‘It Is Well with My Soul’ The rest of the stories

You’ve probably heard the famous story of Haratio Spafford writing “It Is Well with My Soul” following the death of his four daughters. The story goes that as he sailed across the area where their ship went down and they drowned, he wrote the popular hymn.

      When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
      When sorrows like sea billows roll;
      Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
      It is well, it is well, with my soul.
      It is well, with my soul,
      It is well, 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 has 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 the cross, and I bear it no more,
      Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O 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.

Some of the story may be true, but there’s much more to the story before and after the song!

In the 1870s, Spafford was a very successful lawyer in Chicago and heavily invested in real estate. In 1871, the great Chicago fire destroyed all his downtown investment properties.

In 1873, he and his family planned a vacation trip to Europe. While in Great Britain, he planned to help his good friend Dwight L. Moody and Ira Sankey, whom he had financially supported, with their evangelistic tour. Spafford sent his wife and four girls—ages 11, 9, 7 and 2—ahead while he finished up last-minute business in Chicago. On November 22, the S.S. Ville Du Havre struck another ship and sank within twelve minutes. Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband “Saved alone.”

One story reports that Spafford wrote “It Is Well with My Soul” while passing over the very spot of the ocean where his four daughters perished while another, more reliable report, claims he wrote it two years later when Moody and Sankey were visiting his home.

But the tragedy surrounding the hymn didn’t end there. Horatio and Anna returned to Chicago and gave birth to Horatio Goertner Spafford who would die at three years old of scarlet fever. Two years later, the couple gave birth to Bertha, who would write that her parents not only suffered the pain of losing their fortune and five children, but it was compounded by a crisis of faith. Were the children’s deaths a punishment from God? Did He no longer love them? Horatio felt himself in danger of losing his faith.

In 1881, Anna gave birth to a sixth daughter, appropriately named “Grace.” Shortly after, the family of four moved to Jerusalem, with Horatio explaining, “Jerusalem is where my Lord lived, suffered, and conquered, and I wish to learn how to live, suffer, and especially to conquer.”

The family would remain in Jerusalem and set up a children’s home. And like his children, he too would die tragically. Some reports claim he began to suffer delusions that he was the second Messiah, while his family insists it was the malaria fever from which he died that caused the mental confusion.

But the tragedy surrounding the hymn didn’t end there, either. The tune was written by Philip P. Bliss, which he entitled “Ville du Havre,” the name of the ship that took the lives of Spafford’s four daughters. The hymn was first sung by Bliss himself before a large gathering of ministers hosted by Moody on November 24, 1876.

Just one month later, on December 29, 1876, Bliss and wife were traveling to Chicago by train. As the train passed over a trestle near Ashtabula, Ohio, the bridge collapsed and the passenger coaches plunged 75 feet into the icy river. Philip was able to escape through a window, but his wife was pinned in the wreckage. As he went back to free his wife, a fire broke out through the wooden cars and both were burned beyond recognition.

Nine tragic deaths surround the hymn, and yet those affected by them, could say, “It is well with my soul.” And to me, that is indeed “blest assurance.” It is well with my soul . . . if nothing else!

© Copyright 2008 James N. Watkins. All rights reserved.

77 Responses

  • I always emailed this website post page to
    all my friends, since if like to read it after that my links will too.

  • t jones says:

    Wow! Stories of triumph through heartache, Praise God!

  • thabo says:

    This is so painful yet it relieves one from the pains one encountered in life and makes us stronger in facing challenges in life. Amen.

  • Heney onwukwaluonye says:

    The story and the song really motivated me. In all things i should be able to say it is well with my soul.

  • amitthomas says:

    Great story be strong in faith.

  • people always do all their best just to win their heart desire but they never had enough. what a world full of mysterys hmnmm! !! “it is well with my soul” this is indeed an inspirational song

  • Janice Heck says:

    I have heard the back story on the song several times, but I never heard the extended background. Thanks for sharing this. This song has indeed helped many. It became a comforting favorite of mine after my first husband passed away. It still brings comfort through the memories it arouses of my family members and friends who are now in their eternal home.

  • Sarah says:

    Any tme i listen to the song, I neve remain the same.

  • Iyke Anyadubalu says:

    The story is similar to that of job. It’s hard to believe but it’s true. It’s so touching. Now I learn to sing the song, it is well with my soul.

    • Samuel Ayibor says:

      This story is similar to a man of God in Ghana called Rev. Eastwood Anaba. The wife and two daughters took the lead for Easter convention in the North Bolga to be precise. The vehicle they were travelling was involved in a fatal accident that resulted in the death of the two daughters of the preacher man. Eastwood have the greatest courage to preach at the convention as planned. He said ‘ after the convention am going to bury my two daughters ‘. This calls for our faith as true Christian.

  • Edward says:

    Great and very touching song, how many of us can be like him, holding to God and praising Him even at the direst moment of life. Touches the very depths of my soul.

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  • Ajileye Daniel says:

    When l look back in countless ways and remember l had gone through experience but not has touching as this. I examine myself by saying” who am l, that you shew so much love on”. Lord, inspite of every erronic situation, help us look unto you the author and finisher of our faith. Amen

  • elviira says:

    We dont know when death is going to come so let us hold fast to christ and be ready its a sad story but christ know best may be he called them home because we dont know how are children will turn out so let us comfort each other with the blessed hope of jesus is coming again

  • Ingrid says:

    This is one favorite song when I lost a love one I always have to sing this song because it is really well with my soul and I always tell my children to make sure sing that at my funeral

  • Hilary mgbodile says:

    It is at once a message of consolation and hope. It’s well with my soul.

  • Tshilidzi says:

    When I am down and feeling like all hope is gone, I always sing the song. It is well with my soul.

  • familusi akinsanya says:

    the memory of this song writer remain fresh, it is well with my soul.

  • Nerviene says:

    Quite a painful story so inspiring and it made me more stronger to face life and situations as they present themselves anice song too.

  • De Recipe says:

    this song is an inspiration.

    • kalemba Robinson says:

      Its God who gives and Takes. May his name be glorified.

      • I’m not sure about the popular phrase “God gives and takes.” Satan is a “thief” as opposed to “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father” (James 1:17). God gives, Satan takes. But God is able to work even the thievery for good (Romans 8:28).

        • Melody Ludwig says:

          I read this response.
          Job 1:22 “The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” God said that Job did not sin, nor did he charge God foolishly right after he said that. So if God doesn’t think it was a sin, then Job was not wrong in saying it

  • Angela says:

    Very touching and inspiring story.
    Indeed, in all things. I declare, it is well with my soul.

  • Vida Teye Djahene says:

    This song is really inspirational in all things i should be able to say it is well with my soul

  • David K. says:

    I read this song and play it often. It’s a favorite.

  • Helen Morgan says:

    Wow what a story, recently we experienced a devastation and all that night this hymn replayed on my mind (hadn’t sung it for close to 50 years) and when ever I begin to drift into grief, frustration and anger this hymn begins to play on my mind and I find my self in the ever loving and comforting arms of my God

  • Naomi says:

    So painful and touching! After reading this I shed tears cause I’ve felt the cold hands of death and I realise that Jesus is the only Conforter and healer! It is well with my soul Lord Jesus!!

    • KC Cheng says:

      Praise God for James Watkins and his life!

      Ah, it is well with my soul. THAT is the very testimony of James Watkins !!!

      Death, where is thy sting? Where is thy victory?

  • Rose says:

    Your blog post about this well known hymn was sent to me this week with a suggestion that it be included in the next issue of our church newsletter in response to our Thanksgiving Sunday sermon about gratitude. Since it is a copyrighted work, I’m requesting your permission to use your words in this way. Thank you.

  • Jake says:

    Very sad story about a touching song. This song has been my ever loving hymn. Its has taught me a lot. Yes in all things, it is well with my soul.

  • “Whatever my lot God has taught me to say it is well with my Soul”….I thank God for these wonderful words of Courage and Inspiration this song is sustaining me now. My son died August 12, 2015 and the questions I have of why have been answered through this song. And to now know the history of how the song derived assures me that it is well with my soul. As the Lord said to me on the day my son died “Necy I need you to trust me”: I choose to trust Jesus.

  • Ugwu Ifeoma says:

    Joshua 1:9 says’ It is I who command you,be strong then and be valiant.Do not tremble or be afraid cos Yahweh your God is with you wherever you go.
    When I have gone through difficulties and there seems to be no route of escape ,when no one seems to understand or believe in me, when I feel like crying and there is no consolation for my aching heart. When in this wide world there is no where to contain me I just break into singing this song,though I know the chorus alone but it brings relief knowing that there are people who have maintained there peace in spite of what they go through but I know it at the end like Isaiah 41:10-12,God will save.

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  • Adaeze says:

    Thanks this story made me to give Thanks to GOD in every situation I see myself. it is well with my soul. whatever challenges am passing through someone has been there before me.All the GLORY must be to Almighty JEHOVAH

  • Raymond Awortwe says:

    Very inspiring

  • Charles kapembe says:

    I too lost my only child son on 18.02.15 my wife’s uterus was remove two years before the death,we don’t have any chance of having a child but this inspiring story has led me to move a distance closer God, since the very same God of the mountain is still God in the valley.There is no any question that. I can ask Him coz he is bigger than my questions

  • Faith says:

    Yes, it is well with my soul. It is very inspiring. I was feeling so pressed down with problems but after playing the song repeatedly I now feel so much peace. It is well with my soul.

  • Mbuyi Mpongshe says:

    Yes it is well with my soul this song helped me to pick up myself in 2008 when I lost my husband, my aunt and my brother. God of the valley stood up for me.

  • divine says:

    The story Is really touching but song edifice my soul.

  • Reah M Mwewa says:

    Indeed this song is an inspiration , i was not fully aware of the origin , to God be the glory , it is well with my soul

  • Ted says:

    Why has no other biographer put these two stories together? Another biography of Spafford, says that he and Anna had three more daugthers after the accident, can you quote your sources please?

    • According to the U.S. Census records of 1880 for Cook County Illinois, after the shipwreck, Anna gave birth to Horatio Goertner Spafford (1876), who died of scarlet fever at age three, Bertha Hedges Spafford (1878) and Grace Spafford (1881).

      In 1891, after forming the American Colony in Jerusalem, the Spafford’s adopted 17-year-old Jacob David Eliahu, a Jewish Christian who ha joined the group and subsequently went by Jacob Spafford. (Several sources record the adoption.)

      So, after the shipwreck, they had two daughters, Bertha and Grace, a son who died as a toddler, and an adopted son from Palestine.

  • Carl says:

    God bless all of you sweet souls. I feel so stupid sometimes. My law practice slows, I grow anxious and I pray and beg for His help, while others mourn true losses and yet “all is well with their souls.” God loves we children of His, even the fools who constantly lose faith…

  • R says:

    Can someone clarify for me? Does it is well with my soul.. when it was coming to him facing his loss and passing over where his daughters passed away mean that he was comforted in the fact that he knew he would be seeing them again someday in Heaven? Or more that God knows what he is doing and was giving it up to God that the loss was for a reason?

    Thank you

    • I don’t pretend to know Spafford’s thoughts except through what he has penned. I would be comforted in knowing both that I would see my children again and that, even though God doesn’t cause tragedies, he is able to redeem it for his good (Romans 8:28-29). The lyrics of this broken-hearted father have provided comfort and encouragement to millions of believers through the generations.

    • It is indeed well with my soul! I love this song with passion, even before knowing the author or story behind it.
      In every situation that we might be passing through, it is indeed well with our souls. Whether we live or die, we are for Christ and we should give all glory to whom it belongs to: The Almighty Father, the Eternal Rock of Ages, the I-Am-That-I-Am, The Ancient of Days.

      This is a real life experience, very touching indeed!

      For Spafford & Anna and their four daughters who got sunk in the oceans;
      For Spafford’s other blessed children who directly or indirectly shared in the misfortune;
      For Bliss and wife who were burned beyond recognition in the train accident;
      For all other unknown blessed souls with similar misfortune;
      It is well with your souls! May you blessed souls rest in perfect peace in the bosom of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

  • Keleobogile Modise says:

    Thanks to the story it made Me realise how weak am I not to accept my situation but the contents made Me such stronger knowing that in every situation We are not alone Our Lord Almighty is with Us. It is well with my Soul May their Lively Soul be at peace

  • Mike Williams says:

    I feel Relieved its well with me.God is Great

  • Prince J. says:

    Seeing all these comments thrill me so much. I thought Christianity in America had gone to extinction. These comments prove that there’re still a few still clinging to the faith. May Jesus grant you all heaven at last. As for the story, it’s an inspiring one as well as touching . It is truly well with our soul..
    A faithful brother in Nigeria.

    • Thanks for your prayers for the United States. The trend is discouraging. Praying for my brothers and sisters in Africa. I’ve been able to travel to and teach in Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa as well as report on HIV/AIDS in Zambia. I love their joy and commitment to Christ!

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  • Pastor Francis Paul says:

    With JESUS it is always WELL Bless u,All. Love you All. Pst Francis Paul.South Africa.

  • Long before I knew this story of true faith, this hymn was and is one of my very ffavorites. God Bless your ministry,

  • youdon T. kno says:

    Why isn’t Horatio’s first son, Horatio Jr. mentioned at all? He died at age four of scarlet fever just before the Great Chicago Fire.

    • youdon T. kno says:

      Also, this is an amazing article! Thank you so much for writing this, it is an encouragement to us all.

    • Thanks for your comment. I did mention his death. As far as date of death, my research reveals that Horatio Goertner Spafford died at age three of scarlet fever on February 11, 1880, after the Chicago Fire (1871) and the drowning death of the author’s four daughters (1873). Thanks, though, for making me recheck my sources. I also learned that the hymn writer’s daughter, Bertha, may have been misinterpreted to imply that he wrote the hymn while sailing to be reunited with his wife:

          Setting off to bring Anna home, he crossed the Atlantic and the watery grave of his four daughters. Moved by the experience he wrote a hymn, ‘It Is Well with My Soul,” which expressed his faith.

        Regardless, it is an amazing story and a powerful testimony to faith.

        • Brittany says:

          Yes, and I believe he had another son who died of pneumonia around the same time of the Chicago Fire, his first child to die.

          • So much tragedy, so much hope. Thanks for commenting!

            • D. Kabari says:

              Thanks so much for this inspiring piece and the hope that in all we go through CHRIST is with us.
              If I may but ask one question, could Horatio have done something different to avert these tragedies or this is a cross he has to carry in whatever routes he decides to follow in his work with God?

            • Thanks for your comment. Spafford did not cause–nor could he prevent–the Chicago Fire or the sinking of the S.S. Ville Du Havre. However, we do need to do everything in our power to prevent tragedy (don’t smoke, don’t text and drive, etc.). And we do need to follow God’s instructions for living a holy life. (We reap what we sow.) But many times the only thing we can control in life is our response to it. And Spafford certainly expressed that when he affirmed, “It Is Well with My Soul.”

    • Jeannie says:

      Love this song and the story behind it. Most of all love the truth behind it. No matter what happens here on earth, our home is an eternal one with our Savior in heaven and it is indeed well with the souls that belong to Christ. This was sung at my mother’s funeral and I always think of her when I hear it. Sealed in the blood of Christ, nothing and no one can ever hurt our souls.

    • Maisilung says:

      Its a story from 1870s bit the greatest lyrics ever in 2018. I love this song with all my heart.. It has power in this song. Thank you for the story.

    • Mireya says:

      With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues
      of plagorism or copyright violation? My site has a lot of exclusive content I’ve either created
      myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over
      the web without my authorization. Do you know any solutions to help
      prevent content from being ripped off? I’d truly appreciate it.

      • I always put the copyright notice on everything on my site (eg. Copyright (c) 2018 James Watkins), but occasionally I do find people using my material. I’ve put this notice on my Press Page:

            Permission for reprints
            Non-profit organizations may make up to 500 (five hundred) hard copies of any article on this site provided the following credit line is included on each copy:

            Copyright © [year] James N. Watkins
            Reprinted with permission from http://www.jameswatkins.com

            Online use is granted as long as the information above is included with a link to http://www.jameswatkins.com

            For any commercial use, written permission must be obtained and fee agreed upon by email.

          The bottom line for me is that my message is getting out.

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