Written after two traumatic events in Spafford's life. His four-year-old son died in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Soon after, the ship his family was sailing on whilst en route to Europe sank and all four of his daughters died. His wife Anna survived and sent him the now famous telegram, "Saved alone …". Shortly afterwards, as Spafford traveled to meet his grieving wife, he was inspired to write the song words as his ship passed near where his daughters had died.