Benjamin Hanby

Benjamin Russell Hanby (July 22, 1833 – March 16, 1867), also given as Benjamin Russel Hanby,[1] was an American composer, educator, and pastor who wrote approximately 80 songs. The most famous of his compositions are "Darling Nelly Gray", the Christmas songs "Up on the House Top", "Jolly Old Saint Nicholas", and the hymn "Who Is He In Yonder Stall?".

Hanby was born in Rushville, Ohio.[2] He moved to Westerville, Ohio in 1849, at the age of sixteen, to enroll at Otterbein University.[3] He was involved in the Underground Railroad with his father, Bishop William Hanby.

Hanby composed "Darling Nelly Gray" in 1856[4] in what is now a national historical site,[5] the Hanby House, located at the corner of Grove and Main Streets (moved in the 1930s to 160 West Main Street) in Westerville, adjacent to the campus of Otterbein University. After graduation in 1858, Hanby briefly taught school and then became a minister in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ. In 1860, he became principal of Seven Mile Academy in Seven Mile, Ohio.

In 1864, Hanby was minister of a church in New Paris, Ohio, but by Christmas 1864, he was no longer working as a pastor, but operating a singing school in New Paris.[4] He composed "Up On The Housetop" as a Christmas sing-along. It was originally titled Santa Claus. The following year, Chicago publisher George Frederick Root published "Up On The Housetop" and brought Hanby to Chicago to pursue other publishing ventures.

Hanby died from tuberculosis in Chicago on March 16, 1867.[4] He is buried in Otterbein Cemetery in Westerville.


  1. Benjamin Russel Hanby, Ohio Composer-Educator, 1833–1867 (1987); C. B. Galbreath, Song Writers of Ohio, in 14 Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications 180 (1905).
  2. Benjamin Hanby at Ohio History Central
  3. William Osborne, Music in Ohio 421 (2004); Galbreath, supra, at 183.
  4. 1 2 3 "Benjamin Russel Hanby", Hanby House
  5. ""Hanby, Benjamin, House"". National Register of Historic Places.
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