Horatio Spafford


October 20, 1828 - October 16, 1888


From Chicago, Illinois
Served in Chicago, Illinois
Affiliation: Presbyterian

"When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know, It is well, it is well, with my soul."

In 1871, Horatio Spafford, a prosperous lawyer and devout Christian, and his wife, Anna, were living comfortably with their four young daughters in Lake View, Chicago.
In that year the great fire broke out which devastated the entire city. For the next two years Horatio and Anna devoted their time to welfare work amongst the refugees of the fire.

By November 1873 the Spaffords needed some respite and decided to join friends in Europe but just before their departure Horatio was detained on business. Anna and their four daughters were persuaded to set off without him but en route tragedy struck. The steamship they were traveling on, the Ville du Havre, sank after colliding with another ship in mid-ocean.

Of the hundreds on board, Anna was one of only 27 who were rescued having been kept afloat by a piece of debris. Her daughters did not survive. Overcome with despair at the loss of her children, Anna felt strongly that she had been saved for a purpose.

In Chicago, Horatio received a tragic telegram from his wife: ‘Saved alone.’

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. The hymn remains one of the most popular Christian hymns in the USA.

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.

Having returned to Chicago, the Spaffords were blessed with further children, a son Horatio, and a daughter, Bertha. However, another crushing blow was dealt when little Horatio died of scarlet fever at the age of three.

The couple’s faith remained strong in the face of these difficult times but Horatio gradually became convinced that the ‘End of Days’ was imminent and decided to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. In a letter to a friend, Horatio explained: ‘Jerusalem is where my Lord lived, suffered and conquered, and I, too, wish to learn how to live, suffer and, especially, to conquer.’

Six months after the birth of another daughter, Grace, the Spaffords and a few friends set off for Jerusalem, arriving there in September 1881. The group settled in a house in the Old City that is built against the northern medieval city wall. They came to be known as the ‘American Colony’.

From the beginning they were generous, sharing what little they had with others and the American Colony quickly became known as a place of hospitality for all – Jews, Christians and Muslims were all welcome there.

When they were joined later by a group of Swedish Christians they needed a larger premises and were able to move to a former Arab Pasha’s home north of the Damascus gate, where they continued their communal way of life.

During World War I, when famine and plague ravaged the city, the American Colony operated a soup kitchen for the poor of Jerusalem and also ran, with permission from the Turkish Governor, hospitals for the wounded of both sides in the conflict.

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