U.S. Flag History

Old Glory

The name “Old Glory” was first applied to the U.S. flag by a young sea captain who lived in Salem, Mass. On his 21st birthday, March 17, 1824, Capt. William Driver was presented a beautiful flag by his mother and a group of Salem girls. Driver was delighted with the gift and named the flag “Old Glory.” Old Glory accompanied the captain on his many sea voyages. In 1837 he quit sailing and settled in Nashville. On patriotic days he displayed Old Glory proudly from a rope extending from his house to a tree across the street.

After Tennessee seceded from the Union in 1861, Captain Driver hid Old Glory, sewing it inside a comforter. When the Union soldiers entered Nashville on February 25, 1862, Driver removed Old Glory from its hiding place. He carried the flag to the capitol building and raised it above the state capitol. 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’s 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.”

The flag remained as a precious heirloom in the Driver family until 1922. It was then sent to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., where it is carefully preserved under glass.

Betsy RossĀ 

Who designed the original “Stars and Stripes” flag of the United States is a point never definitely confirmed. Was it Betsy Ross, expert Philadelphia seamstress, or New Jersey’s Congressman Francis Hopkinson?

The traditional story that Betsy Ross designed the original flag in 1776 has caught the popular fancy but no official record substantiates the story. Some historians claim that in June 1776, Gen. George Washington, Robert Morris and Betsy’s uncle, George Ross, went to her Philadelphia upholstery shop. The men told her they were members of a congressional committee. They showed her a rough design of a stars and stripes flag and asked her if she would make the emblem. She said yes and recommended making the stars five-pointed instead of six. The change was approved.

George Washington drew another design, and Betsy Ross sewed the emblem. On June 14, 1777, Congress adopted it as the official U.S. flag. That is the Betsy Ross story as it is related. However, some sources claim there is no official record of a congressional flag committee. The only documented evidence naming Mrs. Ross is said to be a voucher dated May 29, 1777, showing that she was paid 14 pounds and some shillings for flags she made for the Pennsylvania Navy.

Note: Recent historic research indicates Francis Hopkinson, a consultant to the Second Continental Congress is responsible for designing the original Stars and Stripes.

Our National Anthem

For more than a century the “Star Spangled Banner,” written by Francis Scott Key in 1814, was sung as a popular patriotic air. From time to time Army and Navy leaders designated it as the national anthem for official occasions. In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed it the national anthem. Continuous lobbying by the Veterans of Foreign Wars led to Congress designating the song as the official national anthem of the United States on March 3, 1931.

Francis Scott Key practiced law in Baltimore during the War of 1812. In 1814 one of Key’s friends, Dr. Beanes, was held prisoner by the British aboard the ship Minden in Baltimore harbor. Key decided he would try to obtain his friend’s release. Carrying a flag of truce and a letter from President James Madison, Key rowed out to the ship. His request for the friend’s freedom was granted, but both men were detained onboard because the British were about to bombard Fort McHenry.

During the bombardment, Key watched the Stars and Stripes flying over the fort. Darkness fell, and he no longer could see the flag. But the fort kept on firing back at the British, so Key knew the American stronghold had not surrendered.

When daylight returned Key was overjoyed to see that “the flag was still there.” Taking an old envelope from his pocket he wrote the stirring opening words,” O say, can you see by the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming, whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight, o’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?”

After he returned ashore, Key completed the verse, which was later published in the Baltimore American, September 21, 1814. It became popular immediately. Later the words were set to the English “Anacreon in Heaven,” which is the tune we sing today.

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