To the editor:
Thank you for your timely story, "Veterans honor forgotten Salem man on Flag Day" (Tuesday, June 15).
But let's get the facts straight. With all due respect to Mr. (Jim) McAllister, who appears to be the source of your reporter's information, there is no documentation whatsoever that Capt. Driver lifted his hat and proclaimed, "My ship, my country, and my flag, Old Glory."
There are many stories about how Old Glory received its name; this is just one, and highly apocryphal at best. Instead, after many successful years at sea flying Old Glory proudly from his ship's mast, Capt. Driver himself wrote, "(It) has ever been my staunch companion and protection ... Savages and heathens, lowly and oppressed, hailed and welcomed it at the far end of the wide world. Then, why should it not be called Old Glory?"
The naming of Old Glory may have been as simple as that!
Furthermore, there were two daughters involved in the flag's later years. Mary Jane Driver, the product of William Driver's first marriage, took Old Glory with her to Utah when she married — a gift from her father.
Harriet Cooke, a daughter from Driver's second marriage, brought a different family flag with her to Salem. She gave that flag to the Essex Institute (now, the Peabody Essex Museum) and passed it off as Old Glory. She also published a family genealogy, which excluded Mary Jane.
Mary Jane got wind of her half-sister's antics, took photographs of the real Old Glory (complete with ship's anchor in the blue field) and collected supporting depositions from her former Nashville neighbors. Mary Jane presented Old Glory and her documentation to the Smithsonian Institution in 1922, setting off an amusing exchange between the Smithsonian and the Essex Institute over who had the real flag.
Eventually, the Essex Institute relented and even offered Harriet's flag to the Smithsonian, which the national museum politely declined.
To confuse matters even further, rumors abounded in Nashville that Old Glory had been cut up into pieces for souvenirs.
To this day, the PEM receives inquiries from people who are convinced they own a piece of Old Glory. They do not. What we can say for certain is that Old Glory, a symbol of American enterprise and independent spirit, is proudly on display — in its entirety — at the Smithsonian Institution.
Bonnie Hurd Smith
(Editor's note: Local historian Bonnie Hurd Smith's article, "A Flag, a Feud, and an Abundance of Falsehoods: The True Story of Old Glory," will be published by HistorySmiths — www.historysmiths.com — this month.)