It Is Well With My Soul (Story Behind the Song)

In 1873, the French liner, S.S. Ville du Havre, was the most luxurious ship afloat when it sailed from New York in November, 1873. Among the passengers was Mrs. H.G. Spafford of Chicago, making the trip with her four children, Maggie, Tanetta, Annie and Bessie. Mr. Spafford was unable to make the voyage with his family because of business commitments in Chicago. He told them “Goodbye”, promising to meet them in France in a few weeks.

At two o’clock on the morning of November 22, 1873, when the luxury liner was several days out, she was rammed by the English iron sailing vessel, the Lochern. In two hours the Ville Du Havre, one of the largest ships afloat, settled to the bottom of the ocean, with a loss of some two-hundred twenty-six lives, including the four Spafford children. Nine days later when the survivors landed at Cardiff, Wales, Mrs. Spafford cabled her husband these two words, “Saved alone.” When he received her message, he said to a dear friend, “I am glad to trust the Lord when it will cost me something.” As soon as he could, he booked passage on a ship to Europe to join his wife. On the way over, in December of that same year, 1873, the Captain called him into his cabin and said, “I believe we are now passing over the place where the Ville du Havre went down.

That night in the mid-Atlantic, out of his heart-break and pain, Mr. Spafford wrote five stanzas, the first of which contained these lines: 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!”

Insoo Kim