Phoebe Palmer Knapp Rich HymnWriter

Phoebe Palmer Knapp was born in New York City, on March 9, 1839. She was obviously named after – but not to be confused with – Phoebe Palmer, preacher of entire sanctification around the mid-19th century. Phoebe’s parents, Dr Walter C Palmer and Phoebe Worrall Palmer, were Methodist evangelists and founding members of the Holiness Movement, thus their choice of an evangelist’s name for their daughter.

Phoebe married 23 year old Joseph Fairfield Knapp when she was only 15, and he founded the Metropolitan Life Assurance Company and was its second president. They were members of the Methodist Church.

Wealthy and influential, the Knapps hosted four United States Presidents, many Civil War generals and other dignitaries at Knapp Mansion in Brooklyn, from 1860 -1894.

Phoebe had a love for music and considerable talent. While she was on holiday in Europe in 1882 her husband had a special music room built for her at the mansion as a surprise.

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When her husband died in 1891, Mrs Knapp inherited $50,000 – most of which was distributed to “religious and charitable causes”.  Her son, Joseph, headed up Collier’s Publishing Company.

The important thing is that she wrote hymn tunes.

In 1873 she composed a melody and played it to fellow Church member, and hymn writer extraordinaire, Fanny Crosby.  After listening to the tune played “two or three times”, the blind hymnist wrote the words …

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!

Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine …

It is still sung to Phoebe Knapp’s tune, called Assurance.

In 1894 Phoebe moved out of Knapp Mansion and ended up taking the entire top floor of the new Savoy Hotel, even moving her organ there. She continued with her extensive entertaining program. She also encouraged musical talent, although she was a firm believer in disciplined practice.

Emma Thursby (1845-1931) was a lifelong friend and “discovery” of Phoebe Palmer Knapp, becoming one of the world’s leading Opera Singers.

Phoebe also was the New York City head of the International Sunshine Society, which did international good deeds. Her charitable spirit may have prompted her son, Joseph, to start his own Knapp Foundation. Phoebe continued to travel to Europe with her friends and family but lived in the Savoy up until the spring of 1908.

By the time of her death in Poland Springs, Maine (10 July, 1908) about 500 tunes had been composed by Mrs Knapp, including Open the Gates of the Temple, which was also written with Fanny Crosby.

It has been said of Phoebe Knapp that she was not an amateur with her music, but a talented and dedicated professional musician who produced melodies of excellence.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at:

William Howard Doane the Man of Melody

William Howard Doane was born in Preston, Connecticut, USA, February 3, 1832. He was to become one of the leading gospel songwriters of his era, writing more than 2,000 hymn tunes, and numerous cantatas. By the age of 14 he was conducting the choir of the Congregational school he attended, Woodstock Academy.

Converted a few years later, in his final year at school, he joined the Baptist Church (his mother was Baptist), where he served as a faithful layman for the rest of his life. For 25 years he was Sunday-School Superintendent and choir director at Mount Auburn Baptist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Music was Doane’s ‘avocation’ (something done outside his vocation). He made his living by working for J.A. Fay & Co, which made woodworking machinery, where he excelled as a businessman. He became President of the large company.

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The music of his soul bubbled forth throughout his life. He composed his first piece at age 16 and in 1852 he was engaged as conductor at the Norwich Harmonic Society. His first published songs were for Sunday School use, reflecting his life-long interest in that ministry (as has been seen in other hymn-writers – such as Alfred Midlane 1825-1909 – see Jan 23, 2009 post).

Note the titles of his first book of songs, published in 1862, “Sabbath School Gems”. The second book, published two years later was “Little Sunbeams”, and in 1867 came perhaps the most popular Sunday-school book of its day, “Silver Spray”.

Doane’s first book of songs for adult use, “Songs of Devotion”, came in 1868 and was very popular.

Doane is noted for his creation of Christmas cantatas, which popularised the genre, especially through his work entitled, “Santa Claus”.

Doane married the daughter of his father’s business partner in Doane & Treat, cotton manufacturers. That union produced two daughters.

A personal friend of blind hymn-writer, Fanny Crosby, she would often ask him to compose a melody for words she had written. One evening, whilst she visited Doane’s home, they spoke of God’s nearness. Before retiring Miss Crosby penned the words:

I am Thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice,

And it told Thy love for me…

Next morning she asked Doane if he would compose the tune, which he did.

On the other hand, he sometimes composed a tune and asked Fanny Crosby to supply the words. In 1869 he mailed her such a tune, and as she later sat in a New York Mission, the words came to her:

Rescue the perishing,

Care for the dying …

On another occasion Mr Doane composed a melody and played it to Miss Crosby on a small organ. “Why,” she at once exclaimed, “that tune says Safe in the Arms of Jesus. I’ll see what I can do about it.” (Sankey’s Story of Gospel Hymns, page 263).

Jesus, Keep me Near the Cross was also written by Miss Crosby to one of Doane’s previously composed melodies.

The melody of Katherine Hankey’s Tell me the Old, Old Story came from Doane’s pen.

This highly successful Christian businessman gave large sums of money to further the spread of the gospel, including a music building at Moody Bible Institute. The Doane Memorial Music Building in Chicago, Illinois, was named after him.

He died on Christmas Eve, 24 December, 1915.

Dr Doane compiled some forty books, and wrote about twenty-three hundred songs, ballads, cantatas, etc, also a number of vocal and piano pieces in sheet form. Millions of people across the globe have sung Doane’s tunes, even though they would not know his name.

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This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at:

Thomas Hastings the Albino Musical Genius

This is the day that Thomas Hastings was born in Connecticut, in 1784.

At the age of 12 he and his family moved to Clinton, New York State, “by ox sledge”. He studied music from textbooks, without instruction, and in 1806 became the head of a singing school. Despite little education and “acute near-sightedness”, and the fact that he was an albino, he became a genius in the world of church music. He could read a page of music when placed upside down!” (Finney, by K. Hardman, page 252).

Hastings was married in Buffalo, N.Y., Sept. 15, 1822, to Mary Seymour. He taught singing in Troy, N.Y. during 1822-23, and was editor of the “Western Recorder”, a religious journal, at Utica, N.Y. from 1823-32, meanwhile lecturing on music in Albany, New York city, Philadelphia, Pa. and Princeton. N.J. He resided in New York city from 1832-72, where he held the position of choir master, first in Dr. Mason’s church, afterward in Dr. Hutton’s and finally in the West Presbyterian church.

He contributed frequently to the musical and religious periodicals, published the “Musical Magazine” for the years 1835-37 and edited many collections of music. He received the degree of Mus. Doc. from the University of the city of New York in 1858. Evangelist Charles Finney employed Thomas Hastings as music director at the Chatham Street Chapel, New York.

For 40 years Hastings taught music, trained choirs, composed, compiled and published hymnals, wrote 600 hymns for tunes and 1000 tunes for hymns!

The tune “Toplady” used for Rock of Ages… comes from his pen, as does “Ortonville”, to which we sing: Majestic sweetness sits enthroned…

Among his best known words are ‘Hail to the brightness of Zion’s glad morning’ and ‘Come, ye disconsolate’, in which he improved upon the work of an earlier poet.

One writer states that Thomas Hastings “did valuable service in his day in stemming the tide of deteriorating influences in American hymnody and maintaining the ideal of devoutness in church praise” (Handbook to the Hymnary, page 363).

One is tempted to add, “Oh, for another Thomas Hastings!”

He died in Vermont, USA, on 3 January, 1918.

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History, which I previously considered to be a little stuffy and of little practical value. I find in the process of updating Don’s Christian Diary that I am being constantly refreshed, illuminated or challenged by the lives of those who have gone before.