The Community Post

The Story Behind ‘Old Glory

Many of our nation’s best-known American flags have memorable American stories behind them — and such is the case for the tale of Captain William Driver, a stirring account of patriotism and courage.


A sea captain who sailed the world’s oceans, Driver is best known for having given the name “Old Glory” to the American flag. The story of his flag’s journey from the deck of Driver’s ship to the halls of the Smithsonia­n Institutio­n is a testament to the enduring power of the American spirit.


Driver was born on March 17, 1803 in Salem Massachuse­tts, joining the merchant marines when he was 14. In 1831, he was given a 17” by 10” American flag with its then 24 stars by his mother. She and other Salem seamstress­es had made it for him to display on his ship, the Charles Doggett. He referred to the flag as “Old Glory,” the first person to give it that name. He carried it with him throughout his career as a sea captain.


In 1837, he retired and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, where he proudly displayed the flag outside his residence. At one point, he, his wife and daughters sewed on an additional ten stars and he added a small white anchor to the lower right corner. In the early 1860s, tension began to arise between the North and the South and Tennessee seceded from the Union. The Smithsonia­n reports, “During the Civil War, no flag became a more popular symbol of Union loyalty than the worn and imperiled standard belonging to 19th-century sea captain

William Driver, who was originally from Salem, Massachuse­tts. His defiant flying of it — from his Nashville, Tennessee, household during the midst of the conflict— made national news.”

However, after the war began, he took pains to hide it, sewing it inside a quilt and hiding it under his mattress. Several times Confederat­e supporters and officials searched his house looking for the flag, but they never found it. Then the 6th Ohio Infantry captured Nashville for the Union Army. On the date of the victory, Feb. 22, 1862, Driver asked the Regiment’s captain if his Old Glory could be displayed over the Capitol building. The Captain agreed and Driver stood guard over it all day and night until his flag was replaced with a new one the following day. Driver served as the provost of Nashville for the remainder of the Civil War.


When he died in 1886, Congress designated that his grave could display the American flag at all times, one of the few places where it is allowed to be flown 24 hours a day. In 1922, his daughter, Mary Jane Roland, gave the original Old Glory flag to President Warren G. Harding who then donated it to the Smithsonia­n, where it is on display to this day.

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