In the spring of 1862 Joseph Henry Gilmore, a Baptist minister, visited the city of Philadelphia. During the midweek prayer meeting at the First Baptist church, he spoke of God’s leadership, using part of the Shepherd Psalm (Psalm 23) as the basis for his talk. He was so impressed by the simple words, “He Leadeth Me,” that he continued to discuss this theme at the home of his host, Deacon Watson of Arch Street, Philadelphia. Gilmore’s mind was so full of the thought of God’s guidance in every phase of life that he wrote these four stanzas in pencil, and gave them to his wife without comment. Unknown to her husband, she sent the poem to a religious periodical, The Watchman and Reflector, in Boston. It appeared in print in the December 4, 1862, issue, still without his knowledge. Three years later Gilmore preached in the Baptist church in Rochester, New York. Opening a hymnbook at random, he was astonished to find his own poem set to music. He did not recognize nor acknowledge his authorship of the refrain until his wife’s death some years later, when he discovered his original manuscript among her papers, complete with a refrain, but of two lines only.
Gilmore was born in Boston on April 29, 1834, and educated at Brown University and Newton Theological Seminary. He was ordained into the Baptist ministry in 1862 and served at Fisherville, New Hampshire, for a year. Then he was private secretary to his father, the governor of New Hampshire, but after one year he began pastoring the Baptist church in Rochester, New York. In 1868 he was appointed professor of logic and English literature at the University of Rochester, a position he held until he retired in 1911. He died at Rochester on July 23, 1918.
The tune, sometimes called HE LEADETH ME, or AUGHTON, was composed by William Batchelder Bradbury (1816-1868), and published in his The Golden Censer, 1864. He had noticed Gilmore’s hymn in The Watchman and Reflector, enlarged the refrain, and wrote his tune to fit the words.
BAdapted from Companion to the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal, by Wayne Hooper and Edward E. White, 1988, pp. 511, 512.