“Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean (Britannia, the Pride of the Ocean)”


"Oh, (Columbia/Britania) the (gem/pride) of the ocean... Thy banners make tyranny tremble When borne by the red, white, and blue." The singer boasts of his nation's success in war and its liberty


Fuld reports considerable controversy about the origin of this song: It is probably not possible, at this time, to tell with certainty whether the original is the American "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" or the British "Britannia, the Pride of the Ocean."

The earliest printed version, called "Columbia the Land of the Brave," was printed in 1843 and credited to George Willig. In 1852, a copy of "Brittania the Gem of the Ocean" was filed at the British Museum; it credits the song to D[avid]. T. Shaw (who sang the American version). This version, however, was not filed in the stationer's register.

The song has also been credited to Stephen Joseph Meany (words) and Thomas E. Williams (music; died 1854) (cf. Spaeth, _A History of Popular Music in America_, p. 98, who dates their "Britannia" version to 1854), and to the performer Thomas A. Beckett, but substantiating evidence is lacking in both cases. If you want the full details, you'd best see both Spaeth and Fuld. - RBW

The 1844 sheet music, LOCSheet sm1844 410890 notes "A Popular Song as sung by Mr Blankman & Mr Shaw." The 1846 sheet music LOCSheet sm1846 411040, and broadside LOCSinging cw101030 make David T. Shaw the writer.

The 1849 broadside NLScotland L.C.Fol.178.A.2(015) third verse refers to "the memory of Nelson" (1758-1805). The 1856 broadside NLScotland L.C.1269(175a) third verse refers to "the mem'ry of Napier": "This could be either Naval Commander Charles Napier (1786-1860) or more likely, as the tribute appears to be posthumous, General sir Charles Napier (1782-1853), who achieved significant military victories in the Indian sub-continent." Broadside Bodleian Harding B 26(565) refers to "the memory of heroes." Broadside Bodleian Firth b.25(217) View 2 of 2 appears to refer to Charlie Napier. The remaining Bodleian broadsides -- Harding B 15(255b), Harding B 11(3246), Harding B 11(3401), Firth b.26(377) and Harding B 11(396) -- refer to Nelson. The "Columbia" versions refer to "they."

Broadside LOCSinging cw104810: J. Andrews dating per _Studying Nineteenth-Century Popular Song_ by Paul Charosh in American Music, Winter 1997, Vol 15.4, Table 1, available at FindArticles site. - BS

Cross references

  • cf. "Dixie, the Land of King Cotton" (tune)


  • Bodleian, Harding B 26(565), "Red, White and Blue", J. Moore ["Poet's Box"] (Belfast), 1846-1852 ; also Firth b.25(217) View 2 of 2 [difficult to read], Harding B 15(255b)[some lines illegible], Harding B 11(3246), Harding B 11(3401), "[The] Red, White, and Blue"; Firth b.26(377), "Britannia! the Pride of the Ocean"; Harding B 11(396), "Nelsons Last Sigh" or "The Red White & Blue"
  • LOCSheet, sm1844 410890, "Columbia the Gem of the Ocean", Osbourn's Music Saloon (Philadelphia), 1844; also sm1846 411040, "Columbia the Land of the Brave" (tune)
  • LOCSinging, cw104810, "Red, White & Blue" ("Oh, Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean"), J. Andrews (New York), 1853-1859; also sb40454a, "Red, White & Blue"; cw10102a, cw101030, cw101040, "Columbia the Gem of the Ocean"
  • NLScotland, L.C.Fol.178.A.2(015), "Red, White, and Blue", 1849, Mclntosh (Calton[Glasgow?]); also L.C.1269(175a), "Britannia, the Pride of the Ocean"


  1. Silber-FSWB, p. 44, "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" (1 text)
  2. Fuld-WFM, pp. 176-177+, "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean"
  3. BI, FSWB044


Alternate titles: “The Red, White and Blue”
Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1843 (sheet music)
Keywords: patriotic nonballad
Found in: US Britain