Captain Driver’s Old Glory


Mary Jane Driver was eager and excited. James Buchanan had been elected President of the United States that year of 1856, and on such an occasion, as on all national holidays, her father flew their flag.

Mary Jane, her brothers and sisters, and a number of neighbor children gathered around her father, Captain William Driver, as he opened the camphorwood chest and removed the folded flag. Mary Jane knew how much he loved that flag, for he handled it with tender care. “That’s my Old Glory,” he told them proudly. Mary Jane never tired of hearing the story of the flag.

Her father had been born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1803, when the United States was very young. He had gone to sea when he was just thirteen. He loved the sea and ships, and he had become an expert seaman. By the time he was twenty-one, Mary Jane’s father had been made captain of a merchant ship, the Charles Doggett.

Captain Driver’s mother and his friends wanted to show him how happy they were about his new command, so they made a flag of worsted bunting for the Charles Doggett. It was a large flag, measuring nine feet five inches by seventeen feet. Captain Driver named the flag Old Glory.

“It was the proudest day of my life,” he told his children. “The flag looked beautiful flying up there on the mast of my ship.”

Old Glory flew from the mast of Captain Driver’s ship as he sailed to Australia and to Pitcairn Island—and on two voyages around the world.

But in 1837, when Mary Jane’s mother became ill, Captain Driver gave up his life at sea and settled his family in Nashville, Tennessee. It was here that Mary Jane grew up and where she watched her father take the flag out of his old sea chest on important occasions.

When the Civil War broke out, three of Mary Jane’s brothers fought for the Confederacy. Her father, however, remained loyal to the Union, the country of his flag. And because Nashville was in confederate hands, Captain Driver, fearful that his flag would be destroyed, hid it.

The Confederates knew that he had a Union flag, and several times they came to his home, demanding that he turn it over to them. Mary Jane’s heart beat fast on those occasions. But though Captain Driver allowed the soldiers to search his home, they were never able to find the flag.

Then, on February 25, 1862, Union forces entered Nashville. Mary Jane’s father asked a captain of an Ohio regiment to accompany him home, where he took his flag from its hiding place, stitched inside a quilt. Mary Jane watched proudly as soldiers escorted her father, carrying the folded flag, to the state’s legislative building. Once more his flag flew proudly in the breeze—this time over the Tennessee State Capitol! After the flag was raised, Captain Driver said, “I lived to raise Old Glory on the dome of the Capitol of Tennessee; I am now ready to die and go to my forefathers.”

Old Glory was flown throughout the night, and Captain Driver stayed at the capitol to guard the flag against possible harm.

The Ohio soldiers liked Captain Driver’s nickname for his flag, and as news of what had happened in Nashville spread, the term “Old Glory” became popular. Soon the Stars and Stripes came to be known as Old Glory on many battlefields.

In 1873 Captain Driver gave Mary Jane his dearest possession, Old Glory. He knew that she loved his flag, too, and would care for it. Mary Jane was very grateful, and for years she flew it on all holidays over her home in Nevada, where she had moved after she was married.

In 1886 Captain William Driver died. He was buried in Nashville. On his tombstone was engraved, “His ship. His country. And his flag, Old Glory.”

Usually the flag of the United States is flown only between sunrise and sunset, but Congress authorized a flag to fly day and night over Captain Driver’s grave.

Mary Jane kept Old Glory for many years as a reminder of her father and to honor the country that he had loved so dearly. Then, in 1922, she decided to give the flag to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Although Old Glory was worn and faded by then, it was put on display there with other famous historical flags of the United States.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Jerry Thompson