Learning Lincoln On-line

Topic Sets to Study Abraham Lincoln His Life and Before the Civil War


TOPIC 116:  Flags of Our Country-- The Stars and Stripes Study   
the Light of the Fire "

Stars and Stripes  #6
A  History Activity About the Flag of the United States
. . . Just by counting the stars in our Flag since the first flag with thirteen stars in 1777, to our present fifty stars from 1959, you can see the growth of our country and learn how important the flag is in our patriotism and national pride.


Old Glory is a nickname for the flag of the United States. The original "Old Glory" was a flag owned by the 19th-century American sea captain William Driver (March 17, 1803–March 3, 1886), who flew the flag during his career at sea and later brought it to Nashville, Tennessee, where he settled. Driver greatly prized the flag and ensured its safety from the Confederates, who attempted to seize the flag during the American Civil War. After the war, Driver's daughter and niece feuded over who owned the original Old Glory.  In 1922, both flags claimed to be the original "Old Glory" became part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, where they remain today at the National Museum of American History.

History of the original Old Glory

Grave marker of sea captain William Driver, who coined the "Old Glory" nickname in reference to his own oceangoing flag.

The term originally referred to an American flag owned by Driver, who was born on March 17, 1803, in Salem, Massachusetts

Driver was deeply attached to the flag, writing: "It has ever been my staunch companion and protection. Savages and heathens, lowly and oppressed, hailed and welcomed it at the far end of the wide world. Then, why should it not be called Old Glory?"

Driver retired from seafaring in 1837, after his wife Martha Silsbee Babbage died from throat cancer. At the time, Driver was 34 and had three young children.  Driver settled in Nashville, Tennessee, where his three brothers operated a store. Driver remarried the next year to Sarah Jane Parks, a Southerner with whom he had several more children.  Driver took his flag with him to Nashville, flying it on holidays "rain or shine."  The flag was "so large that he attached it to a rope from his attic window and stretched it on a pulley across the street to secure it to a locust tree."  Driver worked as a salesman and served as vestryman of Christ Episcopal Church.

In 1860, Driver and his wife and daughters repaired the flag, sewing on ten more stars, and Driver added (by appliqué) a small white anchor in the lower right corner, to symbolize his maritime career.  By that time, the secession crisis had begun, and Driver's family was split.  While Driver was a staunch Unionist, two of his sons were fervent Confederates who enlisted in local regiments, and one died from wounds suffered at Perryville.  "One can only imagine the tensions between the Salem-born and Nashville-born Drivers, whose relations may have already been strained by first- and second-family rivalry. In March 1862, Driver wrote: "Two sons in the army of the South! My entire house estranged...and when I come home...no one to soothe me."

Soon after Tennessee seceded from the Union, Governor Isham G. Harris sent men to Driver's home to demand the flag. Driver, then 58 years old, was not intimidated; he met the men at the door and said, "Gentlemen...if you are looking for stolen property in my house, produce your search warrant." The men left, but later local Confederates made other attempts to seize the flag.  An armed group showed up on Driver's front porch, but was confronted by Driver, who said, "If you want my flag you'll have to take it over my dead body," leading them to leave.In order to save the flag from further threats, Driver (aided by loyal women neighbors) had it sewn into a coverlet and hidden until late February 1862, when Nashville fell to Union forces.  When the Union Army (led by the 6th Ohio Infantry) entered the city, Driver went to Tennessee State Capitol after seeing the American flag and the 6th Ohio's regimental colors raised on the Capitol flagstaff.

That night, a violent storm "threatened to tear the banner to pieces" and so Driver replaced it with a newer flag, taking the original Old Glory for safekeeping. The flag apparently remained in his home until December 1864, when the Battle of Nashville was fought.  As Confederate troopers under the command of John Bell Hood sought to retake the city, Driver hung his flag in a clearly visible spot out of the third-story window and left to join the defense of the city.  For the rest of the American Civil War, Driver served as provost marshal of Nashville, serving in hospitals.

According to Mary Jane Roland, one of Driver's Nashville-born daughters, Driver gave her the flag as a gift on July 10, 1873, telling her: "This is my old ship flag Old Glory. I love it as a mother loves her child; take it and cherish it as I have always cherished it; for it has been my steadfast friend and protector in all parts of the world—savage, heathen and civilized."  Driver died on March 3, 1886, and was buried in the Nashville City Cemetery, where (at Driver's request) his rescue of the Bounty descendants is noted on his grave marker. Over the next several decades, a family feud took place over the flag and its ownership.  


From Smithonian Site at http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/how-the-flag-came-to-be-called-old-glory-18396/?no-ist

       A tale of fidelity, family feud and argument over ownership is the subject of a new inquiry by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Old Glory, the weather-beaten 17- by 10-foot banner that has long been a primary NMAH artifact, is second only to Francis Scott Key’s Star-Spangled Banner as a patriotic symbol, and is the source of the term now applied generically to all American flags. “It represents success, righteousness, sovereignty,” says museum director John Gray, but also a conflict that is still “deeply contested in our souls.”

       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.

       Civil War-era citizens felt so passionately about flags that after the surrender of Fort Sumter, the garrison ensign toured the country for the duration of the war. The poet and hospital attendant Walt Whitman lamented the amount of blood spent to retain a simple, four-cornered regimental rag. “I have a little flag....It was taken by the Secesh [secessionists] in a cavalry fight, and rescued by our men in a bloody little skirmish,” Whitman wrote. “It cost three men’s lives, just to get one little flag, four by three.”

       The flag was originally designed to unfurl grandly from a ship’s mast. Driver received the homemade flag with 24 stars in 1824, sewn for him by his mother and a group of young Salem female admirers to celebrate his appointment, at the age of just 21, as a master mariner and commander of his own ship, the Charles Doggett. According to legend, when Driver raised the flag up the main mast, he lifted his hat and declaimed, “My ship, my country, and my flag, Old Glory.” However, Salem historian Bonnie Hurd Smith has found “no evidence whatsoever” that Driver made such a stiffly grandiose pronouncement. He more likely named the flag when reflecting on his adventurous 20-year career as an American merchant seaman who sailed to China, India, Gibraltar and throughout the South Pacific, at one point ferrying survivors of the HMS Bounty from Tahiti to Pitcairn Island under the flag.

Flag Links for You to Use
The U.S. Flag
Resource Page

 Historic Flags and 
the State Flags
 Your Job

In this special Patriotic Activity, see what you can learn about our flag.  Answer the questions and do the special project described at the end of the "Stars and Stripes