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Captain William Driver & His Flag, "Old Glory"

William Driver, a New England sea captain, owned and named  the original Old Glory flag. Driver was born March 17, 1803. At the age of 14, in 1817 or 1818,capt_driver_young.jpg (31670 bytes) William Driver was apprenticed as a cabin boy on the ship, China, bound for Italy. Driver's first five voyages were: to Italy, two to Calcutta, Gibraltar, and a voyage to Antwerp and Gothenburg. On his sixth voyage he went to the Fiji Islands and there after his career was centered in the South Seas.

William Driver took to sea life quickly and was made master of the ship, Charles Doggett, at the age of 21. On March 17, 1824, as a birthday and farewell gift, his mother and several young ladies in Salem, MA,  sewed him a large American flag 12 feet by 24 feet in size with 24 stars. When presenting it at the outfitting of his ship, it was hoisted up and unfurled in the wind. Captain Driver was asked what he thought of it, and he declared, "God bless you, I'll call it 'Old Glory'". 

On 20 Feb. 1827 in Salem, Mass, William married Martha Silsbee BABBAGE dau. of Capt. Christopher and Ruth (Randall) BABBAGE,. The Rev. Samuel Worcester married them. Three children were born to them. *
        1.  William Christopher DRIVER, born in Salem, Mass. , Oct 12 1827; died in New Orleans, La.,   July 2,  1874;  md. about 1856 in New Orleans, Anna REECE.

        2.  Eben Ropes DRIVER, born in Salem, Mass., Sept. 7, 1833; baptized in the  Tabernacle Church of Salem,  Mass., soon  after; named for his uncle,  Capt. Ebenezer ROPES,  brother-in-law to his mother.  On the  way to the church an objection being made by the ladies (his mother and aunt) to the 'ezer' in the   name, it was decided to call the  child Eben;  removed to  Nashville with his father in 1837; remained  till 1884, when he settled in Boston.

        3.   Martha Silsbee DRIVER, born in Salem, Mass., July 11, 1836,  md. in Salem, Mass.,
           Children were:
             #1.   Edmond UPTON, of Salem, Mass.  
             #2. William Henry SUMMERS,  son of Capt. William SUMMERS, of Surrey, Eng,
                     and Mary (SOUTHARD)    at St. Peter's Church (Episcopalian),  June 28, 1858, by
                     Rev. Geo. Leeds, D.D. 
                         Children: *
                            1.   Martha Ellen SUMMERS, born in Salem, Mass., Nov 17, 1859.
                            2. Frederick William SUMMERS, born in Salem, Mass., Jan 7, 1866; d., Sept 28th,
                                 1866 buried in the family tomb,  Broad Street Burial-Ground. 

* [Cooke pg. 182-183]

Captain Driver is best known for his achievements in the South Pacific where he is known for developing a process for drying sea cucumbers for sale to China and his returning the Pitcairn Islanders to Pitcairn Island. Charging a nominal fee, [$500.00] for which he lost a great deal of money, he took the remaining ill and homesick islanders back over a section of dangerous seas then called, "The Ocean of Coral Reefs". It is said that this unscheduled voyage cost him his command. However, the inscription on his tombstone says that he returned the Pitcairn's on 3 September 1831, and we know that he did not retire from the sea until 1837, six years later. 

Harriet Ruth (Waters) Cooke, William Driver's niece, relates in her book that," Capt. Driver's last voyage was made in 1837; on returning from which he found his wife, (Martha),  suffering from a cancer of the throat , from which she soon died;  this, and on account of his three young children, he decided to quit the sea and follow some pursuit on land. (Martha died on 5 September 1837.) [Cooke pg. 175]

Captain Driver was 34 years of age when he retired in 1837, after 20 years at sea. He moved his young family to Nashville, Tennessee, where his brother, Henry resided at this time, and his brother Stephen had just opened a retail shoe-store there, as an outlet for his accumulated goods at the North, to be conducted by their brother Joseph, accordingly Capt. Driver was induced to become a silent partner in this retail store, being about to settle in Nashville himself.  The store was not a success, and soon was sold out; and as far as known, Capt. Driver did not attempt any other business venture.  [Cooke pg. 175-176]

On 26 Jan 1838, he married Sarah Jane Parks dau. of Robert and Mary (Maclin) Parks, of Nashville, Tenn. Sarah, was only 15 years of age when they married, and was a niece of his brother Henry's wife. They had nine children. Sarah through her maternal ancestors descended from John Rolfe and Pocahontas, which Indian descent is quite marked in some of the descendants of the different generations. Sarah died of Yellow Fever in Nashville, Tenn., Sept 13, 1878. [source of information from Cooke pg. 175]

    1.  Mary Jane DRIVER, born Nov. 5, 1838;  md. in Nashville, Tenn., Feb 1, 1865, 
         Charles Hamilton ROLAND,  son of Lucien GRAMMONT and Irene R. (DAVILLIER)
           ROLAND, of New Orleans, La., where Charles was  born, May 16, 1832.  No issue.  
    2.  George Wills DRIVER, born Oct 5, 1840; died in 1862 at Harodsburg, Ky., from wounds
          received at Perryville, Ky.,  in the War of the Rebellion, having at the breaking out of the
           war enlisted as a private in the Confederate Army,  in the Rock City Guards, of the
           Tennessee First Regiment.
    3.  Delilah Ann DRIVER, born Sept. 2, 1842; died June 14, 1844. 
    4.  Henry Lynch DRIVER, born March 23, 1845;  md. in Salt Lake City, June 18, 1878, at 
          St. Mark's Episcopal Church,  Margaret ROXBURY, dau. of John and Jean (STEEL)
          ROXBURY, of Galston, Ayrshire, Scotland;  born , Aug 16, 1852;  living with her parents
          in 1887 at Salt Lake City, Utah, Bingham being only a mining station.
                   Children of Henry Lynch and Margaret (ROXBURY) DRIVER were:
                        1.  Henry William DRIVER, born in Salt Lake City, Utah, March 12, 1879.
                        2.  Sarah Jane DRIVER, born in Salt Lake City, Utah, June 10, 1882.

    5.  Robert Parks DRIVER, born June 21, 1847
    6.  Delilah Ann DRIVER, born Sept., 7, 1849 md. in Nashville on, Feb 17, 1870, 
          Edward REECE, b. May 12, 1844, in  DeKalb Co., Tenn.
                           Children were:
                            1.William REECE, born in Nashville, Tenn., June 22, 1871.
                            2.  George REECE, born in Nashville, Tenn., Aug 7, 1873.
                            3.  Annie Mason REECE, born in Nashville, Tenn., Aug 23, 1875.
                            4.  Edward REECE, born in Nashville, Tenn., Oct 10, 1877.

    7.  Elizabeth Ropes DRIVER, born March 21, 1852,  md. at Nashville, Tenn., Sept 19, 1872,
          Thomas Hiter MOORE,  b.4 April 1848 son of James G. and Mary (HITER) MOORE, of
          Straband, Pa., afterwards at Nashville, Tenn. Thomas Moore  was educated at 
          Notre Dame, Md.
                            1.  Sadie May MOORE, born Nashville, Tenn., June 8, 1878.
                            2.  Van Dyke MOORE, born in Lead City, Dakota, May 25, 1881.

    8.  Ruth Metcalf DRIVER, born June 16, 1856;  md. in Nashville, Tenn., at Christ Church, 
          Jan. 5, 1880, Lewis DRAKE,  son of Jeremiah and Henrietta (BROKAW) DRAKE;  he born
           in Lebanon, Ill., June 9, 1856.
                            Child was:
                            1.  Elza Hart DRAKE, born in Nashville, Tenn., Dec 2, 1881.

    9.  Thomas Pitcairn DRIVER, born Sept. 10, 1858; died June 13, 1859. (Cooke pg. 184]

Captain Driver was an ardent patriot and flew his flag on all occasions, on most every holiday, election days, days of political rallies, and on his birthday. He had a rope strung across the street so that the flag would hang over it.

During the Civil War he was Provost Marshal of Nashville, and did very active and energetic work in the hospitals there.  He was a great friend of the Negroes, among whom he had many warm friends.  At any time he would rather give than receive; and for those afflicted or in distress, he had great sympathy." [Cooke pg. 182]

In 1860, Tennessee was being taken over by the Confederates. Captain Driver was well known for his pro-American and anti-secessionist sentiments. "After the Confederates twice tried to take his flag from him, to keep it safe Driver had his wife and daughter 'mend' it." [Gauron]. They sewed on additional stars to bring the total number to 34. They arranged the stars so that there was a space in the lower right corner of the blue canton. In this space, Captain Driver appliquéd a small white anchor. Then Captain Driver had some of his pro-Unionist neighbors quilt the flag inside a bed comforter. There the flag was safely hid.

In 1862, the Union Army took Nashville. Captain Driver offered his flag to be flown over the state Capitol building. A military escort accompanied him home for his protection. When the soldiers arrived, the bed comforter was ripped open and the flag revealed. The story of Captain Driver's adventure with his flag captured the public’s imagination and the story became famous. From that time forward Americans adopted the nickname "Old Glory" for the American flag.

Shortly before his death, the old sea captain placed a small bundle into the arms of his daughter. He said to her, "Mary Jane, this is my ship flag, Old Glory. It has been my constant companion. I love it as a mother loves her child. Cherish it as I havecapt_old.gif (33178 bytes) cherished it." [Roland]

Captain William Driver died on 2 Mar 1886 (in Nashville). 

The flag remained as a precious heirloom in the Driver family until 1922. Then it was sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, where it is carefully preserved under glass today.



The account above is accurate as far as it goes and primarily is the impression you would get if you read Gauron's account or "So Proudly We Hail." Gauron does refer to the problem of researching the flag history in a dispute between Captain Driver's daughter, Mary Jane Driver Roland and Captain Driver's niece Harriet Ruth Cooke over  the history of "Old Glory" and which one of them was given "Old Glory." Evidently Driver had two flags and gave each one of them the flag and they both acquired the impression that it was the "Old Glory." Mary Driver Roland's book is filled with bitter and very personal attacks on Harriet Cooke about the accuracy of her accounts. Gauron points out that the various accounts by the relatives have conflicts in dates and events. This is quite understandable in that Capt. Driver lived in an area of violence, guerrilla activity, and disorder.

However, the account above which is largely the account you will read in "So Proudly We Hail" and Mr. Gauron's lecture, is the denatured account. The accounts by Mary J. D. Roland, John Merrill, and others are dramatic with daring and are much more interesting. If you read American flag books, you would soon realize that Captain Driver's adventure easily is more interesting than most flag stories. However, Gauron gives us drying sea cucumbers and the dangerous storms that Capt. Driver survived, deleting much of the flag adventures. The Smithsonian account is very short indeed. Basically it is as if you took Gauron's account and deleted the non-flag material. The Smithsonian possesses the flag Old Glory.

The other feature of the history of "Old Glory" is that until the Smithsonian Institute book in 1981, you will not find the story of "Old Glory" in American flag books, excepting John Merrill's book, and a very brief mention in David Eggenberger's, "Flags of the U.S.A." 1959, Thomas Y. Crowell Co., until you go back to the early part of the 20th century. Even then I find that if someone authors the book in an official capacity, the "Old Glory" story is not there. (Interestingly enough Eggenberger is the only book since Preble's book in the 19th century to mention that the design of the 2nd National Confederate flag was made to represent the idea of white supremacy.)

In the book, "Star-Spangled Banner" by Margaret Seden, published by the National Geographic Society, 1993, the story is probably as condensed as much as humanly possible. I suppose it helped provide enough room for the endless non-Flag filler, which this book was padded with. Though for National Geographic this is a step forward, for in their earlier flag issues they omitted Old Glory entirely. In their famous 1917 flag issue, there are no civil war stories of the flag.

I personally believe that the story of "Old Glory" became inconvenient since it is by its very origin a rebuke of the Confederacy, secession, rebellion, and Confederates. With the fall of reconstruction, and the rise of white supremacy and the acceptance of the South establishing white supremacist regimes, the story of "Old Glory" became a sort of faux pas. Southern senators would be upset with accounts bringing it up. Yet, by then, (1917), the name was firmly entrenched in American usage.

The following are accounts about "Old Glory" and Captain Driver which illustrate the daring and determination and show you what you are missing from the "official" accounts.

From Old Glory Driver, by John Merrill:

"At the outbreak of the War of the Rebellion, Captain Driver remained true to the Union and Old Glory. His devoted patriotism subjected him to many annoyances and persecutions, for in Tennessee there was bitter hatred against the North and the Unionists. The people of Nashville knew that Captain Driver had Old Glory -- the flag they hated -- somewhere in his possession. They had been accustomed to see it floating from his window on Washington's Birthday and on the Fourth of July. The Confederates were avowedly determined to gain possession of Old Glory and destroy it.

Captain Driver, alive to the danger that threatened his flag, took it and, with the skill of a sailor, sewed it inside the comforter of his bed. There in his chamber it remained in its hiding-place during the anxious days and months of the dreadful insurrection.

No one knew what had become of the flag;  it seemed to have been spirited away. Captain Driver's own family knew nothing of its whereabouts. They were all in sympathy with the Confederate South so it was not safe to trust them with the secret of its place of concealment. [In Mary Roland's account and in Gauron's account, you will note Driver had Unionist neighbors, not his family, hide the flag in the comforter. Mary Roland after the additional stars are added is sent to live in Western Tennessee and is not there when the flag is hid. ]

William Driver and Old Glory had grown old together; he had guarded the flag in early prosperity and he guarded it now in bitter adversity. Yet, while destruction’s threatened on every side, he continued to hope and dream that Old Glory would soon float over the Capitol of Nashville.

The Nashville Confederates knew that the flag must be concealed in Captain Driver's house, and again and again they searched it thoroughly, but without finding the flag. The days were anxious ones for Captain Driver. He had many times told the people that he would hoist Old Glory over the proud, fallen Capitol. How they hated him! They treated him like one infected with leprosy.

The Confederates became increasingly enraged by their continued failure to lay hands on the coveted prize. They declared they would burn Captain Driver and his house if he did not give up his flag. His maddened enemies surrounded his residence, and when the flag was not handed over to them, proceeded to set the place on fire. Fortunately a number of Union friends rallied to Captain Driver's aid, saved him, his home, and Old Glory. Many anxious days and sleepless nights followed; there was always the fear that another effort would be made to fire the house, or another attempt be made upon his life. Captain Driver dared not leave his room lest some one might discover and destroy Old Glory. " [pp. 53- 55] 

Merrill continues with his account of what happened after the Union Army had entered Nashville. 

"Had the old patriot attempted to go through the streets of Nashville along with Old Glory, doubtless he would have been shot -- at the very least the flag would have been taken from him.

A corporal's guard was sent with the old man to his house, where he speedily ripped Old Glory from the comforter where it had so long remained hidden.

When the Union soldiers saw the banner they immediately saluted it with a hearty three-times-three, adding three cheers for the old captain. They marched again to the Capitol -- Captain Driver bearing the flag lovingly in his arms.

Looks of bitter hatred were directed toward the aged man as he passed through the streets. Once a window was hastily opened and a woman shouted out, 'Look at Old Driver, the traitor!' And then there went up hisses and derisive yells from some of the Confederate bystanders. But Captain Driver no longer cared for their taunts, their insolence. His country's flag was once more to float over the proud city of Nashville. This was to him a triumphal march, and nothing could mar his supreme happiness." [pp. 55-56] 

 "The Stars and Strips and other American Flags," by Peleg D. Harrison, Little, Brown And Co., 1917, has  a short chapter titled, "Origin of the Name of 'Old Glory.'" It quotes from a Philadelphia Press correspondent in an account of the capture of Nashville in February, 1862.

"A Corporal's guard was sent to the old man's house, where they ripped from the coverlet of his bed an immense flag containing a hundred and ten yards of bunting, and he brought it himself to the Capitol and unfurled it from the flag-staff. Then with tears in his eyes, he said: 'There, those Texas Rangers have been hunting for it for these six months without finding it, and they knew I had it. I have always said if I could see it float over the that, (Nashville) Capitol I should have lived long enough; now Old Glory is up there, gentlemen, and I am ready to die.    ... He trembled for his cherished flag, for he had been an outspoken man, and all the city knew his sentiments. 'Old Glory' had always floated from his window on days of public rejoicing. Its history was known and every Confederate felt it to be his mission to get possession of that flag. The house and grounds were searched in vain. ..." [pp. 306] 

Mary Roland's book has a different perspective.  She denies that there were repeated searches of the house, but she was not there at Captain Driver's house and says she was brought up to date by her sewing circle. Her statement is also contrary to Captain Driver's own statements and others. It may have something to do with her bitter hostility towards her cousin who had her own published account. Also, given that Captain Driver did not trust his family with the flag, it must be questioned how much Ms. Roland was told. Captain Driver, after all, had to go to his neighbors to have the flag hidden, because he didn't trust any member of his family. Even so Mary Roland tells the following two threats.

"Only on one occasion, soon after the State of Tennessee seceded, Governor Harris sent a committee to our house with instructions to demand the flag, Old Glory. My father, being apprised of its mission, met the committee at the front door and said, 'Gentlemen, this is my house, and I am lord of my castle. If you are looking for stolen property in my house, produce your search warrant.' They said not a word, and left the premises."

Some time after this incident Dick M'Cann, an old neighbor, but now chief of a band of guerillas, accompanied by a select squad of guerillas, came to our house and demanded Old Glory. My father was on the porch in front of the house, pacing to and fro, suddenly turned and faced the squad and said, 'Dick, I have known you all your life; if you want my flag you'll have to take it over my dead body.' The guerilla chief, whirling around shouted: 'Come on, boys Let the old man alone.' " [pp. 32-33]


1. "The Life and Achievements of Old Glory Driver -- Godfather to the United States Flag", Paper delivered at the 13th Annual Meeting of the North American Vexillogical at Salem, Massachusetts, on Oct. 5-8, 1979, by Robert S. Gauron, Lombard, Illinois.

2. "Old Glory Driver", by John Merrill, Vantage Press, 1956. Merrill was a descendant of Capt. Driver.

3. "So Proudly We Hail: the History of the United States Flag", by Rear Admiral William Rea Furlong and Commodore Byron McCandless, with the editorial assistance of Harold D. Langley, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1981. PP. 204-205.

4. "Old Glory: The True Story", by Mary J. Driver Roland, daughter of Captain William Driver. Printed for the author, 1918.

5. "The Driver Family Descendants of Robert and Phebe Driver" (Harriet Ruth (Waters) Cooke, pub. 1889:

6: Various sources on the internet, with information verified against sources 1 - 5.

This tombstone was designed by William Driver himself several years before his death, in 1886.  It is in the form of a tree trunk with a ship's anchor carved on one side. The inscription reads:  "A master mariner; sailed twice around the world; once around Australia; removed the Pitcairn people from sickness and death in Taheita (sic) to their own home on Septembere 3, 1831. Then sixty in number, now twelve hundred."  Near the preceding inscriptions are the words: "Trust in the Lord and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily shalt thou be fed."  Toward the bottom is carved: "I never wanted since" and "His God, his country, his ship and his flag, 'Old Glory.'".


Photos courtesy of  Franz Meyers