It Is Well - The History

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A Note From The Author, Elizabeth Rose: 

Hello, and thank you for visiting this blog! I feel so honored to be able to share this song, and the others from my album “Peace Like A River” with you. I hope that they touch your heart and soul deeply. 

When I was considering the songs that I would record for this compilation, it came to mind that for many of the old hymns, worshipers may not know the history of the author or the significance of the song throughout history. This led me to the idea of writing a “History & Bible Study” to go along with each song. As a teaser, I want to share the history of the song “It Is Well” with you in this blog. If you would like the entire “History & Bible Study”, you can may purchase the the digital download of the album in the STORE on this website. 

I hope this is a blessing to you, your church or home group, and that you will share the wonderful depth and spiritual revelation of this song with those you care about. 

With Love, Elizabeth Rose



I want you to imagine for a moment … everything in your life going well? You’re happily married, have a beautiful family, an adoring spouse and five healthy children, you’re at the pinnacle of your career, and you’ve successfully provided more than enough for all your family’s needs. Under these circumstances it would be very easy to say, ‘it is well with my soul.’

But what if tragedy strikes? Not just one time, but multiple times? What if your perfect life suddenly all comes crashing down, similar to the story of Job in the Bible. What if everything in your life that means the most to you is suddenly no more. What if there is no explanation for this loss, and on top of it all, your church family becomes like the well-meaning friends of Job who reason that your misfortune must be because of some secret sin? The people who should love you through the trials of life start to turn and walk away when you need them the most. 

This is exactly what happened to Horatio Spafford, the man wrote one of the most internationally known, soul-stirring hymns entitled, “It Is Well With my Soul”.

A Little History About Horatio Spafford and Family

Horatio Spafford was a successful lawyer and senior partner in a thriving law firm in Chicago. Along with being a very prosperous man, Horatio was a devoted husband and father, and a devout Christian. He and his wife Anna owned a cottage in a north-side suburb of Chicago. They generously hosted and sometimes financially supported many guests. Horatio was active in the abolitionist crusade and the cottage was a meeting place for activists in the reform movements of the time such as Frances E. Willard, president of the National Women's Christian Temperance Union, and evangelical leaders like Dwight L. Moody, who ignited a religious revival in America and Europe.

With all of these desirable elements of life going well, the year of 1870 began a series of unfortunate events for the Spaffords. Horatio and Anna’s only son, Horatio Jr., died of Scarlet Fever at the young age of four. By the spring of 1871 Horatio’s investments consisted of a sizable amount of prime Chicago real estate along the north shore of Lake Michigan. When the Great Fire of Chicago reduced the city to ashes in October of that same year, it destroyed most of Horatio’s sizable investments.

A few years later, aware of the toll these events had taken on his wife and four daughters, Horatio decided to take the family on a holiday to England where they would accompany his friend, the famous evangelist D. L. Moody, on his next crusade. Shortly before they were to set sail, a last minute business development threatened to derail the trip. Horatio persuaded his wife to go ahead and told her that he would follow in a few days. 

In November 1873, Anna and the girls Boarded the French Ship, Ville du Havra. About four days into the crossing of the Atlantic (on November 21, 1873) the Ville du Havre collided with a powerful iron-hulled Scottish ship, the Loch Earn. Suddenly, the 313 passengers on board were in grave danger. Anna hurriedly brought her four children to the deck. She knelt there with Annie, Margaret Lee, Bessie and Tanetta and prayed that God would spare them if that could be His will, or to make them willing to endure whatever awaited them. Within approximately 12 minutes, the Ville du Havre slipped beneath the dark waters of the Atlantic, carrying with it 226 of the passengers, including Horatio and Anna’s four daughters. This was the worst disaster in naval history until the sinking of the Titanic forty years later. 

Anna was found unconscious, floating on a piece of the wreckage, and was picked up by a crewman of the Lochearn, who was also in danger of sinking. Fortunately, the Trimountain, a cargo sailing vessel, arrived to save the survivors and landed them in Cardiff, Wales nine days later. From there Anna sent a six word telegraph to her husband. “Saved alone, what shall I do?” [Mr. Spafford later framed the telegram and placed it in his office.]

As soon as possible, Horatio boarded a ship to join his grieving wife. En route to England, the captain called him to the bridge and said “a careful reckoning has been made, and I believe we are now passing the very area where the Ville du Havre sunk.” According to Bertha Spafford Vester, a daughter born after the tragedy, her father wrote “It Is Well With My Soul” on this journey. 

Philip P. Bliss, another family friend, wrote the tune for Horatio's text. Both text and tune were published in Gospel Hymns No. 2 (1876), a hymnal compiled by Ira D. Sankey (PHH 73) and Bliss.

Horatio and Anna’s faith in God never faltered. He later wrote to Anna’s half-sister, “on Thursday last, we passed over the spot where she went down, in mid-ocean, the waters three miles deep. But I do not think of our dear ones there. They are safe ….. dear lambs”. Naturally Anna was utterly devastated, but she testified that in her grief and despair, she had been conscious of a soft voice speaking to her. “You were saved for a purpose!” She remembered something a friend had once said, “It is easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God.” 

Horatio and Anna returned to Chicago and had three more children. Their daughter Bertha was born in 1878. Their son Horatio was born in 1880, although he later died of scarlet fever. And their daughter Grace was born in 1881.

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. 

While in Jerusalem, Horatio and Anna Spafford adopted a teenager named Jacob Eliahu (1864–1932) who had been born in Ramallah into a Turkish Jewish family. As a schoolboy he discovered by chance the Siloam Inscription. 

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

Personal Reflection

  1. Can you relate to any part of Horatio and Anna Spafford’s story?

  2. How did reading the Spafford’s story of tragedy and perseverance give you hope in your own life?

  3. When you find yourself questioning the purpose of your life, or maybe you wonder if your life even has a purpose, remember the advice that Anna Spafford was given.

“It is easy to be grateful and good when you have so much, but take care that you are not a fair-weather friend to God.” 

Let’s Take A Look At The Lyrics

Verse 1

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."

It is well with my soul;

it is well, it is well with my soul.

Verse 2

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,

let this blest assurance control:

that Christ has regarded my helpless estate,

and has shed his own blood for my soul.

It is well with my soul;

it is well, it is well with my soul.

Verse 3

My sin oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!

my sin, not in part, but the whole,

is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more;

praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well with my soul;

it is well, it is well with my soul.

Verse 4

O 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.

It is well with my soul;

it is well, it is well with my soul.

Note from Elizabeth Rose: If you enjoyed this history and would like the accompanying bible study that follows the lyrics of the verses, incorporates scripture, and has a section of personal application, the PDF download is a BONUS when you purchase the album “Pease Like A River”. Visit the Shop tab or CLICK HERE to purchase the album as a digital download.

Elizabeth RoseComment