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John Ashton

Jesuit missionary in Maryland (1742-1814)

Ashton, JOHN, an early Jesuit missionary in Maryland, b. in Ireland, 1742; d. in Maryland, 1814, or 1815. He was one of the first priests to visit the Catholics of Baltimore. This was between the years 1776 and 1784, at which latter date a resident priest, Father Charles Sewall, was appointed. The Jesuits at that time lived at Whitemarsh, about midway between Washington and Baltimore. The temporary church used by Father Ashton in Baltimore was an unfinished building, begun by an Irishman named Fotterall. It stood near the present site of Battle Monument, now the center of civic and commercial activity. It was the first brick building in Baltimore. Finding it abandoned, some Acadian refugees occupied the upper portion which was still habitable. Father Ashton said Mass in the lower room, although the hogs which had taken possession of it had first to be driven out. The priest brought his vestments with him, and a rude altar was erected. The faithful never numbered more than forty, and consisted chiefly of Acadians and a few Irish. This is the first Baltimore congregation of which there is any record. Father Ashton entered the Society of Jesus in 1759. He was first employed in the missions of Yorkshire, England. He must have been a man of business capacity, as at the assembly of the clergymen of Maryland and Pennsylvania, which convened at Whitemarsh, in 1784, he was unanimously elected procurator-general, whose duty it was to preside over the management of the various estates of the clergy. Subsequently, in 1788, he was appointed to superintend the building of Georgetown College.

T. J. CAMPBELL


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