John Newton (1725-1807) was the Parish priest of Olney and Cowper’s friend and collaborator. But he began his career as a seafarer and slave trader, before becoming a famous London preacher and spiritual mentor to William Wilberforce, the abolitionist.
Returning to England aboard the Greyhound in 1748, John Newton awoke to find the ship caught in a violent storm and about to sink. He prayed for God’s mercy, the storm died down and after four more weeks at sea the Greyhound finally made it to port.
The experience marked the beginning of his conversion to Christianity. Newton continued to work in the slave trade but his actions began to be shaped by his faith.
In 1757 Newton started to prepare for the ministry and after seven years was ordained into the Church of England. He became curate of the parish church in Olney, a position he held for nearly 16 years. In 1780 Newton moved to the City of London as rector of St Mary Woolnoth church, where he began to speak out against the slave trade.
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 remembered for his work in the anti-slavery movement, which occupied part of his later life. He died in 1807, a few months after the Act abolishing the slave trade throughout the British Empire had been passed.