sent to Mont Blanc in Fauquier County, where she served the widow of John Marshall Jr. and was then given as dowry to Mary Willis Marshall and Fielding Lewis Douthat upon their marriage. She served the Douthats at Weyanoke, a plantation in Charles City County, where she met and married an enslaved man with the last name of Hilton. A year after emancipation, in 1866, the two signed on as sharecroppers there. Agnes Spurlock Hilton died in 1901.

During her time in enslavement and after, Agnes is known to have raised many of the Marshall and Douthat children. The role of “Mammy” noted in the image’s caption, is a false notion of a happy and content caretaker assigned to enslaved women who cared for white children. Catherine Douthat is the last Marshall-Douthat descendant to be cared for by Hilton.

List of those Marshall Enslaved at Chickahominy Farm, Henrico County, 1835. Handwritten script on sepia paper

Object Number Mss2 M35643 b 6. Gift of James C. Stribling.

List of those Marshall Enslaved at Chickahominy Farm, Henrico County, 1835

This list records the names of sixty-four individuals enslaved by John Marshall at the time of his death. The front side is most likely written in the hand of Mary Marshall Harvie, Marshall’s daughter and beneficiary. The scalloped brackets group the names, possibly documenting those who lived together in various outbuildings on Chickahominy Farm. The reverse side serves as a receipt and is most likely written in the hand of James K. Marshall, Mary’s brother, and executor of Marshall’s estate. It reads, “Received September 1 1835 Est. of John Marshall possession of the within negroes as trustee for the benefit of Mary Harvie under the will of her Father the said John Marshall.” The names “Washington” and “America” stand out on the list, as does “Fanny,” perhaps documenting a woman who would later be purchased by her husband, Hezekiah Gaskins, a free black stone mason. Gaskins purchased Fanny and their three daughters from Marshall’s heir, son Edward Carrington Marshall.

Gold framed painted portrait of John Marshall seated in dark robes with a red curtained background

Object number 1988.8. Purchased with funds provided by Hunton & Williams in honor of Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr.

John Marshall Portrait, 1832, oil on canvas.

Portrait of Chief Justice John Marshall, painted from life by James Reid Lambdin in 1832, a month after Marshall was elected as the first president of the Virginia Historical Society, now the VMHC. On display in The Story of Virginia exhibition.