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William Driver (1803-1886) Papers

William Driver (1803-1886) Papers

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WILLIAM DRIVER (1803-1886) PAPERS, 1823-1936, 1965

Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Driver, William, 1803-1886
Title:William Driver (1803-1886) Papers
Dates:1823/1936, 1965
Quantity:0.5 linear feet (1 box, 2 flat files)
Abstract:The William Driver Papers contain materials related to "Old Glory", its naming and the controversy over its location after Driver's death in 1886, Driver's transportation of Pitcairn Island inhabitants, and some miscellaneous items related to Driver.
Collection Number:MH 84

Series List

SERIES I. "Old Glory"
SERIES II. Pitcairn Island

Scope and Content Note

The William Driver Papers contain materials related to "Old Glory", its naming and the controversy over its location after Driver's death in 1886, Driver's transportation of Pitcairn Island inhabitants, and some miscellaneous items related to Driver. The majority of the collection is made up of correspondence, original and transcribed. This collection has been divided into three series.

Series I. "Old Glory" contains items related to the naming of the flag and the controversy that developed after Driver's death as to what happened to the original "Old Glory." This series contains correspondence, both written and transcribed, and news clippings. The correspondence in this series also includes correspondence from the Essex Institute to Driver's daughter, Mary Roland, concerning the authenticity of flag in their possession and Driver's original postcard to his niece Harriet R. Cooke telling her that he was sending her "Old Glory". There is also a letter from the Smithsonian Institution to the Essex Museum asking them to check the authenticity of the flag in the Museum's possession. This series also contains testimonies from various people about the original "Old Glory".

Series II. Pitcairn Island contains transcriptions of Driver's official account of the Pitcairn Island inhabitants, a photostat and photocopy of the Islanders' affidavit of Driver's assistance, and correspondence. The correspondence includes Driver's detailed account of what happened, provided to his family forty years after the event. There are also transcripts of these letters.

Series III. Other contains correspondence to and from Driver and his family members. This series also contains a religious speech written but never presented by Driver, photographs of Driver, and photographs of his gravestone. There is a miscellaneous folder that contains receipts, calling cards with notes on them, and by-laws for the Seamen's Widow and Orphan Association.

Biographical Sketch

Captain William Driver was born on March 17, 1803 in Salem, Massachusetts. At the age of 13 he apprenticed with a blacksmith, Abner Goodhue, but soon realized that his real calling was to be at sea. At the age of 14 he began his career at sea, sailing on the brig China. Driver quickly rose through the ranks, becoming captain of the ship Charles Daggett at the age of 21. He then spent the next two years travelling to Calcutta, first on the ship George, then the brigs Jason and Batavia. When he returned back to Salem from his voyage on the Batavia, he was promoted to mate and trading officer onboard the Clay (Merrill 14-15). At the age of 21 he was a licensed master mariner (Roland 22). It was after accepting command of the Charles Daggett that Driver was presented with a flag from his mother and the other women of Salem. He named the flag "Old Glory", a name that has stuck with the American flag to this day. When "Old Glory" was not being flown from the masthead of Driver's ship it was kept in a wooden sea chest, or suspended by a rope from Driver's attic to a tree across the street (Kerchendorfer 68-70). During the Civil War, Driver had his neighbors help him sew "Old Glory" inside of a quilt to hide it from Confederate troops. When Federalist troops arrived in Nashville, Driver presented them with "Old Glory" to hang over the state capital building (Roland 37). In 1873, Driver gave his daughter Mary "Old Glory" (Roland 91), who presented it to President Warren G. Harding in 1922; Harding in turn gave the flag to the Smithsonian Institution (Jenkins 4). There remained for many years controversy over where the original "Old Glory" ended up: eaten by donkeys during the Civil War, given to the Essex Institute in Salem by Driver's niece, or with Driver's daughter, Martha, which turned out to be the true story.

During his ninth voyage, Driver arrived in Tahiti in 1831, where he met former inhabitants of Pitcairn Island. These inhabitants were descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers who had landed on Pitcairn Island and they begged Driver to bring them back to their native island. The Charles Daggett left Tahiti for Pitcairn Island on August 14, 1831 with 65 islanders, who paid Driver only a small sum of money for his trouble (Merrill 27- 41).

Driver married Martha Silsbee Babbage on September 19, 1830, and they had three children together. In 1837 Driver retired from the sea after his wife died from throat cancer, leaving him with three small children. He moved his family to Nashville, Tennessee; his brothers George and Stephen, had already moved there and opened a store. The next year Driver married Sarah Jane Parks, a woman half his age. They had nine children together. Driver died on March 3, 1886 (Jenkins 2).

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Flags--United States--History
Pitcairn Island


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

William Driver (1803-1886) Papers, MH 84, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This collection is comprised of several different acquisitions. Letters of William Driver's account of moving the Pitcairn Islanders was a gift of the estate of Martha E. Driver, Driver's daughter, in 1950 (accession #12,304). The photocopy of a picture of Driver's tombstone with an explanation of the picture was a gift from Fred Gannon in 1956 (accession #13,758). By-laws of the Seamen's Widow and Orphan Association, dated 1837, correspondence to and from William Driver, a letter from Caroline Tucker Buswell from William Driver's daughter Delilah, referring to his flag "Old Glory," and a speech by William Driver were a 1973 gift from Clifton A. Sibley (accession #20,077). Material from Fam. Mss. 271 was added to this collection. The provenance of Fam. Mss. 271 is unknown.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Hilary Streifer, April 2015.

Related Material Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2011.

Jenkins, Sally. "How the Flag Came to be Called Old Glory: New Research May Settle a Family Feud Over the Origins of an American Icon." Smithsonian Magazine (Oct. 2013). Accessed April 3, 2015.

Kerchendorfer, Paul R. "What's In a Name: the Story of William Driver Who First Called Our Flag ‘Old Glory'." National Historical Magazine LXXI, no. 5 (1938): 68-70.

Merrill, John. "Old Glory" Driver. NY: Vantage Press, 1956.

Roland, Mary J. D. Old Glory: the True Story. NY: Privately Printed, 1918.

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