The man who would write Amazing Grace was born in Wapping, England, in 1725. It is 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 six. He ultimately grew up without any particular religious convictions. After his mother's death, his distant stepmother raised him while his father was at sea. At the age of eleven he became an apprentice on the same ship his father served on.
From 1736 to 1742 John sailed on six voyages. In 1743 he went into the navy and boarded the ship HMS Harwich as a midshipman. He soon deserted the ship and was recaptured. With a reduced rank of seaman he was forced to being the servant of a slave trader. After his rescue in 1748 he became a Christian, a decision that would lead to creating Amazing Grace. While at out at sea Newton studied Latin and God's word. Soon after understanding the mistreatment and sin of slavery he gave up his living working as a slave shipper.
In 1764 Newton was ordained and served in Olney, Buckinghamshire. William Cowper, a poet, moved to the area three years later. He struck up a friendship with the pastor, the result of which ultimately produced the Olney Hymns. In 1779 John became Rector of St. Mary Woolnoth in London and before the year ended wrote Amazing Grace.
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.
This wonderful, inspiring hymn, with the beginning of recorded music and radio, began to cross over from primarily a gospel standard to secular audiences. This further increased Amazing Grace's popularity with the public. John Newton died in 1807. Other well-known hymns by him include "Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken," "How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds!", "Come, My Soul, Thy Suit Prepare" and "Approach, My Soul, the Mercy seat."
Amazing Grace is the most popular, and most recorded, hymn ever wrote. The Gospel Music Association recognized Mr. Newton for his hymns of long-standing influence in 1982 by inducting him into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame.