11/15/06 - amazing grace

In today's excerpt - 'Amazing Grace' - the famous hymn composed by John Newton:

"Most of us at one time or another have heard or sung 'Amazing Grace.' What is less well known is the fact that for six years its composer was a successful slave trader, shipping hundreds of Africans across the Atlantic from Sierra Leone to the Caribbean.

" 'Amazing Grace' is the supreme hymn of Evangelical redemption: 'Amazing grace how sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me! / I once was lost, but now am found / Was blind but now I see.' It is tempting therefore to imagine Newton suddenly seeing the light about slavery and turning away from his wicked profession to dedicate himself to God. But the timing of Newton's conversion is all wrong. In fact, it was after his religious awakening that Newton became the first mate and then the captain of a succession of slave ships, and only much later that he began to question the morality of buying and selling his fellow men and women. ...

"John Newton's journal for 1750-51, when he was in command of the slave ship Duke of Argyle, lays bare the attitudes of those who lived and profited by the trade of human lives. Sailing up and down the coast of Sierra Leone and beyond, Newton spent long weeks bartering goods ... for people, haggling over the price and quality with the local slave traders. He was a choosy buyer, avoiding old 'fallen breasted' women. On January 7, 1751, he exchanged eight slaves for a quantity of timber and ivory, but felt overcharged when he noticed that one of them had 'a very bad mouth.' 'A fine manslave, now that there are so many competitors', he complained, 'is near double the price it was formerly.' Note the word 'it.' He noted on the same day the death of 'a fine woman slave, No. 11.' "


Niall Ferguson


Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power


Penguin Books, Ltd


Copyright Niall Ferguson, 2002


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment