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The gospel hymn “Amazing Grace” might be one of the best-known songs in its genre. Despite its hopeful lyrics, the song was written by a former slave trader.

John Newton was a slave ship captain who became a clergyman and abolitionist later in life. He found religion after a number of near-death experiences, including the violent storm that supposedly inspired “Amazing Grace.”

While historical accounts are not definitively sure of his inspiration, it is known that Newton did in fact, survive a storm.

“Amazing Grace” was first heard in 1773 in front of Newton’s congregation. And despite the song’s connection to the Black spiritual canon, it took decades for Newton to publicly denounce slavery despite his abolitionist ties. He did finally publish an essay that decried slavery, albeit carefully, in 1788.

The song has been recorded thousands of times over the centuries, though Mahalia Jackson’s 1947 rendition is often cited as one of the best.

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