In November, 1873 Chicago lawyer Horatio G. Spafford took his wife and four daughters, Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie, to New York and boarded them on the luxurious French liner, S.hair. Ville du Havre. The Great Chicago Fire had destroyed everything they owned, and Spafford was sending his girls to an English Academy until the Chicago schools—and his own life—could be rebuilt. As he saw his family settled into their cabin, an unease filled his mind and he moved them to a room closer to the bow of the ship. Then he said goodbye, promising to join them later in France.

During the small hours of November 22, 1873, as the Ville du Havre glided over smooth seas, the passengers were suddenly thrown from their bunks in a jolt. The ship had collided with an iron sailing vessel, the Loch earn. Water poured in like Niagara, and the Ville du Havre tilted dangerously. Screams and prayers and oaths merged into a nightmare of unmeasured terror. Passengers, losing their footing, clung to posts, tumbled through darkness, and were drenched by powerful currents of icy, inrushing sea. Loved ones fell from each other’s grasp and disappeared into foaming blackness. Within two hours, the mighty ship vanished beneath the nocturnal waters. The 226 fatalities included Maggie, Tanetta, Annie, and Bessie. Mrs. Spafford was found nearly unconscious, clinging to a piece of the wreckage. Nine days later when the survivors landed in Cardiff, Wales, she cabled her husband: “Saved Alone.”

He immediately booked passage to join his wife. On the way over, on a cold December night, the captain called him aside and said, “I believe we are now passing over the place where the Ville du Havre went down.” Spafford went to his cabin but found it hard to sleep. He said to himself, “It is well; the will of God be done,” and later wrote his famous hymn based on those words:

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
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.

Your vicious waves have swept over me Like an angry ocean or a roaring waterfall. Every day, you are kind, And at night you give me a song As my prayer to you, the living Lord God. (Psalm 42:7,8)

Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). Nov. 22.

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