Isaac Watts was born July 17, 1674 the eldest of nine children of a minister, also named Isaac Watts. The father was a leading Dissenter in Southampton, a clothier, and a deacon at Above Bar Congregational Church, and later in life maintained a boarding school. The elder Watts spent time in prison for being a nonconformist, and was in prison at the time of his son's birth.
The younger Watts is considered the "father of English hymnody". As a youth, he criticized the language of the psalms that were sung in church. The elder Watts encouraged him to write his own if he though he could do better. Isaac Watts is credited with writing over 600 hymns.
He was educated at the Free School, Southampton, where he studied Greek, Latin, French and Hebrew from the Reverend John Pinhorne, rector of All Saints. In 1690 he entered the Nonconformist Academy of Thomas Rowe at Stoke Newington, near London (dissenters were not permitted to attend universities by the Church of England).
After leaving the Academy at the age of 20, he spent two years at his father's home where he wrote a majority of the Hymns and Spiritual Songs (published 1707-9). In 1696 he became tutor for six years of the family of Sir John Hartopp at Stoke Newington.
In 1699 he became assistant to Dr. Isaac Chauncey at Mark Lane Independent Chapel, London. He undertook serious study (so serious that it permanently damaged his health) and was ordained and succeeded Dr. Chauncey as minister in 1702. The congregation grew rapidly under Watts' leadership and was forced to move twice and call an assistant minister.
He suffered a serious illness in 1712 and stayed at Theobalds, near Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, with the Sir Thomas Abney family. Watts was sick for four years, but he remained with the Abney family the rest of his life. He was tutor to the Abney children and chaplain to the household. In 1739 he suffered a serious stroke which left him paralyzed.
Watts died on November 25, 1748, and was buried in Bunhill Fields.