Horatio Gates Spafford (October 20, 1828, Troy, New York – October 16, 1888, Jerusalem) 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.
Spafford was the son of Gazetteer author Horatio Gates Spafford and Elizabeth Clark Hewitt Spafford.
The wreck of the Ville du Havre
In 1871, Spafford’s 4-year-old son died of Scarlet fever. Two years later, business demands kept Spafford from joining his wife and four daughters on a family vacation in England where his friend D. L. Moody would be preaching.
On November 22, 1873, while crossing the Atlantic on the steamship Ville du Havre, the ship was struck by an iron sailing vessel killing 226 people, including all of Spafford's daughters. His wife, Anna, survived the tragedy. Upon arriving in England, she sent a telegram to Spafford that read "Saved alone." As Spafford sailed to England to join his wife, he wrote "It Is Well with My Soul."
It Is Well with My Soul lyrics
The original manuscript has only four verses, but Spafford's daughter, Bertha Spafford Vester, who was born after the tragedy, said an additional verse was later added and the last line of the original song was modified. 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.
Following the sinking of the Ville du Havre, Anna gave birth to three children, Horatio Goertner, (1877), Bertha Hedges (March 24, 1878) and Grace (January 18, 1881). On February 11, 1880, Horatio died of scarlet fever at age three. After the ordeal at sea, Anna and Horatio Spafford left their Presbyterian congregation and hosted prayer meetings in their home. Their Messianic sect was dubbed "the Overcomers" by the American press.
In August 1881, the Spaffords went to Jerusalem as a party of 13 adults and three children to set up an American Colony. Colony members, joined by Swedish Christians, engaged in philanthropic work among the people of Jerusalem regardless of their religious affiliation and without proselytizing motives, gaining the trust of the local Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities.
In Jerusalem, Horatio and Anna Spafford adopted a teenager, Jacob Eliahu (1864–1932), who was born in Ramallah into a Turkish Jewish family. As a schoolboy, Jacob Spafford discovered the Siloam inscription.
During and after World War I, the American Colony supported the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities of Jerusalem at the Eastern front and during the Armenian and Assyrian Genocides by hosting soup kitchens, hospitals, and orphanages.
- Source of middle name and birth/death information
- The Library of Congress Exhibitions, https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/americancolony/amcolony-family.html, retrieved on 5/1/12.
- Photo of manuscript
- 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.
- The Library of Congress Exhibitions, https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/americancolony/amcolony-family.html, retrieved on 5/1/12
- Hancock, Sandy (2008). Letting Go: Pathway to an Amazing Life. iUniverse. p. 11. ISBN 978-0-595-48624-3.
- 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
- Jerusalem: The Biography, page 365, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2011. ISBN 978-0-297-85265-0
- How Strange Does the American Colony Story Get?, on IsraelDailyPicture.com, 13th June 2012, accessed July 2015
- Jacob Spafford's grave at findagrave.com
- 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.
- SpaffordHymn.com : The original Hymn manuscript penned by Horatio Spafford
- Cyber Hymnal Photos of Horatio Spafford and a MIDI file of the hymn
- Elisabeth Elliot recalls tea with Horatio Spafford's daughter
- Christianity.ca Many details on life of Spafford
- The Library of Congress Exhibition covering the start of The American Colony in Jerusalem, the Spafford Family tragedy, their move to Jerusalem, their time in the Holy Land, and the American Colony at work
- Works by or about Horatio Spafford at Internet Archive
- Works by Horatio Spafford at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)