Evangelical clergyman, who spent his early years at sea, in the navy and then in the slave trade. He was converted in 1748. His religious convictions were strengthened through the influence of George Whitefield and of John Wesley. The latter met him in Liverpool in 1758 and in 1760 deplored the fact that he had been refused ordination because he lacked a university education. He was eventually ordained in 1764 by the bishop of Lincoln and became curate at Olney. His autobiographical Authentic Narrative was published in 1764. He collaborated with William Cowper, who had moved to Olney to be near him, in producing the Olney Hymns (1779). Eight of his hymns are in Hymns and Psalms, but only three survive into Singing the Faith: 'Amazing grace' (HP 215; SF, 440), 'How sweet the name of Jesus sounds' (HP 322; SF 322) and 'Glorious things of thee are spoken' (HP 817; SF 748).
The charge that his evangelical teaching contributed to Cowper's religious depression has long been a matter of dispute. In 1780 he was presented to the living of St. Mary Woolnoth, London. Steering a middle course between extreme Calvinism and Methodist Arminianism, he exercised a strong evangelical influence and lent support to Wilberforce's anti-slavery campaign, e.g. in his tract Thoughts upon the African Slave Trade (1787). His earlier involvement with the slave trade caused him to decline a doctorate from the University of Nerw Jersey in 1792.