John Newton

Before his conversion to evangelical Christianity in 1748, John Newton had led an adventure-filled life as a master of a slave ship. He wrote of his experiences in his autobiography An Authentic Narrative published in 1764.  Following retirement from the sea, Newton became Surveyor of the Tides in Liverpool, during which time he studied Greek, Hebrew and Theology. He married Mary Catlett in 1750: they had no children. Newton was ordained as a priest in the Church of England in 1764.   Newton accepted the curacy of Olney, where he lived until 1780 when he became Rector of St Mary Woolnoth in London.

John Newton is perhaps best known as the author of the world-famous hymn, Amazing Grace, which was one of the Olney Hymns written in collaboration with William Cowper. He also wrote some important theological works.

Newton is also remembered for his work in the anti-slavery movement, which occupied part of his later life.

John Newton (1725 - 1807)

John Newton was born in London but captained two Liverpool slave ships during his twenties. Early in his travels Newton was discharged from a ship off the coast of Sierra Leone on condition he went into the owner, Clow’s, service. Clow’s wife was African and she disliked her husband’s new white assistant. She treated him cruelly and persuaded her husband to use him as a slave, working with the black slaves on a lime-tree plantation. Only when Clow was sufficiently ashamed to be seen by others treating another white man in this way did he release Newton, who then became involved in the trading of Africans himself.
Newton therefore experienced slavery both as a slave and as a slave trader. The first ship he commanded as captain was the Duke of Argyle, and then the African. He embraced religion during one voyage home and, although he continued in the slave trade afterwards, he ensured the slaves were treated more humanely and saw little contradiction between slaving and his religious views. He converted to evangelical Christianity in 1748 and was ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1764.

In 1755 John Newton gave up his seafaring life and, influenced by Clarkson, gave evidence on the inhumanity of the slave trade to a Parliamentary committee. He wrote an account of his personal experiences of the slave trade, ‘An Authentic Narrative’, published in 1764, which included a powerful description of the Middle Passage. We also have first-hand evidence of conditions on board ship from the journal he kept and the letters he wrote to his wife. John Newton wrote popular hymns including ‘Amazing Grace,’ written in collaboration with William Cowper.



The Cowper and Newton Museum

Orchard Side, Market Place,
Olney, Buckinghamshire MK46 4AJ,
UK England

Tel: (UK) (0) 1234 711516