History

A Brief Biography of Benjamin Hanby

Benjamin Hanby was a man of many titles including minister, abolitionist, student, and teacher. But we primarily know him as a musician and composer.

Hanby was born in 1833 near Rushville, Ohio. In 1847, his father William Hanby, helped established Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio which eventually led to the Hanbys relocating to Westerville. Benjamin Hanby attended Otterbein University to study ministry. Following his father’s lead, Hanby became a minister at the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. The Hanbys were very strong in their faith which led them to provide shelter for many runaway slaves during the Underground Railroad.

During his tenure as a minister, Hanby composed the famous Christmas song “Up on the Housetop.” Chicago publisher George Frederick Root published “Up on the Housetop” and asked Hanby to work for his publishing company, Root & Cady, in Chicago, Illinois.

Hanby died of tuberculosis in 1867 at the age of thirty-three years old. He is buried in Otterbein Cemetery in Westerville.

Benjamin Hanby composed over 80 songs in his lifetime. Among his most popular include “Up on the Housetop,” “Dear Nellie Gray,” and “Who is He in Yonder Stall.”

 

The Hanby House

The house was built in 1846 and occupied by the Hanbys from 1853 to 1870. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. From their house and barn, Benjamin Hanby and his father, Bishop William Hanby, ran a busy station on the Underground Railroad. The home contains furniture and personal items from the family including a walnut desk made by Hanby. The original plates for the first edition of Darling Nelly Gray and a large collection of sheet music and books are also at the site. The house is maintained and operated by the Westerville Historical Society under agreement with the Ohio History Connection.