The symbol of a flag

I was recently invited into Mrs. Morgan’s class to hear students present their ideas for a Piute High School flag. In groups the class presented their flags and the symbolic meaning of each element of the flag.

The students had great thoughts about the history and meaning of the colors, shapes, text, and symbols included in their designs. We discussed the symbolism of flags and of course we discussed Old Glory that flies in every classroom. Old Glory has become the name of all American flags, but originally there was just one Old Glory.

The story of Old Glory starts in Salem, Massachusetts in the year 1824 with a 21-year-old boy named William Driver. William had just become a master mariner, which meant he was qualified to captain a ship of any size. He had also just been named captain of the Charles Doggett. To become a captain so young had required William to run away at 13 and become a cabin boy.

Becoming a captain inspired his mother to recruit help to sew a large American flag for William to take on his voyages. William treasured the gift from his mother and flew it proudly on his ship. He would give his flag the name Old Glory.

The flag was sometimes his only connection to home when he was sailing around the world. Sailing can be very dangerous today, and it was especially perilous in the early 1800s. When Captain Driver left Massachusetts on one voyage in 1831 he was accompanied by five other ships. His ship would be the only ship to return.

Driver cared for and cherished his mothers gift throughout his career on the sea and continued to do so when he returned home and moved to Tennessee. The flag was 17 feet by 10 feet and now bore the markings of a career on the ocean. When the Civil War got started, southerners took down American flags and replaced them with Confederate flags.

Captain Driver often stubbornly refused to take down his Old Glory. At one point the Confederate governor of Tennessee sent a group to Driver’s house to take the flag, but Driver managed to send them away. Locals were angry at his insistence and were determined to confiscate his flag.

Fearing for Old Glory, Driver sewed it inside a blanket and when his house was searched for the flag, it was never found.

When Union soldiers retook the capital of Tennessee, Driver went to their camp with his concealed flag and asked to see the commanding officer. When he stood before General William Nelson, he pulled out a knife and began to cut the edges of the blanket that concealed Old Glory. He gave them the large flag and said with tears in his eyes, “This is the flag I hope to see hoisted on that flagstaff [referring to the capitol building]…I have had hard work to save it; my house has been searched for it more than once.”

The worn American flag was flown over the Tennessee capitol building. Old Glory was replaced on the capitol building with a new flag not long after and Driver continued his protection of it. Nashville remained a hot spot in the civil war for a time thereafter and Driver was still considered very daring for continuing to fly the flag at his home.

Later in life Driver left the care of the flag to his daughter saying, “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.”

In 1922, Captain Driver’s daughter presented Old Glory to President William Harding, who sent it to the Smithsonian, where it remains today.
Captain Driver is actually my fifth cousin five times removed, which means he is a fifth cousin to my great-great-grandfather, Joel Hills Johnson, from my father’s mother’s side.

Captain Driver loved the flag because it was a symbol of home and freedom. We do everything we can to make our schools into positive symbols. We try to make them places of discovery, joy, and connection. Discussing flags in class I asked the students to imagine they were in a rural area of a distant country and they saw a flag; then I asked what would that flag have to have on it to indicate it was a Piute High School flag.

And what would that symbol bring to mind? We hope seeing the symbols of our schools bring memories of joyful discovery and connection with others.