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.
John Newton, an American working as an English slave ship captain, was a wretch. He worked in an industry that brought millions of captured Africans to the New World so that plantation owners and merchants could make fortunes and claim that they alone built America. But it was really those slaves—packed nearly 600 in each ship, sold to masters, and forced to work for those masters—that actually did the hard work.
John Newton didn’t convert to Christianity and immediately forgo working in the slave industry. He didn’t convert because of an overwhelming guilt for buying and selling humans into slavery. He converted because he was glad that God spared his life after a scary storm at sea.
'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.
Millions of slaves were brought to the New World. A million died en-route. John Newton made several trips from the Americas to England to Africa and back—a worker in the triangle of the buying of and selling of Africans and slave-made products sold to Europeans. Many of those slaves were brought to the United States to work in tobacco fields, but even more were brought to the Caribbean to work in sugar cane fields.
It was “Amazing Grace” that played at Keithroy Marcellus Maynard’s firefighters funeral on June 11, 2005, four years after his death on September 11, 2001. Keithroy was one of the many firefighters that responded to the planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers. Most importantly, he was one of 12 black firefighters who lost their life that day.
Keithroy’s journey, which was cut short as he tried to save people from the disaster on that beautiful Tuesday morning, started and ended in Montserrat—a small island in the Caribbean. An island named by Christopher Columbus, settled by English plantation owners, and an island that has recently been devastated by an active volcano.
Keithroy was born in 1971 and grew up on that island until 1986, when his family, including his Mother, older brother Vernon, and twin brother, Kevin, immigrated to the United States. Keithroy became a naturalized citizen of the United States and became a New York City firefighter in 1999.
Engine Company 33, Keithroy’s unit, was one of the first called to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and Keithroy was with them. He never returned.
It wasn’t until four years later that Keithroy’s remains were identified by DNA and his family could finally bury him in his home country, Montserrat.
It’s been a long journey for Keithroy and his African ancesters—from captives, to cargo, to slaves, to freedom, to citizens, to firefighters who could, themselves, save poor wretches.
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come.
'Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.