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Bio – John Newton


John Newton – slave trader, poet, and preacher. (1725 – 1807)


John Henry Newton Jr. born in Wapping, London, son of John Henry Newton Sr. and Elizabeth Newton (nee Seatclife). His father a shipmaster in the Mediterranean service was educated at Jesuit College in Spain .His mother a godly women, brought John up as a Nonconformist Christian and dedicated him to the Lord and His ministry. When John was six, his mother died of tuberculosis. His father remarried the following year. The stepmother didn’t pay much attention to John and his needs so when he was 9 he was sent to a boarding school for two years and at the age of 11 he went to sea with his father for a total of six voyages. John became a teenager raised in a godless surrounding. After the six voyages his father retired, and his father planned for John to take up a position as a slave master at a sugar plantation in Jamaica however, in 1743 he became a captain of a slave-ship himself. 

John’s life sounds like a movie with being forced to join the naval service, trying to escape, being caught and flogged 96 times, contemplating suicide, put on another ship called the Pegasus where he again is in trouble for making a deal with a slave traitor named Amos Clowe, who was married to an African duchess named Princess Peye. Both Clowe and his wife abused him terrible. Newton later remembered this as the time he was “once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa.” Now, John’s father is looking for him, and had asked a captain friend of his to keep and eye out for him, he was found and rescued from his bondage. Next upon a ship heading home, a terrible storm cames up awakens him as the ship was filling with water, he cries out to God – upon that moment the Lord touched his heart, although it was not with salvation at  this point in time – oh the goodness of God as He worked in John’s life and heart! Surviving this ordeal he began to read the Bible.  He turned away from gambling, drinking and profanity; though he continued to work in the slave industry he had a compassion now for the slaves he was dealing with. John said “I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterwards.” 

Next in his this very unusual life John returns to England and a friend of his father’s hires him as his first mate, once again on a slave trading vessel. This ship was now bound for the West Indies off the coast of Guinea. In 1748-49 John became sick with a fever and finally professed total belief in the Lord and asked God to take control of his life. John marks this as his conversion and at this point he said he now had total peace, the amazing grace of God and how mysteriously are His ways.  

On February 12, 1750 John married his live long friend and distant cousin Mary Catlett, who he had been in love with since he was seventeen. Now he goes back to sea and after three more trips to trade slaves and after having a stroke, he stopped this type of employment but continued to invest his monies in the trade business. With time on his hands he began to study Hebrew, Greek and Syriac and became known as a lay minister, seven years later was ordained into the Church of England.  Through a series of things he is finally ordained makes friends with George Whitefield and picks up the nickname of “Young Whitefield.” He also became friends with John Wesley. He was called a moderate Calvinist or a hidden one because of the debates of the day. Newton held strong objection to secular amusement and did not tolerate the Roman Catholic Chruch and its false teachings. 

In December 1790 his dear wife passed away from cancer. In “Letters to a Wife” (2 columns) you can read of his love for his wife. Though his faculties failed him with age, being elderly and blind he continued to preach,. He said he could not stop. On December of 1807 Mr. Newton died and was buried next to his wife at St. Mary Woolnoth. Later in 1893 both bodies were move to Olney, as the church at St. Mary’s removed all those buried there.  

John Newton was a great hymnist and writer – writing one of our best known hymns – Amazing Grace.

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