Thursday, June 9, 2011

Old Glory

June 14 is Flag Day, first proclaimed such by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 and by an act of Congress in 1949.

Our flag is sometimes called the ‘Stars and Stripes’, sometimes ‘The Star Spangled Banner’, or sometimes ‘Old Glory.’

The first two nicknames are obvious. The third, ‘Old Glory’ has a story that personifies the core of those beliefs that makes America the country she is—to be what you choose and do what you wish.

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 folds a worn flag properly and takes it to the nearest military office for proper disposal. I revere it, just like the old sea captain who gave her the name.

Captain William Driver was born on the morning of March 17, 1803. One Sunday in 1817, fourteen-year-old Bill set out for Sunday School in his home town of Salem. Instead, he went down to the harbor.

By sheer determination and persuasion, he talked himself into the position of cabin boy and was on the high seas by nightfall. He sailed to Calcutta, Gibraltar, Antwerp and Gothenburg. His next voyage took him to the Fiji Islands, and then on, his career centered in the South Seas.

Seven or eight years later, Bill sailed back into Salem harbor as captain of his own ship, The Charles Doggett although some sources say it was The Seawood.

As a birthday and farewell gift on an 1831 voyage, 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.”

The 1831 voyage was his longest. He sailed the Charles Doggett to the South Pacific. During a port of call at Tahiti, he met some of the descendants of the H.M.S. Bounty crew. They had moved to Tahiti from Pitcairn Island where the mutineers who had taken control of the Bounty had marooned them. They wanted to leave Tahiti, so they asked him to give them passage back to the island. During the return trip, Captain Driver slept on the deck of the Charles Doggett so the women and children could sleep in the bunks below. Altogether, “Old Glory" and Captain Driver sailed twice around the world and once around the continent of Australia.

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 of Old Glory was ever found.

No one knew what had become of the flag, not even Driver’s own family for they were all southern sympathizers. He could not afford to 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 aged 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-four 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 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. His tomb is one of three sites authorized by Congress where the Flag of the United States may be flown twenty-four/seven.

Think of what he risked to save the flag, and then ask yourself what that irascible old sea captain would say to those protestors in Arizona desecrating the American flag by spray painting ‘deport Arpaio’ and ‘impeach Brewer’?

I imagine it would have been too blistering for delicate ears.

Old Glory today? In the Smithsonian, courtesy Driver’s granddaughter.

1 comment:

Sandy Cody said...

I've heard "Old Glory" all my life but never knew the origin of the name. Next time I'm in Washington, I'll look for the flag. This is great piece of history to share with my grandson. Thanks, Kent, for passing it along.