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The original "Old Glory" owned by sea captain William Driver

Old Glory is a nickname for the flag of the United States. The original "Old Glory" was a flag owned by the 19th-century American sea captain William Driver (March 17, 1803 – March 3, 1886), who flew the flag during his career at sea and later brought it to Nashville, Tennessee, where he settled. Driver greatly prized the flag and ensured its safety from the Confederates, who attempted to seize the flag during the American Civil War. After the war, Driver's daughter and niece feuded over which of them owned the original Old Glory. In 1922, both flags claimed to be the original "Old Glory" became part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, where they remain at the National Museum of American History.


History of the original "Old Glory"Edit

Grave marker of sea captain William Driver, who coined the "Old Glory" nickname in reference to his own oceangoing flag.

The term originally referred to a U.S. flag owned by Driver, who was born on March 17, 1803, in Salem, Massachusetts.[1] At age thirteen, Driver ran away from home to become a cabin boy on a ship.[2]

At age twenty-one, Driver qualified as a master mariner and assumed command of his own ship, the Charles Doggett. In celebration of his appointment, Driver's mother "and a group of young Salem female admirers" sewed the flag and gave it to him as a gift in 1824. With this flag flying over his ship, Driver went on to have a colorful career as a U.S. merchant seaman, sailing to China, India, Gibraltar, and the South Pacific. He participated in the tortoiseshell trade and knew some Fijian. In 1831, while voyaging in the South Pacific, Driver's ship "was the sole surviving vessel of six that departed Salem the same day." Driver subsequently picked up 65 descendants of the survivors of the HMS Bounty and brought them back to Pitcairn Island; Driver "is said to have been convinced that God saved his ship for that purpose."[1][2]

Driver was deeply attached to the flag, writing: "It has ever been my staunch companion and protection. Savages and heathens, lowly and oppressed, hailed and welcomed it at the far end of the wide world. Then, why should it not be called Old Glory?"[1]

Driver retired from seafaring in 1837, after his wife Martha Silsbee Babbage died from throat cancer. At the time, Driver was 34 and had three young children. Driver settled in Nashville, Tennessee, where his three brothers operated a store. Driver remarried the next year to Sarah Jane Parks, a Southerner with whom he had several more children. Driver took his flag with him to Nashville, flying it on holidays "rain or shine." The flag was "so large that he attached it to a rope from his attic window and stretched it on a pulley across the street to secure it to a locust tree." Driver worked as a salesman and served as vestryman of Christ Episcopal Church.[1][2]

In 1860, Driver and his wife and daughters repaired the flag, sewing on ten more stars, and Driver added (by appliqué) a small white anchor in the lower right corner, to symbolize his maritime career. By that time, the secession crisis had begun, and Driver's family was split. While Driver was a staunch Unionist,[3] two of his sons were fervent Confederates who enlisted in local regiments, and one died from wounds suffered at Perryville. "One can only imagine the tensions between the Salem-born and Nashville-born Drivers, whose relations may have already been strained by first- and second-family rivalry. In March 1862, Driver wrote: "Two sons in the army of the South! My entire house estranged...and when I come one to soothe me."[1]

Soon after Tennessee seceded from the Union, Governor Isham G. Harris sent men to Driver's home to demand the flag. Driver, then 58 years old, was not intimidated; he met the men at the door and said, "Gentlemen...if you are looking for stolen property in my house, produce your search warrant." The men left, but later local Confederates made other attempts to seize the flag. An armed group showed up on Driver's front porch, but was confronted by Driver, who said, "If you want my flag you'll have to take it over my dead body," leading them to leave.[1]

In order to save the flag from further threats, Driver (aided by loyal women neighbors) had it sewn into a coverlet and hidden until late February 1862, when Nashville fell to Union forces. When the Union Army (led by the 6th Ohio Infantry) entered the city, Driver went to Tennessee State Capitol after seeing the U.S. flag and the 6th Ohio's regimental colors raised on the Capitol flagstaff.[1]

Horace Fisher, the aide-de-camp to the Union commander in the city, Brigadier General William "Bull" Nelson, wrote that: "A stout, middle-aged man, with hair well shot with gray, short in stature, broad in shoulder, and with a roll in his gait, came forward and asked, 'Who is the General in command? I wish to see him.'"[4] Introducing himself as a sea captain and Unionist, Driver brought the coverlet with him. Fisher recalled: "Capt. Driver—an honest-looking, blunt-speaking man, was evidently a character; he carried on his arm a calico-covered bedquilt; and, when satisfied that Gen. Nelson was the officer in command, he pulled out his jack-knife and began to rip open the bedquilt without another word. We were puzzled to think what his conduct meant. ... [Then], the bedquilt was safely delivered of a large American flag, which he handed to Gen. Nelson, saying, 'This is the flag I hope to see hoisted on that flagstaff in place of the d—d Confederate flag set there by that d—d rebel governor, Isham G. Harris. I have had hard work to save it; my house has been searched for it more than once.' He spoke triumphantly, with tears in his eyes."[4] Nelson accepted the flag and ordered it run up on the Capitol flagstaff, accompanied by "frantic cheering and uproarious demonstrations." The 6th Ohio later adopted the motto "Old Glory."[1]

That night, a violent storm "threatened to tear the banner to pieces" and so Driver replaced it with a newer flag, taking the original Old Glory for safekeeping. The flag apparently remained in his home until December 1864, when the Battle of Nashville was fought. As Confederate troopers under the command of John Bell Hood sought to retake the city, Driver hung his flag in a clearly visible spot out of the third-story window and left to join the defense of the city. For the rest of the American Civil War, Driver served as provost marshal of Nashville, serving in hospitals.[1]

According to Mary Jane Roland, one of Driver's Nashville-born daughters, Driver gave her the flag as a gift on July 10, 1873, telling her: "This is my old ship flag Old Glory. I love it as a mother loves her child; take it and cherish it as I have always cherished it; for it has been my steadfast friend and protector in all parts of the world—savage, heathen and civilized." Driver died on March 3, 1886, and was buried in the Nashville City Cemetery, where (at Driver's request) his rescue of the Bounty descendants is noted on his grave marker.[1][2]

Over the next several decades, a family feud took place over the flag and its ownership. Driver's Salem-born niece, Harriet Ruth Waters Cooke, the daughter of Driver's youngest sister, claimed that she had inherited it, and presented her version of Old Glory to the Essex Institute in Salem (which later became the Peabody Essex Museum), "along with family memorabilia that included a letter from the Pitcairn Islanders to Driver". Cooke also self-published a family memoir in 1889, omitting any mention of Mary Jane Roland.[1]

In response, Roland wrote her own account of the flag, publishing Old Glory, The True Story in 1918. In that memoir, Roland "disputed elements of Cooke's narrative and presented documentary evidence for her claim" that the flag she owned was the true Old Glory. In 1922, Roland gave her Old Glory to President Warren G. Harding as a gift; Harding had the flag sent to the Smithsonian Institution. The same year, the Peabody Essex Museum sent its own Old Glory to the Smithsonian as well on loan.[1]

Smithsonian Institution collectionEdit

The Smithsonian Institution historically has regarded the Roland flag, rather than the Peabody flag, as the more authentic, important Old Glory, since "documentary evidence in the Tennessee State Library and Archives strongly suggested it was the one hidden in the quilt and presented to Union troops who took Nashville" and since common sense indicated that as the larger flag, it would have been the one chosen by Driver to fly over the Capitol. The Roland flag is 17 by 10 feet, while the Peabody flag is smaller, 12 by 6 feet.[1]

In June 2006, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History (NMAH) loaned the Roland flag to the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville for an eight-month exhibit entitled "Old Glory: An American Treasure Comes Home".[5] The flag was in fragile condition and had to be carefully shipped and displayed. The museum's senior textile conservator, Suzanne Thomassen-Krauss, stated that "This loan was an exception because of its local ties to Nashville. It's probably the last time it will be loaned out."[3]

A conservation evaluation of both flags by NMAH curator Jennifer Locke Jones and Thomassen-Krauss began in 2012. Preliminary findings indicate that the larger Roland flag "still has the much stronger claim", but the analysis also indicated that the Peabody flag "clearly dates to the same era as the larger Old Glory" and "is a legitimate Driver family heirloom and Civil War-era relic". The Peabody flag does not appear to have been frequently flown; the fly edge is intact and unworn, which is inconsistent with the wear and tear that would be expected of a seagoing flag. The Peabody flag also has "baffling soil lines on the flag, and parts of it appear to be newer than others," which lead Smithsonian staff to believe that parts of the flag were remade at a later date. The larger Roland Old Glory is heavily worn on the fly edges, consistent with the wear of a seagoing flag.[1]

The findings do not mean that the Peabody flag is insignificant, however, since Driver as a sea captain would have owned more than one flag. "Driver family memoirs and other records contain references to a 'merino' flag owned by the captain, a storm flag, and then there was the flag that was draped over his coffin." The Peabody Essex Museum also has in its collection fragmentary scraps from what was claimed to be Old Glory; these might have been "souvenir" patches cut from an original flag, "a common practice with treasured Civil War banners."[1]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Sally Jenkins, How the Flag Came to be Called Old Glory, Smithsonian Magazine (October 2013).
  2. ^ a b c d Ophelia Paine, William Driver, Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture (last updated January 1, 2010).
  3. ^ a b Kristen M. Hall, Historic U.S. Flag Returns to Tennessee, Associated Press (June 14, 2006).
  4. ^ a b Raising of the Original Old Glory, Essex Institute Historical Collections, Vol. 47.
  5. ^ Bostick, Alan (14 February 2006). "Old Glory returns here for eight-month stay at Tennessee State Museum". The Tennessean. Nashville. p. B1. Retrieved 29 May 2019. (registration required) for users with library access, otherwise a paid subscription is necessary.

External linksEdit