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A Hymn History
“It Is Well With My Soul”
 
Horatio G. Spafford was a successful businessman in Chicago with a wife and five children.  The family was not a stranger to tragedy as they had lost an infant son and much of their family business in the “Great Chicago Fire” of 1871 (the fire lasted almost three full days: Oct 8-10).
 
Needing a vacation, the family planned a trip to Europe.  An unexpected business problem forced Mr. Spafford to make a decision that sent his family ahead on the original passage with him planning to join them just a few days later.  Mrs. Spafford and the four daughters left port on November 21, 1873.
 
About four days into the crossing, the Ville de Havre collided with an iron-hulled English liner called the Loch Eme.  All 226 passengers on the Spafford’s vessel were in immediate danger.  Within a matter of minutes the ship carrying the Spaffords was beneath the dark waters of the Atlantic.  A sailor rowing over the spot where the ship went down spotted a woman clinging to a piece of the wreckage.  It was Mrs. Spafford.
 
Back in Chicago awaiting news on the fate of his wife and children, Horatio G. Spafford finally received a telegram from his wife that read, “SAVED, ALONE.”  Spafford booked passage on the next available ship to join his heartbroken wife.  Four days out, the captain informed Mr. Spafford that, as best as could be determined, they were over the spot where his children were lost.
 
It is reported that in that moment Spafford went to his cabin intending to rest but being unable to bear the weight of his loss he began instead to write:
 
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.
 
The fourth stanza reads:
 
And, Lord, haste the day when my 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.
 
Spafford would later give his poem to Philip P. Bliss.  This brilliant young musician produced the melody that has taken the song around the world.  Bliss himself, who wrote the music to many songs in our hymnal, would die tragically in a train wreck at the age of thirty eight refusing to leave his trapped wife’s side.
 
Spafford and his wife moved to Jerusalem in 1881 where they helped to build an American colony and lived until their deaths.