Horatio Gates Spafford was born in New York on October 20, 1828.
He later became a lawyer and an elder in the Presbyterian Church where he and his wife Anna were both active members of the congregation, helping those less fortunate than themselves.
By this time, he had moved to Chicago, where he married Anna in 1861. Horatio Spafford was a senior partner in a large Chicago law firm.
He invested in real estate north of Chicago in 1870.
In late 1871 Fire reduced the city to ashes and most of Spafford’s investments were destroyed, and many people lost their lives.
Tragedy Strikes Horatio Spafford Family
Their son four-year-old Horatio died of scarlet fever just before the fires.
To recover from the tragedy the family consisting of his wife and four young daughters planned a trip to the United Kingdom where his friend evangelist, Dwight L Moody would be preaching.
The trip was booked but business demands kept Spafford from departing with his wife and daughters, and he rebooked to join them in Europe.
Anna and her daughters left New York on the Ville du Havre to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Tragedy struck on November 22, when an iron sailing ship
hit the vessel and it sank within 12 minutes. Two hundred and twenty-six people lost their lives including Horatio Spafford’s’ four young daughters.
Anna was rescued from the ocean barely alive and clinging to a plank of wood, she was taken to Cardiff (Wales) where she telegrammed her husband.
It is Well with My Soul Hymn Origin
On receipt of the message, Horatio Spafford set out at once to reach his wife. Taking the same route as his wife and daughters to travel to Europe.
Several days into the voyage the captain summoned him to the bridge and explained that they were passing the exact spot where the Ville du Havre had sunk, and his four daughters had perished.
Spafford returned to his cabin and wrote the hymn ‘It is well with my soul‘
The hymn displayed his deep suffering and rock-like faith in God. Following her rescue, Anna was devastated by the loss of her four daughters.
After this terrible tragedy, Anna had three more children, and further sadness was to follow when their only son Horatio, named after his brother and father, died aged four years of scarlet fever.
Breaking With the Presbyterian Church
Following all their suffering the Spaffords could not accept the Presbyterian teaching that the dead children could not have gone to Heaven, the teaching of the time.
The Spaffords quarreled bitterly with the Church and broke up with them.
The other teaching of the time was that the children dying was retribution for the sins of the parents, both totally unacceptable theories to the Spaffords and many other people.
The teaching was mainly based on Old Testament writings that were later reinterpreted.
When Horatio Spafford voiced their views, they were expelled from the Presbyterian Church, as were the friends who backed them up.
This led to the founding of the new Colony in the Holy Land. His daughter Bertha was only three years old at the time, and Horatio Spafford was to spend the rest of his life in Jerusalem.
Their new home became the American Colony, high on a hill near the Gates of Damascus.
The Spaffords in Jerusalem
During the 1880s many Christian people moved to Jerusalem to continue God’s work.
In 1881 Horatio Spafford and his wife Anna made the move and once they settled, took in homeless children, to raise them in the Christian faith.
During this time, he added another verse to his hymn, and it was put to music in a composition by Phillip Bliss.
In Jerusalem, Horatio Spafford adopted a boy called Jacob Eliahu who was from a Turkish Jewish family.
Jacob was known for discovering the Siloam inscription. Being adopted by the Spaffords gave him opportunities that he would not have otherwise had.
Once the Colony settled in Jerusalem, they began to do welfare work amongst the inhabitants who were poor.
Palestine at the time was under Turkish rule, hygiene was poor and there were not many Doctors.
The colony members taught mothers how to care for their children and keep them healthy. Child mortality rates were high, and help was much needed. Poor and destitute people gathered at the colony for help.
With so much need Horatio Spafford did not have much time for writing hymns and other missives.
The following is a quote from Bertha Vesta, daughter of Horatio Spafford.
IN LATER LIFE, SPAFFORD’S DAUGHTER, BERTHA (BORN 18 MONTHS AFTER LITTLE HORATIO), RECORDED: AMONG THE TREASURES IS A LITTLE CARDBOARD BOX FOUND IN FATHER’S DESK FOLLOWING HIS DEATH IN JERUSALEM.
IN IT ARE SOME FADED FLOWERS BOUND WITH WHITE RIBBON AND THE WORDS: “FLOWERS FROM LITTLE HORATIO’S FUNERAL”.
HE BROUGHT THIS TO JERUSALEM WITH HIM, WHEN SO LITTLE WAS TAKEN.
NO ONE KNEW HOW DEEP THE GRIEF HE AND MY MOTHER SHARED … AFTER HORATIO’S DEATH, FATHER WROTE THE HYMN, “A SONG IN THE NIGHT”’.
Grief And Suffering
The grief of another person cannot be measured and there is no doubt that Horatio Spafford and Anna suffered enormously.
Horatio sent for seeds from abroad and started growing things, potatoes, and other hardy vegetables.
Also, Eucalypts for shade as the area around Jerusalem was totally deforested and barren, plants that grew easily and quickly where required. Some crops were established.
Death and Legacy
Just before his 60th birthday in 1888, Horatio Spafford died of Malaria, he was buried in Mount Zion Cemetary.
Survived by his wife Anna who carried on his work with other members of the colony, Anna lived until 1923.
His contribution to Christian Hymns was enormous, as was his faith and commitment to those less fortunate.
The hymn ‘it is well with my soul‘ lives on and is still played today more than 100 years after his death.
His daughter Bertha married and lived in Jerusalem, leading a fascinating life based on caring for others.