William Driver

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For other people named William Driver, see William Driver (disambiguation).

William Driver (1803–1886) was an American ship captain. He coined the phrase Old Glory for the U.S. flag.


Originally from Salem, Massachusetts, Driver was presented a flag by his family and a group of friends as a young man. Driver was delighted with the gift. He exclaimed, "I name her 'Old Glory,'" and Old Glory subsequently accompanied the captain on his voyages. Driver later stated that he received the flag on his birthday, in the year 1831.

Driver made his most extensive voyage in 1831-1832, when he captained the 110-ton whaler Charles Doggett. He called at Tahiti during the trip, where he met some of the descendants of the crew of HMS Bounty. They had moved there from Pitcairn Island, where their ancestors had famously been marooned by the mutineers who had taken control of the Bounty. However, they were unhappy in Tahiti and requested that Driver give them passage back to Pitcairn. He did so, and reportedly slept on deck to allow more room for the women and children in the bunks below.

Captain Driver quit the sea in 1837. He settled in Nashville, Tennessee, where he had relatives living. On patriotic days he displayed Old Glory proudly from a rope extending from his house to a tree across the street. As the Civil War began, after Tennessee seceded from the Union in 1861, Driver feared that Old Glory might be confiscated or destroyed by the Confederate forces. He hid the flag, having it sewn inside a comforter (a quilt or duvet). When Union soldiers entered Nashville on February 25, 1862, Driver removed Old Glory from its hiding place. He carried the flag to the Tennessee State Capitol and raised it on the capitol flagpole. He is said to have remained on watch all that night to ensure that the flag came to no harm.

Shortly before his death, the old sea captain placed a small bundle into the arms of his daughter. He said to her, "Mary Jane, this is my ship flag, Old Glory. It has been my constant companion. I love it as a mother loves her child. Cherish it as I have cherished it." Captain Driver is buried in Nashville's historic City Cemetery, under an unusual marker of his own design—a ship's anchor leaning against a vine-covered tree. By a special act of Congress, Driver's gravesite is one of several places in the United States, including the grave of Francis Scott Key, where a flag is flown twenty four hours a day. His house, where Old Glory so often flew, no longer exists, but a historical plaque near its location on Fifth Avenue South commemorates him.

Mary Jane took the flag with her as she married and moved, first to Nevada and then to California, occasionally displaying it at or near her home. In the early 1900s, she sewed the deteriorating flag to a bedsheet in order to stabilize it.

The flag remained as a precious heirloom in the Driver family until 1922. Then it was sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where it is carefully preserved under glass today. It and the flag which flew over Fort McHenry during the British bombardment of 1814, inspiring Francis Scott Key to write the The Star-Spangled Banner, are considered the two most historically significant flags in the country and two of the greatest treasures of the Smithsonian.

In 2006, the Smithsonian Institution agreed to a one-time loan of Old Glory to the Tennessee State Museum. The exhibit was presented from March to November and included other Driver memorabilia from the Tennessee state archives, such as the Charles Doggett's logbook and some of Driver's personal journals. The exhibit title was Old Glory: An American Treasure Comes Home.

Notable quotes:

"My ship, my country, and my flag, Old Glory."[1]

"There is no such thing as zero risk."


  • Bostick, Alan (March 19, 2006). "See the flag that flew around the world". The Tennessean, Life section, p. 5.
  1. ^ Barry, J.W. (1992) Masonry and the Flag. Kessinger Publishing, 166 p.