"Amazing Grace" (1779) is one of the most popular and endearing songs of all time. It was written by John Newton, and the text of the song gives a somewhat autobiographical description of Newton's life and how he came to faith.
John Newton was born in London in 1725. His father was a sea captain who brought John to sea after his mother died when John was eleven. John's mother had taught him prayers and the Scriptures, but John rebelled and eventually became a wicked slave ship captain.
When his crew mutinied, he was left on a island of Sierra Leone, West Africa where John himself was enslaved by Africans and forced to work on a lime and lemon plantation.
He was eventually rescued, but on the way back to England a violent storm struck. It was this event that finally brought John to faith in Jesus Christ.
Even though he had only a few years of formal school, John had taught himself Latin and geometry, and after returning to England dedicated himself to the study of theology (religion). He entered the ministry with help from John and Charles Wesley (brothers and founders of the Methodist church) and began writing hymns for his church.
"Amazing Grace" was sung with a different tune at first and wasn't very popular. After the song reached America, it was matched with an anonymous folk melody, which is the way it is still sung today.
John died in 1807, and here is the epitaph he wrote for himself: "John Newton, Clerk, once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves, was by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned and appointed to preach the faith he had long laboured to destroy."
Verse 5 of "Amazing Grace" was written by John P. Rees (1828-1900).
If you'd like to watch the story in video form, see this:
(Watch first before showing to your children to determine whether it's appropriate for them.)