During the nineteenth century, silk ribbons were popular means of commemorating major events, political campaigns, and the deaths of prominent public figures. This 150-year-old ribbon dates from the first Independence Day after the end of the Civil War. The slogan “Victory! Liberty! Peace!” is a line from the popular Union anthem “Columbia’s Guardian Angels,” which was written in 1864 by the songwriter Henry Clay Work. The country was still in mourning over the recent death of Abraham Lincoln, and similar ribbons bear his likeness.
This ribbon was owned by Major William Downie (1820-1893), namesake of Downieville, California, a Scottish-born explorer and prospector, who found (and lost) his fortune there during the Gold Rush of 1849. It descended to his great-great-great grandson, Dr. Graham C. Boettcher, Chief Curator and Curator of American Art at the BMA, who donated it to the collection.