As we approach Independence Day in America, I’d be remiss if I didn’t post this wonderful piece by my dear friend, Frank Jordan. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! -Doug
Frankly Speaking by Frank Jordan
Is “Old Glory” a name for all U.S. stars and stripes flags, or a specific and real U.S. flag, or both? Both! The actual Old Glory,” a huge weather-beaten American flag 191 years old, now resides in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. “Old Glory” is our most venerated historical American flag and, together with Francis Scott Key’s Star-Spangled Banner, are our most famous patriotic symbols for the United States of America. When we refer to American flags today, we often describe a U.S. flag as “Old Glory,” but in fact there is only one original “Old Glory.”
Few know the true story of “Old Glory” so let’s return to the second decade of the 19th century, to the birth in Salem, Massachusetts in 1803 of William Driver, soon to be U.S. sea captain extraordinaire. William Driver was a dashing and skilled young man who at the incredibly young age of 21 was commissioned as a master mariner and given command of the whaling ship, “’Charles Doggett.”
That’s impressive, but what does it have to do with a famous patriotic flag? ”Old Glory” was a sturdy 10’ x 17’ flag presented to the newly commissioned Captain Driver after being designed and home-sewn by his mother and her friends in 1824 to fly from the mast of Captain Driver’s ship.
The story is told when Captain Driver first raised the flag up the mast of the “Charles Doggett,” he lifted his hat in salute, exclaiming when seeing the grand banner flying in the wind, “My ship, my country, and my flag, ‘Old Glory’!” The name stuck and “Old Glory” flew proudly during Captain Driver’s two decade career as an American seaman who sailed as a ship captain from Gibraltar to India to China and throughout the South Pacific.
Captain Driver wrote regarding “Old Glory’s,” meaning and importance, “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, in 1837, Driver at age 34 retired to Nashville, Tennessee from seafaring, raising a family of nine children with his 2nd wife after his 1st wife had died.
According to daughter, Mary Jane Roland, Captain Driver in Nashville flew “Old Glory” on holidays “rain or shine.” The enormous flag designed for a large ship required a unique display system in which Captain Driver stretched a rope on a pulley from his home attic window to high up in a locust tree across the street. In 1860 the Captain and his family repaired the 36 year old flag having endured 20 years at sea, sewing on an additional ten stars, with the Captain himself appliqueing a small white anchor in the lower right corner to signify his seafaring career.
Captain Driver gave his daughter, Mary Jane Rowland, “Old Glory” as a gift, on July 10, 1873. After Captain Driver’s passing in 1886, “Old Glory” in 1922 was presented as a gift to President Warren G. Harding, who in turn gave it to the Smithsonian for permanent preservation and residence.
Captain Driver said it best, “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.” Frankly speaking, “Old Glory” the flag continues to remind us of our heritage as a nation and a people who have sacrificed and died for the freedom of others both in the United States and the savage, heathen and civilized around the world.