Horatio Spafford

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Horatio Gates Spafford

Horatio Gates Spafford (October 20, 1828, Troy, New York – October 16, 1888, Jerusalem)[1] was a prominent American lawyer and Presbyterian church elder. He is best known for penning the Christian hymn It Is Well With My Soul, following a family tragedy in which his four daughters died aboard the S.S. Ville du Havre on a transatlantic voyage.


Anna Spafford

He was the son of Gazetteer author Horatio Gates Spafford and Elizabeth Clark Hewitt Spafford.

On September 5, 1861, he married Anna Larsen of Stavanger, Norway, in Chicago. The Spaffords were well known in 1860s Chicago. He was a prominent lawyer and a senior partner in a large and thriving law firm.[2]

The Spaffords were also prominent supporters and close friends of evangelist Dwight L. Moody.[3]

Spafford invested in real estate north of an expanding Chicago in the spring of 1871. When the Great Fire of Chicago reduced the city to ashes in October of that same year, it also destroyed most of Spafford's sizable investment.[3]

The wreck of the Ville du Havre[edit]

Scarlet fever killed his four-year-old son. Two years later, in 1873, Spafford decided his family should take a holiday somewhere in Europe, and chose England knowing that his friend D. L. Moody would be preaching there in the fall. He was delayed because of business, so he sent his family ahead: his wife and their four children, daughters eleven-year-old Anna "Annie", nine-year-old Margaret Lee "Maggie", five-year-old Elizabeth "Bessie", and two-year-old Tanetta.

On November 22, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic on the steamship Ville du Havre, their ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel[4] and 226 people lost their lives, including all four of Spafford's daughters. Only his wife, Anna Spafford, survived the tragedy. Upon arriving in England, she sent a telegram to Spafford beginning "Saved alone."[5] Spafford then sailed to England, going over the location of his daughters' deaths. According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, Spafford wrote "It Is Well with My Soul" on this journey.

It Is Well with My Soul lyrics[edit]

It Is Well With My Soul

The original manuscript[6] has only four verses, but Spafford's daughter states how later another verse (the fourth in order below) was added and the last line of the original was slightly modified.[7] The music, written by Philip Bliss, was named after the ship on which Spafford's daughters died, Ville du Havre.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

(Refrain:) It is well (it is well),
with my soul (with my soul),
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to His cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pain shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.

And Lord haste the day, when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

Later years[edit]

Following the sinking of the Ville du Havre, Anna gave birth to three more children. On February 11, 1880, their son, Horatio Goertner Spafford, died at the age of three, of scarlet fever.[8] Their daughters were Bertha Hedges Spafford (born March 24, 1878) and Grace Spafford (born January 18, 1881).[9] After the ordeal at sea, Anna and Horatio Spafford became religious outsiders. They left their Presbyterian congregation and held faith-based prayer meetings in their own home.[10] Their Messianic sect was dubbed "the Overcomers" by the American press.[11]

In August 1881, the Spaffords set out for Jerusalem as a party of thirteen adults and three children and set up the American Colony. Colony members, later joined by Swedish Christians, engaged in philanthropic work amongst the people of Jerusalem regardless of their religious affiliation and without proselytizing motives—thereby gaining the trust of the local Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities.

In Jerusalem Horatio and Anna Spafford adopted teenager Jacob Eliahu, then Jacob Spafford (1864–1932), born in Ramallah into a Turkish Jewish family, who as a schoolboy, discovered by chance the Siloam inscription.[12][13]


Four days shy of his 60th birthday, Spafford died on October 16, 1888, of malaria, and was buried in Mount Zion Cemetery, Jerusalem.


During and immediately after World War I, the American Colony played a critical role in supporting the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities of Jerusalem through the great suffering and deprivations of the Eastern front and the Armenian and Assyrian Genocides. The American Colony did this by running soup kitchens, hospitals, orphanages and other charitable ventures.[14]


  1. ^ Source of middle name and birth/death information
  2. ^ https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/americancolony/images/ac0004bs.jpg
  3. ^ a b The Library of Congress Exhibitions, https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/americancolony/amcolony-family.html, retrieved on 5/1/12.
  4. ^ https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/americancolony/images/ac0005s.jpg
  5. ^ https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/americancolony/images/ac0006s.jpg
  6. ^ Photo of manuscript
  7. ^ Bertha's history Archived 2006-04-27 at the Wayback Machine.. Bertha Spafford Vester. (1988). Our Jerusalem: An American Family in the Holy City, 1881-1949. Jerusalem: American Colony, 364 pp., ISBN 0-405-10296-8.
  8. ^ Hancock, Sandy (2008). Letting Go: Pathway to an Amazing Life. iUniverse. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-595-48624-3.
  9. ^ The Library of Congress Exhibitions, https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/americancolony/amcolony-family.html, retrieved on 5/1/12
  10. ^ The Library of Congress Exhibitions, https://www.loc.gov/collections/american-colony-in-jerusalem/articles-and-essays/a-community-in-jerusalem/saved-alone/, retrieved on 9/26/16
  11. ^ Jerusalem: The Biography, page 365, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011. ISBN 978-0-297-85265-0
  12. ^ How Strange Does the American Colony Story Get?, on IsraelDailyPicture.com, 13th June 2012, accessed July 2015
  13. ^ Jacob Spafford's grave at findagrave.com
  14. ^ Library of Congress Exhibition Overview. See also Yaakov Ariel & Ruth Kark. (1996, December). "Messianism, Holiness, Charisma, and Community: The American-Swedish Colony in Jerusalem, 1881-1933," Church History, 65(4), 641-657.

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