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“It Is Well With My Soul”

The song I have chosen to write about today is one of my all-time favorites, of
which there are many!! As a young man I sang in a male voice ensemble and one song
we sang together stood out for me. The melody, for a start is really harmonious and was written by Phillip P Bliss who was a prolific writer of hymns, many of which are still
sung in churches all over the world to this day. I plan to write a blog later about this
great hymn writer so look out for it! The story that accompanies the writing of the
hymn in question today, ‘It Is Well with My Soul’, is a sad and poignant one. The
writer was Horatio G. Spafford, whose hand-written original manuscript is now in the
Library of Congress and can be viewed there. Horatio Spafford’s wife Anna wrote the
following account of the hymn’s tragic Background:  
In 1873, we decided we should take a holiday in England, knowing that my
husband’s friend, D. L. Moody, would be preaching there in the autumn. Horatio was
delayed because of business, so he sent us on ahead: so myself and our four
daughters, 11 year old Anna, 9 year old Margaret Lee, 5 year old Elizabeth, and 2 year
old Tanetta set off for England. On 22nd November 1873, while crossing the Atlantic on
the steamship Ville du Havre, our vessel was struck by another sailing ship and went
down in heavy seas. Two hundred and twenty-six people lost their lives, as the ‘Ville du
Havre’ sank within only twelve minutes. All four of our beloved daughters perished, but
remarkably I survived the tragedy. I was found unconscious and floating on a plank of
wood, and subsequently I, and some other rescued passengers, arrived in Cardiff,
South Wales. I immediately sent a telegram to my husband Horatio, which included the
tragic words ‘Saved alone…”.
Anna continued, I discovered some time later, that upon receiving my telegram,
Horatio set off at once to be reunited with me. One particular day during his voyage the
captain of the ship in which he sailed, having heard of our tragedy and that Horatio was
on board, summoned him to the bridge of the vessel. Pointing to his charts, he
explained that in a very short while they would be passing over the very spot where the
Ville du Havre had gone down, and where his dear daughters had perished. Horatio told
me later that upon hearing that he returned to his cabin and wrote the hymn ‘It is
well with my soul’!
Even though this terrible tragedy had struck at both Horatio and Anna, their faith
in God never once faltered. Horatio, writing to Anna’s half-sister, about the loss of their
daughters and the safe recovery of Anna, included these words, “On Thursday last, we
passed over the spot where she (the ship) went down, in mid-ocean, the waters three
miles deep. But I do not think of our dear ones as being there. They are safe….. dear
lambs”. Friends, we often sing hymns and songs that have deep and significant stories
behind them. The next time you sing this one – remember the Spafford family and the back-
story to the words you are singing!