April 16, 2011

Hymn History - He Leadeth Me

He Leadeth Me

On April 29th, 1834, Joseph Gilmore was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His father was the governor of New Hampshire. Joseph received his education at the Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts. His higher learning was received at Brown University and Newton Theological Seminary. He had the knowledge and speaking ability to become a politician, but God called him into the ministry. After his ordination, he worked as his father’s secretary for a while.

In 1862 he was a guest speaker at the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia. That Wednesday night he spoke on Psalm 23, majoring on the phrase, “He leadeth me beside the still waters.” Because the Civil War was going on, this subject was dear to the hearts of many people, including his own.

After the service, he and his wife went to the home of Deacon Watson, who lived next to the church. They talked for many hours about the message that night and the subject of the leadership of God. As they talked he took out a pen and paper and began to write. Before the night was over, he had written all the verses of this song. He handed them to his wife and promptly forgot about them.

Three years passed. One night he had a speaking engagement at the Second Baptist Church of Rochester, New York, to candidate for a possible pastorate there. Their hymnal was one that was foreign to him, so upon entering the auditorium, he picked it up to see what kind of songs were in it. To his astonishment, the first song his eyes fell on was his own, written in the home of Deacon Watson. Unbeknownst to him, his wife had sent it to “The Watchman and Reflector,” a paper published in Boston. William Bradbury had set the words to music and put them in a hymnal.

In 1926, the church and Deacon Watson’s home were torn down, and an office building for the United Gas Improvement Company was put in its place. On the front of the building is a bronze tablet paying tribute to Joseph Gilmore. The inscription begins with the first stanza of Joseph Gilmore’s song:

He leadeth me! O blessed thought!

O words with heavenly comfort fraught!

What e’re I do, where e’re I be,

Still ‘tis God’s hand that leadeth me.

~Lindsay Terry’s Musical Memories


  1. God is so faithful, and he is aware of all He's doing. This words this far are a blessing a forever will be.thanks Lindsay for the information. Thanks Nicole for your efforts,God bless you

  2. I have composed a concert arrangement of this piece. Although my arrangement is for piano
    and not in need of words, I was very, VERY happy to find out how Mr. Gilmore came to write
    the words and how blessed we all are as we sing them. The words were a great inspiration
    to me as I wrote the variations. Thank you Lindsay and Nicole for keeping this inspiring
    knowledge alive. Sincerely, Barbara Geyen Sherrill.