Mr. Nelson was a surgeon in the army during the War of 1812. Afterward he entered the ministry, preached in Tennessee and Kentucky, and later moved to Missouri, where he opened a plantation. There he heard an address on the evils of slavery that changed his views. ”I will live on roast potatoes and salt before I will hold slaves! ”he declared. He advocated colonization of the negroes. This brought down upon him the wrath of his slave-holding neighbors, who drove him from his home and pursued him through the woods and swamps for three days and nights. Finally he came out on the banks of the Mississippi River opposite Quincy, Illinois. By signs he made known his condition to friends there, and then hid in the bushes to await the approach of night. As he lay there in danger of being captured every moment, the land of freedom in plain sight, with the swiftly gliding waters between, the lines of this hymn began to assume form in his mind, and he wrote them down on the back of a letter he had in his pocket. The voices of the vengeful pursuers were heard in the woods about him. Once they strode by the very clump of bushes in which he was concealed, and even poked their guns in to separate the branches; but they failed to notice him. Several members of the Congregational church of Quincy came over in the evening in a canoe, and began fishing near his hiding-place. When they had located this exactly they gave a signal, and drawing near to the shore, met him as he rushed down to the water's edge. They got him safely to the Illinois side, but were discovered and followed by the slaveholders, who demanded his surrender. But they were informed that Mr. Nelson was now in a free State, and that nothing should molest him. In Illinois he was employed by the Home Missionary Society, and continued to take an active part in the anti-slavery agitation of those times. He died in 1844.
As to the music of this hymn Mr. Root says: ”One day, I remember, as I was working at a set of graded part-songs for singing classes, mother passed through the room and laid a slip from one of the religious newspapers before me, saying; ' George, I think that would be good for music.' I looked at the poem, which began, ' My days are gliding swiftly by,' and a simple melody sang itself along in my mind as I read. I jotted it down and went on with my work. That was the origin of the music of ' The Shining Shore.' Later, when I took up the melody to harmonize it, it seemed so very simple and commonplace that I hesitated about setting the other parts to it. I finally decided that it might be useful to somebody, and I completed it, though it was not printed until some months afterward. In after years I examined it in an endeavor to account for its great popularity—but in vain. To the musician there is not one reason in melody or harmony, scientifically regarded, for such a fact. To him hundreds of others, now forgotten, were better."