History

A Brief Biography of Benjamin Hanby

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

Benjamin Hanby was born in 1833 near Rushville, Ohio. In 1847, his father, William Hanby, helped establish Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, which eventually led the family to relocate to Westerville. Benjamin Hanby attended Otterbein to study for the ministry and, following his father’s lead, became a minister of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. The Hanbys were very strong in their faith, which led them to become active in the Underground Railroad, and in the years before the Civil War they provided shelter to many fugitives from slavery.

In 1864, Benjamin Hanby left the ministry to pursue a career in music. Later that same year, while living in New Paris, Ohio, he composed the famous Christmas song Up on the Housetop. In 1865, Benjamin Hanby was offered a job at what was then the nation's largest music-publishing house, Root & Cady in Chicago, IL. While there, he published the song known today as Up on the Housetop, under the title Santa Claus.

Benjamin Hanby composed over 80 songs in his lifetime. Among his most popular and best-known are Up on the Housetop, Darling Nelly Gray and Who is He in Yonder Stall. He died of tuberculosis in 1867 at the age of 33 and is buried in Otterbein Cemetery in Westerville.

The Hanby House

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Hanby House was built in 1846 and was the home of members of the Hanby family from 1853–1870. Benjamin Hanby lived there from 1853–1858. 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 Hanby the family, including a walnut desk made by Benjamin Hanby, original plates for the first edition of the song Darling Nelly Gray and a large collection of sheet music and books. Westerville Historical Society maintains and operates the Hanby House on behalf of the the Ohio History Connection.