Who Was Horatio G. Spafford?

Have you ever heard of a man named Horatio G. Spafford? Not exactly a household name, but perhaps it should be prominent among the heroes of the Christian faith.

Almost a modern-day Job, Spafford was an attorney in Chicago who saw his real estate fortune devastated by the great fire in 1871. About the same time, his only son died of scarlet fever. Rather than cry and whine, he went to work helping the 100,000 people left homeless by the fire.

In November of 1873, he decided to take his wife and four daughters to Europe. He was close to Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey and wanted to see both of them.

As sailing time approached, he was detained by business and couldn’t go. He got his family settled on the ship, a luxurious French liner named Ville du Havre, and remained behind as they departed.

In a calm sea out in the middle of the Atlantic, the liner crashed into another ship, sinking rapidly. All four daughters perished. Mrs. Spafford was found clinging to a piece of wreckage and saved. When she arrived in Cardiff, Wales, she cabled Spafford and told him that she alone survived.

He immediately dropped what he was doing and sailed on the next ship for England. One evening, the captain called him aside and told him they were passing over the area where the Ville du Havre sank.

Agitated as he thought about his daughters, Spafford couldn’t sleep that night. He finally said, “It is well; it is the will of God.” Later, he wrote the great song, “It Is Well With My Soul.”

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.

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 oh my soul.

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.

It strains the limits of credulity to realize this wonderful song of faith was written by a man who had seen his fortune destroyed, his son lost to illness, and then his daughters all taken by a quirky accident in a calm sea. Any one of these losses would be devastating. All of them together within the short span of less than three years is truly unimaginable.

I’m not sure whether or not I could have praised God so lavishly in the midst of all Spafford had been through. How does a story like this affect you? We’d love to hear.


If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.



For more information about David N. Walker, click the “About” tab above.

For more information about his books, click on “Books” above.

Contact him at dnwalkertx (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet him at @davidnwalkertx.


About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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10 Responses to Who Was Horatio G. Spafford?

  1. David – I just love it when you come along and help educate me. I’ve always loved this song and the way I feel comforted whenever I hear it. I grew up hearing this song on a regular basis.


  2. Although I have always liked this song, I never knew who wrote it or the details behind it. Thank you for sharing it, David.


  3. Don sneed says:

    Dear David, Thanks for the blog. Spafford’s hymn is especially meaningful to me as it was sung at my mother’s memorial service at Scofield Church, and I always think of her when I hear it. Yours is the most complete account of the circumstances leading up to the hymn’s writing that I have heard. I trust that your visit with your Mother was a blessed one. D.S.

    Sent f


  4. Barb Estinson says:

    Interesting story, David. Horatio G. Spafford just became one of my heroes.


  5. Sharon K. Walker says:

    Ah, one of my favorite true stories, although I didn’t know all the details. What a man of great faith! He reminds me of Job, another favorite person of mine.


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