William Driver, born on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1803, grew up among the docks and wharves in the port city of Salem, Massachusetts. Intrigued by the stories of the sailors and fishermen, he persuaded his mother to let him ship out as a cabin boy on the sailing vessel China. He was twelve.
This first voyage did not discourage Driver, and by the age of of eighteen he became master of his first ship. An enthusiastic captain who was proud of his country, Driver flew the American flag high upon his ships.
The Original “Old Glory”
For his twenty-first birthday, Driver’s mother and friends presented him with an especially well-made and durable flag—designed for a long life on the open seas—and his upcoming ninth voyage. Pleased with his new flag, William Driver immediately raised the new flag over his ship, the Charles Doggett, until the flag unfurled in the strong breeze. Deeply moved by the brilliant colors and the 24 stars, Driver said, “I’ll call her Old Glory, boys—Old Glory!”
Driver sailed all over the world, proudly flying his hand-sewn American flag.
Married and widowed, then married again, Driver retired from the sea and his ship, The Black Warrior, in 1837. At age thirty-four, Drive and his southern-born wife settled in Nashville, Tennessee.
Old Glory, carefully stored in a camphor-wood sea-chest, and William Driver became a local legend, and the sea captain earned the nickname of “Old Glory Driver.”
As the years went by, Driver ran afoul of southern war sentiments, and was forced to hide his beloved Union flag. His politics and beliefs were common knowledge, and he stood firm in his loyalty to the Union despite threats by local Confederates to confiscate the well-known Old Glory.
Though his house and grounds were repeatedly searched, those who would have destroyed Driver’s flag were never able to find it, and Driver himself refused to discuss the flag’s whereabouts.
When the Union army marched into Nashville, William Driver revealed Old Glory’s secret hiding place. He’d sewn the flag inside a purple calico comforter for safe-keeping, and soon Old Glory was flying over the the Tennessee state house.
William Driver’s Old Glory survives to this day. It has been carefully restored, and is on display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.