Who wrote Amazing Grace?
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John Newton (1725 to 1807) was an English clergyman and writer who, in 1779 A.D., wrote the hymn Amazing Grace. The hymn was written after he converted to Christianity and abandoning his participation in the slave trade. Inspiration for the song came from Newton's own personal experiences.
In 1725, Newton was born in Wapping, a district in London near the Thames. His father was a shipping merchant who, though brought up Catholic, was sympathetic toward the Protestants. His mother was a devout Independent that was unaffiliated with the Anglican Church. John's mother wanted him to become a clergyman, but she died of tuberculosis when he was only six years old. John ultimately grew up without any particular religious convictions. After his mother's death, his distant stepmother raised John while his father was at sea. At the age of eleven, he joined his father on a ship as an apprentice.
John sailed on six voyages until 1742 when his father died. In 1743 he was pressed into naval service, became a midshipman aboard the HMS Harwich, deserted, was recaptured and reduced to the rank of a common seaman, exchanged to a ship in the African station, became servant to a slave trader, and was rescued in 1748 and became converted to Christianity during a storm at sea.
While at sea, Newton also studied Latin and the Bible. It was after much soul searching and Bible reading that Newton saw the horrors of slavery and the hypocrisy it made him feel as a Christian. He soon gave up his association with slave shipping. These experiences led him ultimately to write Amazing Grace.
In 1764, Newton was ordained a deacon and priest and given the curacy of Olney, Buckinghamshire. In 1767, the poet William Cowper settled there, and the result of their friendship was the Olney Hymns that greatly influenced English hymnology. In 1779, Newton became Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth in London.
Although it had its roots in England, the song Amazing Grace became an integral part of the Christian church in the United States. In the 19th century, the hymn spread like wildfire across the U.S. and became a staple of many religious services. Gatherings of thousands of people attended camp meetings where they came to experience salvation and fiery preaching. John Newton's hymn was one of many hymns that punctuated the fervent sermons that the people came to hear.