Born: July 24, 1725, London, England.
Died: December 21, 1807, London, England.
Buried: Originally at St. Mary Woolnoth Church, Lombard Street, London. In 1893, Newton and his wife Mary were reinterred in the southeast corner of the graveyard at St. Peter and St. Paul Church, Olney.
John was the son of John Newton the Elder, a shipmaster in the Mediterranean service, and Elizabeth Scatliff, and husband of Mary Catlett (married February 12, 1750, Rochester).
His mother died when he was seven years old. At age 11, with but two years schooling and only a rudimentary knowledge of Latin, he went to sea with his father.
Life at sea was filled with wonderful escapes, vivid dreams, and a sailor’s recklessness. Newton grew into a godless and abandoned man.
He was once flogged as a deserter, and for 15 months lived, half starved and ill treated, as a slave in Africa.
A chance reading of Thomas à Kempis sowed the seed of his conversion. It was accelerated by a night spent steering a waterlogged ship in the face of apparent death. He was then 23 years old.
Over the next six years, during which he commanded a slave ship, his faith matured. He spent the next nine years mostly in Liverpool, studying Hebrew and Greek and mingling with Whitefield, Wesley, and the Nonconformists.
He was eventually ordained, and became curate at Olney, Buckinghamshire, in 1764.
A marble plaque at St. Mary Woolnoth carried the epitaph which Newton himself wrote:
JOHN NEWTON, Clerk
Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa,
Was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour
restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach
the Gospel which he had long laboured to destroy.
Near sixteen years in Olney, in Bucks,
And twenty-eight years in this Church.