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Rev John Henry Newton

  • Birth 24 Jul 1725 Wapping, London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Greater London, England
  • Death 21 Dec 1807 London, City of London, Greater London, England
  • Burial Olney, Milton Keynes Borough, Buckinghamshire, England
  • Plot Corner of churchyard
  • Memorial ID 18255382

Anglican Clergyman and Hymn writer. He is best remembered for penning the words to the ever popular religious tune "Amazing Grace." Once a prosperous slave trader, he recognized to evil of his role in the African slave business, eventually renouncing his profession and becoming a prominent supporter of the abolition of slavery. His father was an English shipmaster in the Mediterranean service. His mother died prior to his seventh birthday and two years later, he went to live at Aveley, in Essex, England with his father's new wife. After attending boarding school for two years he went to sea with his father, making six voyages with him before he retired in 1742. His father arranged for him to work at a sugar plantation in Jamaica, but he signed on with a Mediterranean-bound merchant ship instead. In 1743 he was captured by the British Royal Navy and conscripted into the naval service. He served on the HMS Harwich as a midshipman and was severely punished for attempted desertion and reduced in rank to a common seaman. Contemplating suicide, he recovered physically and mentally and was later transferred to the Pegasus, a slave ship bound for West Africa. He continued to pose problems for the ship's crew and they left him in West Africa with a slave dealer who gave him to his African wife, where he was ill-treated along with her other slaves. In 1748 he was rescued by a sea captain who had been searching for him on behalf of his father. While on the return voyage to England, he experienced a religious conversion when the ship encountered a storm and almost sank. He began reading the Bible and other religious literature and by the time his ship reached port, he had accepted the doctrines of evangelical Christianity. He avoided sinful habits like drinking, profanity, and gambling, but continued to work in the slave trade even though he became sympathetic to their plight. Soon afterward he obtained a position as first mate on the slave ship Brownlow, that was bound for the British West Indies by way of the coast of Guinea. He became ill on the first part of the voyage and experienced a second religious conversion, in which he asked God to take control of his destiny. Returning to England in 1750, he married his childhood sweetheart, Mary Catlett, after which he would make three additional voyages as captain of the slave-trading ships Duke of Argyle (1750) and African (1752 to 1753 and 1753 to 1754). He suffered a severe stroke in 1754 and gave up his seafaring and slave-trading activities but still continued to invest his money in the slave business. In 1755 he became a tax collector for the Port of Liverpool and became renowned as an evangelical lay minister, studying Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac (Middle Aramaic) languages in his spare time, and two years later he applied to be ordained as an Anglican priest but was denied. He applied to other denominations as well but met with the same results. Finally in 1764 he was introduced to Lord Dartmouth (William Legge) who recommended him to the Bishop of Chester, and he finally became a priest at Olney, Buckinghamshire on June 17th of that year. He would spend sixteen years as the rector at Olney and became very popular as a preacher and was widely known for his pastoral care, gaining the respect of Anglicans and Nonconformists alike. In 1767 the English poet William Cowper moved to Olney and attended Newton's church, collaborating with him on a number of hymns that were published as "Olney's Hymns" in 1779. Among them were Newton's "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken," "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds," "Let Us Love, and Sing, and Wonder," "Come My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare," "Approach My Soul, the Mercy-seat," and "Faith's Review and Exception," which became widely known by its opening phrase "Amazing Grace." In 1779 he became the rector of Saint Mary Woolnoth Church in London, England, serving there until his death 28 years later at the age of 82. In 1788 he finally spoke out against the slave trade in his pamphlet "Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade," apologizing for his late confession against the practice of slavery. Later, he would become an ally and friend to William Wilberforce, leader of the Parliamentary campaign to abolish slavery, which was finally accomplished by the passage of the Slave Trade Act in 1807. In 1792 he was awarded a Doctorate Degree in Divinity by the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). After the death of his wife in 1790, he published "Letters to a Wife" (1793) in which he expressed his grief. His last years were plagued by poor health and failing eyesight and he died in London and was originally buried next to his wife in the Saint Mary Woolnoth Church cemetery. In 1893 their remains were moved to a corner of the Saint Pater and Paul Church cemetery due to the extension of the London Underground rapid transit system. In 1982 he was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, in recognition by the Gospel Music Association for his influential hymns.

Bio by: William Bjornstad

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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Originally Created by: Nikita Barlow
  • Added: 5 Mar 2007
  • Find A Grave Memorial 18255382
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Rev John Henry Newton (24 Jul 1725–21 Dec 1807), Find A Grave Memorial no. 18255382, citing St Peter and St Paul Churchyard, Olney, Milton Keynes Borough, Buckinghamshire, England ; Maintained by Find A Grave .