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The Most Unpretending Character

As you can imagine, Mutual Assurance has a number of historical documents with the signatures of many of our country's founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Marshall.

Another source of information in our archives is a small book entitled Richmond in By Gone Days: Being Reminiscences of An Old Citizen by Samuel Mordecai and published in 1856. It includes stories about many of Richmond's distinguished members, as well as the homes they occupied and the contributions they made to the city.

In a section entitled "Old Residences," Mordecai talks about John Marshall and his house "on the street named in his honor." The section of town where Marshall's home was built was once referred to as Shockoe Hill. Mordecai writes, "When Shockoe hill began to change its aspect from fields and forests to street and squares, the greater portion of the latter was held by wealthy and by professional gentlemen."

While hard to imagine today, as this area is full of parking decks, the old Colosseum, and the John Marshall Courthouse, the original homes were "attached the ground of an entire square of two acres, or at least that of half a square."

The writer goes on to lament, "If the crowding system continues to contract our space, we may presently emulate the bee-hive system of Baltimore, where a man can scarcely stand with his arms a-kimbo on his front steps, without jostling his neighbor, if he happens to be in a similar position."

Mordecai talks colloquially about many of the residents of this section of Richmond, outlining their accomplishments, marriages, connections, and character. In his brief discussion of Chief Justice John Marshall, Mordecai writes:

"Of Judge Marshall I will not presume to say more, than that his personal appearance and

deportment as a citizen were of the most unpretending character – of true republican simplicity –

but natural, not assumed – his dress was plain even to negligence, of which he seemed

unconscious. He marketed for himself, and might be seen at an early hour returning home with a

pair of fowls, or a basket of eggs in his hand, not with ostentatious humility, but for mere

convenience. His style of traveling to and from Raleigh, N.C., about 175 miles each way, to preside

at the Federal Court held there, was for many years in that primitive sort of vehicle, a stick gig, (or

chair as it was then called) with one horse and with no attendant. The modest and unassuming

simplicity of his character is evinced to the last, in the inscription which he directed for his

tombstone," which notes only his parents' names, his date of birth, his marriage date and his wife's

name, and the date of his death.

John Marshall insured his home with Mutual Assurance in 1796 and served as the Society's first Chief Counsel. Mutual Assurance insured John Marshall's house for over 200 years, ending coverage in the early 2000s. The John Marshall House was placed in the perpetual care of the Preservation Society of Virginia in 1911, and while Mutual Assurance only insured private homes for most of the next century, the Society opted to continue insuring the house in honor of its connection with the Chief Justice.

To learn more about the history of Mutual Assurance, click here.


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