John Marshall Birthplace Trail

Start: John Marshall Birthplace Park in Bealeton
Distance: 1.3 mile out and back
Parking: Park Parking lot off Germantown Road
Refreshments: none
Pets: Under control pets welcome
Difficulty: Easy;  some muddy or overgrown areas


The famous Chief Justice was born somewhere near this strangely compelling stone pyramid erected at the end of the half mile grassy trail in Fauquier’s first public park.  The trail winds along a creek between two working farms in bucolic Midland to the marker and a picnic site.  See if you can find the “Ford in the stream”.


Very near the lost German Colony that was the first European habitation in Fauquier County, John Marshall’s father Thomas moved along the stream of Licking Run with his wife and mother in the year 1754.  One year later, the future Chief Justice was born somewhere around the John Marshall Birthplace Trail.  How he knew it would be there one day I don’t know.  The location of the house is not exactly known and the marker was located based on oral tradition.  A subsequent survey and research by The Collage of William and Mary in 2005 turned up “identification of a highly discrete scatter of primarily early to mid-18th-century domestic artifacts focused in the immediate vicinity of the birthplace monument.”  Thus we deem it so.

So on September 4th, 1755, the future Chief Justice took his first gasp of air.  Interestingly enough, this year also heralded the birth of Marie Antoinette, the publications of Samuel Johnson’s “Dictionary of the English Language” and the horrible Lisbon Earthquake which killed 30,000 people.  The nearby Germantown settlement had not been ‘lost’ yet so the banks of Licking Run was the most hopping location in Fauquier County.

In 1902, a legal fraternity from George Washington University decided to put a marker as close as anyone could figure on the spot.  It was enclosed in a larger marker in 1928, and the county made it its first public park when it plopped down a trail to it in 1978.

John lived at the house for about 10 years seeing the birth of his sisters Elizabeth and Mary, and a brother Thomas before the family picked up and moved north to Goose Creek.  It is not recorded whether he viewed the growing competition for toys and food with equanimity or distain, but given his future focus on justice, I’m inclined to ascribe him a benevolent turn of mind.  He would need it, eventually finding himself the oldest of 15 children to the industrious Thomas.

John Marshall was a member of the Culpeper Minutemen during the Revolutionary War and went to William and Mary for his law degree.

After traveling through the back country roads and pleasant low farmland of Fauquier’s southeast section, you’ll pass Cows and Corn heading south on Germantown Road.   This farm complex of silos, barns, and wandering herbivores illustrates the vibrant rural nature of the south county.  Head over the railroad tracks, by Licking Run, and into a small 6 space parking lot on the left which can be easy to miss. The sign is tucked up in the boxwood bushes.

Near the small parking lot, a grassy trail sets out along a creek with a few interpretive signs reporting background on the Marshalls and the area.  To either side are working farms which allow a peaceful, bucolic feel.  It can often become muddy after rains and is heavily invested with birdlife.

The trail meanders, as all trails along water must, into a corridor of woods with a field to the right which was originally part of Thomas Marshall’s 250 acres.  According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the creek is populated by “tawny emperors and the woods along the trail for yellow-billed cuckoo, Carolina chickadee, tufted titmouse, Carolina wren, and northern cardinal. The open fields along the trail hold killdeer, mockingbirds and chipping sparrows, seemingly spied on by red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures flying overhead. In the fall, yellow-rumped warblers and ruby-crowned kinglets join the resident songbirds as well as other warblers, such as black-throated green, that drop in from time to time. These open fields also host numerous common whitetail dragonflies and brilliant eastern tiger swallowtails.”

About 100 feet on the left notice the ‘Ford in the stream’.  Ha.  The sky blue paint is still visible on its 1950s finned body.  I don’t know what make the car actually is but the joke works better with a Ford.  Note the door a little further downstream around a bend.

A half mile in you reach the strangely compelling stone pyramid that was built around an earlier marker in 1928 and a picnic shelter should you wish to consume cheese sandwiches and soda near the birthplace of the great adjudicator.

Spend a few quiet moments by the illuminati-esque monument and contemplate your favorite bit of Marshall Jurisprudence like Marbury v. Madison (1803) establishing the Judiciary as an equal branch of government; McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) denying the states the power to tax Federal Institutions they didn’t want; or Cohens v. Virginia (1821) in which the Chief Justice said that the Supreme Court had precedence over State courts.  Perhaps you can turn it into a game with the children and see who can name the most court cases opined on by Mr. Marshall.  Then, have a picnic and watch the sky for biplanes.  All too soon make the short amble back to the parking lot.

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