Starting Friday, you can see Old Glory at the National Museum of American History. And don't think you've already seen it. Old Glory is not the Star-Spangled and it has nothing to do with bombs bursting at Fort McHenry. It's a different set of historic threads altogether.
Old Glory was William Driver's ship flag, stitched for him in 1824 by his womenfolk in Salem, Massachusetts. It sailed twice with him around the world and to the Pitcairn Islands, where he resettled some of the Bounty crew, survivors of the Mutiny, and on to Australia.
A daughter, Mary Jane, tells in a 1917 book how her father, apprenticed to a smith, ran off to sea at 13. One Sunday, the smith's wife put him in a ruffled shirt. He cut off the ruffles, rushed to the harbor where the China was heaving anchor and signed on as cabin boy. The book also details how he got the banner, all 10 by 20 feet of red, white and blue bunting, to celebrate his first command, at 21, as captain of the brig Charles Doggett; and how he named it Old Glory and proudly flew it from his rigging.
Driver retired in 1837 to a home in Nashville. A widower with three young children, he flew his ensign still -- on February 22, July 4, Saint Patrick's Day (which was also his birthday) -- from a line stretched across the street between a locust tree and his attic. Son Henry reeved the rope through a block on the tree and people flocked to see it. When Tennessee seceded, the captain's capers were no longer appreciated, and he took seriously the threats that came his way. He instructed the second Mrs. Driver and daughters Mary Jane and Dillie to get the flag into good condition. He'd watch in the sewing room as they snipped frayed ends and fixed seams. When they added 10 stars, he shuffled the stars into a new pattern and, in memory of the years at sea, he stitched a small anchor into the blue canton.
By night, Driver carried the flag to a neighbor's house where the Bailey girls, Mary and Patience, quilted over it to make a comforter, which he hid in a kettle in his attic.
On February 25, 1862, the Sixth Ohio Regiment reached Nashville and Driver was at the wharf to meet them. At home, he and Mary Jane ripped open the comforter in the presence of officers of the regiment. With a military escort and a following of youngsters, he carried Old Glory to the capitol and ran it up the pole to general cheering.
Driver stayed with his flag as a storm blew all night with fierce winds. Toward morning, he sent home for his French Merino wool flag and substituted it for Old Glory, which he carried home to its camphor-wood chest.
So it was, according to Mary Jane, that the Merino flag left town with the Sixth Ohio as a gift from her father. And when mules ate it where it lay in a baggage wagon, newspapers, in a case of mistaken identity, wrote finish to the story of Old Glory.
The real Old Glory went west with Mary, to Nevada. Her father brought it to her train compartment on the journey out and presented it, saying that it had been friend and protector to him and that he loved it as a mother loves her child. He told all the Old Glory tales over again till a crowd gathered and the train, which had already started to pull out, had to back into the station again.
Old Glory celebrated July Fourths, spread out on the grass at Salmon River or at Goose Creek mining camp. When Driver's other daughter, Dillie, saw it in 1894, the blue field had gone to shreds and the anchor was yellow. Later, the whole flag was darned to sheeting to hold it together.
In 1923 Old Glory was given to President Harding who passed it on to the Smithsonian. From that time to this, it's been tucked away in the Naval History study collection -- too fragile for hanging. Dr. Harold Langley, Naval History's flagman, described its condition as similar to hair combed across a bald head. Two years ago, a story in Nashville's The Tennessean inspired the local American Legion and the DAR to raise funds. Old Glory is now sandwiched in almost invisible silk net and has a plastic case tilted 15 degrees, the better for us to see without the stress, to it, of pulling its own weight.