In 1870, Horatio G. Spafford's son passed away at the age of four. A year later, the city of Chicago burned and he lost almost everything that he had. Stricken with loss and grief, they reached out and helped the homeless and needy. In 1873, the family planned a trip to Europe by way of the French steamer Ville du Havre. At the last moment, Horatio was called away on a business emergency so he sent his wife and four daughters ahead, promising he would follow in a few days. On November 22, 1973 the steamer Ville du Havre was struck by a British iron ship, the Lockhearn. His wife, Anna, was rescued and brought to Cardiff, Wales where she sent him a telegraph saying, "Saved alone. What shall I do...." As Horatio sailed to his wife, the captain of the ship told him that "A careful reckoning has been made and I believe we are now passing the place where the Ville Du Havre was wrecked. The water is three miles deep."
That night in his cabin, thinking of the loss of his daughters, Horatio wrote the words to the hymn "It Is Well With My Soul."
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.