Everyone knows the nickname for the American flag, don’t we?
Right. Old Glory. And we all know just how she came to acquire that name, right?
No? Well, let me tell you.
With June 14 being proclaimed Flag Day in 1916 by Woodrow Wilson and the same date established as National Flag Day by an act of Congress in August, 1949, I figured many of us might be interested in just how and when that particular sobriquet was attached to the Stars and Stripes.
Now, I’m a sucker for the American flag, for what it symbolizes-a free country that guarantees its citizens the inalienable rights God intended for every human being. I’m one of those throwbacks who actually fold a worn flag and take it to the nearest military office for proper disposal. I revere it, just like the old sea captain who gave her the name.
After learning about the flag as a Boy Scout, I set out to run down the origin of the nickname. Library research revealed the details of the story. Naturally, some details varied from source to source, but the core of the story remains the same, all centering on the same old sea captain, Stephen Driver or William Driver. The latter name is one used by the 1918 New York Times story.
William Driver was born on the morning March 17, 1803, and at fourteen, he was apprenticed as a cabin boy on the ship, China, bound for Italy. His next five voyages took him to Calcutta, Gibraltar, Antwerp and Gothenburg. His next voyage took him to the Fiji Islands, and there his career centered in the South Seas. At the age of twenty-one, he was made master of the brig, Charles Doggett.
As a birthday and farewell gift on an 1831 voyage that would climax with the rescue of the mutineers of the ‘Bounty’, his mother and several young ladies in Salem, Massachusetts, sewed him a large American flag twenty by twenty-four feet.
When the flag was unfurled in the sea breeze, Captain Driver was asked what he thought of it. He replied, “God bless you. I’ll call it Old Glory.”
So far, nothing really remarkable, huh? Well, read on.
Six years later, he retired to Nashville, Tennessee, taking with him his flag from his days at sea. By the time Tennessee seceded from the union years later, everyone in the city knew of the elderly sea captain’s ‘Old Glory.’
The story went that Rebels were determined to destroy the flag and its symbolism, but despite numerous intense searches and threats, no trace was ever found.
No one knew what had become of the flag. Driver’s own family knew nothing of it. They were all in sympathy with the Confederate South, so he could not trust them with the secret of where he had hidden it.
And then on February 25, 1862, Union forces captured Nashville and raised the American flag. It was a small flag, and immediately, citizens asked the old captain about ‘Old Glory’. Did she still exist, or had he destroyed her to keep her from the Rebels?
Accompanied by Union soldiers, Captain Driver went upstairs to his bedroom, which had been searched dozens of times by frustrated Confederates. He began ripping at the seams of his bedcover. As the batting of the quilt top unraveled, the soldiers looked inside and saw the twenty-fours stars of the original ‘Old Glory.’
Although Captain Driver was sixty years old, he gathered the flag he had so jealously guarded and loved for the last thirty-one years and hoisted it to the top of the tower to replace the smaller ensign. The Sixth Ohio Regiment cheered and saluted, and later adopted the nickname, ‘Old Glory’.
The captain is buried in the Nashville City Cemetery, and is one of three places authorized by an act of Congress where the Flag of the United States may be flown twenty-four hours a day.
Think of what he risked to save the flag, and then ask yourself what that irascible old sea captain would say to those at Montebello High School in California when they flew the American flag upside down beneath the Mexican flag?
I imagine it would have been too blistering for delicate ears.