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Elias Ashmole is Born

Today in Masonic History Elias Ashmole is born in 1617.

Elias Ashmole was an English antiquarian and alchemist.

Ashmole was born on May 23rd, 1617 in Lichfield, Staffordshire, England. He attended Lichfield Grammar School and became a member of the choir at Lichfield Cathedral. In 1633, he went to London to act as a mentor to James Paget's sons. Paget was a Baron of the Exchequer, a court of equity. Paget assisted Ashmole in becoming a solicitor. Ashmole then established himself with a successful legal practice in London.

During the English Civil War, Ashmole supported Charles I and served in the military. During the Civil War Ashmole was stationed in Oxford. He took the opportunity to study physics and mathematics. He also began a deep interest in astronomy, astrology and magic.

After the war Ashmole made several approaches to widows to secure a good marriage, his first marriage had ended with his wife passing away while pregnant He would eventually secure a marriage to a wealthy widow which did not last long. Through the marriage he secured the estate of her late husband which would allow Ashmole to pursue his passions without having to worry about money.

In 1650, Ashmole met and became friends with John Tradescant the younger, a renowned botanist who, with his father, had collected botanical samples from all over the World. Ashmole helped Tradescant catalog the collection and would eventually get Tradescant to leave him the collection. This is a point of contention for two reasons. First Tradescant's widow, Hester, contested the legality of the bequeath of the collection. She claimed that Tradescant signed the paper while drunk and did not understand it's contents. The second is that some have claimed that Ashmole then used the Tradescant collection to enhance his own reputation at the expense of the true collectors. Regardless the Tradescant collection would become the center piece of Ashmole's collection after Hester was found drowned in a pond on the Tradescant property in 1678 while the wrangling over the collection was still going on.

Starting also in 1650, Ashmole would publish three books on alchemy. The books were Fasciculus Chemicus, Theatrum Chemicum Britannicum and The Way to Bliss. The first two were collections of poetry and other information from private libraries that had not been seen by the public. The third was published in 1658 and included various therapeutic remedies. It also recommended that a balanced diet, moderate exercise and enough sleep would prevent illness. His works on the subjects were studied by other natural philosophers including Isaac Newton.

Over the rest of his life Ashmole would help to catalog a variety of other collections. Eventually he would bring them all together to create a museum which is believed to be the first public museum in England.

Ashmole passed away on May 18th, 1692.

Ashmole joined Warrington Lodge on October 16th, 1646. We know this from a diary entry he made which states "I was made a Free Mason at Warrington in Lancashire, with Coll: Henry Mainwaring of Karincham [Kermincham] in Cheshire." It is unclear how active he was in the fraternity. There are two other entries in diary, both about an event on March 11th, 1682. The first is from the day before noting that he was summon to lodge on the 11th, the other detailing that the he went to the meeting and that information about the dinner. Ashmole's diary entries are some of the earliest references to Freemasonry in England.