The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Driver, William, 1803-1886
William Driver (1803-1886)
0.5 linear feet (1 box, 2 flat files)
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.
SERIES I. "Old Glory" SERIES II. Pitcairn Island SERIES III. Other
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
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
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
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.
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).
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.
Restrictions on Access
This collection is open for research use.
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
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.
Collection processed by Hilary Streifer, April 2015.
Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records,
1620-1988 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations,
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.
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).