Did you know the beloved Christian hymn “Amazing Grace” was written by a former slave trader?

November 11, 2019 at 01:00 pm | History

Michael Eli Dokosi

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer

November 11, 2019 at 01:00 pm | History

The 'Amazing Hymn' written by John Newton via christianity.com

“Amazing Grace” has become the soaring spiritual song, describing profound religious elation of Christians much more Blacks. The song is a well-known anthem of the civil rights movement.

But a few have bothered to pry deeper into the soul of the writer to become enlightened about the depths from which came the outpouring.

Curiously, this stirring song now in the domain of the African-American community, was written by a former slave trader, John Newton who is also described as unrestrained in sexual conduct.

Sailors were not noted for the refinement of their manners, but Newton had a reputation for profanity, coarseness, and debauchery which even shocked many a sailor.

John Newton Photo
John Newton, a former slave trader who wrote the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.”

“Newton was born in 1725 in London to a Puritan mother who died two weeks before his seventh birthday, and a stern sea-captain father who took him to sea at age 11. After many voyages and a reckless youth of drinking, Newton was impressed into the British navy. After attempting to desert, he received eight dozen lashes and was reduced to the rank of common seaman.”

While later serving on the Pegasus, a slave ship, Newton did not get along with the crew who left him in West Africa with Amos Clowe, a slave trader.

It was during the voyage home that the ship was caught in a horrendous storm off the coast of Ireland nearly killing those on board. Newton, it was said, woke up in the middle of the night and prayed to God to save them. Then the cargo miraculously shifted to fill a hole in the ship’s hull enabling the vessel to drift to safety.

The experience will lead to Newton’s conversion to Christianity although shedding his old ways will take some time.

“I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterwards,” the man known as the “Great Blasphemer” later wrote.

Amazing Grace Photo
Amazing Grace” published in “Olney Hymns” in 1779. (Photo: Photocopy of “Olney Hymns” on page 53 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

“Newton continued to sell his fellow human beings, making three voyages as the captain of two different slave vessels, The Duke of Argyle and the African. He suffered a stroke in 1754 and retired, but continued to invest in the business. In 1764, he was ordained as an Anglican priest and wrote 280 hymns to accompany his services. He wrote the words for “Amazing Grace” in 1772 (In 1835, William Walker put the words to the popular tune “New Britain”),” according to biography.com.

Even after the Amazing Grace, it had to take over a decade, before Newtown renounced his former slaving profession by publishing a blazing pamphlet called “Thoughts Upon the Slave Trade.”

He submitted: “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” His pamphlet is regarded as helping the English civil government outlaw slavery in Great Britain in 1807, the same year he expired.

When he was ordained, he was 39 and will go on to preach the Gospel of Christ for 43 years before his demise at 82. He was married to Mary.

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