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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Captain William "Old Glory" Driver

A Salem shipmaster, and one of America's most flamboyant captains ... William Driver, the man who gave the United States flag its famous nickname, OLD GLORY.

Apparently, August is supposed to be the anniversary of the date (August 10, 1831) when Captain William Driver nicknamed the flag, but I can find nothing to substantiate this.  It was not his birthday; the flag had been made for him about seven years earlier, and in August 1831 he was in Tahiti.

But enough.  This long post is taken from a paper I wrote about Salem captains in the Bay of Islands, New Zealand, and is dedicated to this remarkably flamboyant and noteworthy man. The facts were mostly taken from his logbook and his journal, as well as Salem newspapers of the time.

William “Old Glory” Driver was born in Salem on March 17, 1803, and went to sea at the age of fourteen, then rose in the ranks over a series of Mediterranean voyages.  His first South Seas voyage, beginning in 1824, was as first mate and trading officer of the Salem trader Clay, under the command of Captain Benjamin Vanderford (who was later famous for being turned down by Fijian cannibals, who considered him too skinny to be worth cooking, so allowed him to go free; he died as a pilot for the U.S. Exploring Expedition). 
Vanderford's brief from the ship's owners, Nathaniel L. Rogers and Brothers, was to take the Clay to the Fijian Islands, and procure a cargo of bêche-de-mer—sea-slugs—which were in hot demand in the East as a tonic for flagging virility, and would fetch up to 40 Spanish silver dollars per picul in the Manila market.

Getting a good haul of the slow-moving, gristly, phallus-shaped creatures was easily managed, by scooping them off the bottom of some reef-enclosed lagoon.  However, they had to be cured in a particular manner, or the cargo would be unmarketable—and William Driver had no idea how to do it.  Providentially, however, he was accosted by “set of  Manila pirates, who had murdered their captain, Hosea Boyes, and all his officers, destroyed his brig, the Conception”, and now were selling off the trappings of the looted ship.  Not only did the pirates show Driver how to cure the catch—a complicated process of gutting the slugs, boiling them in some large cauldron like a whaling trypot, rinsing them thoroughly in fresh water, and then smoking and drying them in a specially built “batter” house—but they sold him the necessary kettles.  A cargo weighing 600 piculs was taken to Manila, where it was sold at the equivalent of $32 US per quintal, for a total of 25,600 silver dollars.  “Never was a voyage so dependent on good luck and so successful,” reminisced Driver in a letter to the Salem Register 

The ship returned to Fiji, where Driver had left a gang of assorted natives and pirates catching and curing sea-slugs, and took on another cargo, which was sold at the same gratifying price. Vanderford then decided that it was time to go home.  As the Clay headed east, however, they spoke the Quill, another Rogers-owned trader. William Driver shifted over to the other ship as first mate and trading officer, and headed back to the Fijian lagoons. 
It was not until 1830, after obtaining and selling well over 1,000 piculs of bêche-de-mer, that he returned to Salem, where he was  given command of the Charles Doggett.  On January 14, 1831, as the American flag was hoisted up the spanker gaff to signal his departure, he famously exclaimed, “There goes Old Glory”—and not only has the Stars and Stripes had that nickname ever since, but Driver himself was known from then on as "Old Glory."

The ship left Salem in a snowstorm, and had a very slow passage to the Pacific. Then a five-day gale forced him to bring the Charles Doggett into the Bay of Islands, to repair damages and replenish his freshwater barrels. Driver arrived at midnight on 4 June, and next morning, he visited the mission at Paihia, “on the other side of the Bay, a distance of seven miles, to get water.”  The missionary, Rev. Henry Williams, confirmed this entry in Driver's log, writing in his journal the same day, “The Captain landed with whom we had much conversation".  Then he angrily went on to record Driver's boast that “it is universally observed that the crews of the American Ships conduct themselves with that propriety which is unknown by our own [English] countrymen in these seas.”

From there the encounter went rapidly downhill.  Williams tried to buy trade goods from Driver at the advantageous rates he was used to getting from the whaleship captains:  “Occupied a considerable time with the American Captain, endeavouring to purchase some trade—too dear,” he wrote.  Consequently, when Driver requested free access to the mission stream at Paihia, it was easy for Henry Williams to refuse. Driver found a chief, Pomare, who was willing to be paid a musket to escort the brig's boat to Paihia and supervise the filling of the barrels, but Williams simply sent Pomare and the boat away.  Driver resorted then to a written complaint, Williams recording on 19 July that he, “rec’d a note from the American ship respecting the watering on our ground, as his people had rec’d notice to quit.”  

The missionary cancelled prior appointments, “as I had a very unpleasant matter to settle with the American Captain”, and made his way to the Charles Doggett, where he found “the Captain very angry and highly indignant that his people were prevented from watering on our ground." 
Driver demanded to know what right the missionaries had to deny him water, and Williams retorted that the stream was on private property, and as private citizens they could do with it as they wished. Then, as he wrote:

He [Captain Driver], however, did not appear disposed to consider anything but his own convenience, and said that he had desired Pomare to water the ship and he should require him to go to the place in question, for which he had promised him a musket, and if that would not do he should give him two, if that would not accomplish it he would give him ten, and if that should fail he would give him something that would do.

Seduced by this increased offer, Pomare proved “as obstinate as the Captain”, leading a party of his own people to the stream to fill the casks.  Williams had arrived there first, however, and as the chief “was there with natives only”, he was intimidated enough to take his men and the empty barrels away.  To make sure that it could never happen again, Williams's "boys" felled the trees that grew about the stream, effectively preventing boats from coming up, and set a fence across the entrance.  Then, to emphasise that this was private property, they dug up a nearby field for a garden—and Captain Driver took the hint, and sailed away.

A trivial matter, but one that augured badly for future relationships between the mission and Salem captains, who fought with each other from then on.  There was an even more important outcome, however—because of what Driver learned during his fruitless attempt to fill his empty barrels.
As he reminisced a half-century later: 

I learned there from Gilbert Marr [Mair], merchant, amd Mr. Williams of the mission at "The Pai," that the port of Sydney, N.S.W., was open, and that "a good trade might be done there by us," in staves, oars, pitch, resin, flour, tobacco, and a sprinkling of New England rum … Thought a ship bound to Manila or China, during the Northeast monsoon, could save some thumping and would lose but little time by bringing such "traps" here and selling or consigning them, and then away for Sunda or Timour Straits

Driver communicated this in a letter to the brig's owners, which he consigned to Salem via the homeward bound whaleship Harvest.  That done, he set sail to Tahiti for the provisions and fresh water he hadn't been allowed to load at the Bay of Islands.  And there, he was accosted by 65 descendants and wives of the Bounty mutineers, who had been carried away from their island refuge of Pitcairn Island by the British, and were desperate to get back. 
William Driver took them all on board the Charles Doggett, leaving Tahiti on August 14 and delivering them to Pitcairn Island 23 days later.  They were so grateful for this act of kindness that he was plied with gifts made of fragments from the Bounty wreck, and for generations afterward, children were named after him -- one being named William Driver Christian, for instance.
After tearing himself away, Driver headed for Fiji and Manila.  Finally, in the northern spring of 1832, he arrived home with a full freight of sugar, plus a between-decks cargo of 1,600 pounds of tortoiseshell (actually turtle shell) worth over $20,000, and "bundles of bows and arrows, war clubs, etc.".  There, he found Rogers Bros., having received his letter, fitting out their ship Tybee for the south Pacific trade.

The Tybee cleared from the Salem Custom House on April 27, 1832, with one of their most experienced captains, Charles Millett, in charge, and a crew of thirteen that included Nathaniel Rogers' protégé, 20-year-old John Brown Williams, who served as her clerk.  In November the ship called at the Bay of Islands to build and set up warehouses "some miles distant" from Kororareka, where consignments could be stored, just as had been done in Mauritius 46 years earlier. By May 1833 the Tybee was in Sydney, the first American vessel to enter that port since the war of 1812-15.  Leaving on June 8, the Tybee made a quick passage to Salem, mooring at Derby Wharf on 20 October 1833, to discharge Australia’s first export cargo ever to the United States.  It included 4,800 cattle hides, and 1,000 kangaroo skins.

Meantime, Driver had been given command of the bark Black Warrior.  He sailed directly to Sydney with a freight of naval stores, arriving in October 1833 to find "almost a famine” and the government in desperate need of flour.  Leaving his ship in charge of his first officer, Joseph Rogers, he went on shore to set up an office and a depot store, while the Black Warrior sailed back to the States.  In August 1834 Rogers returned with 1,600 barrels of flour, which had cost just $4.64 per barrel in New York, and which Driver sold to a Sydney firm for seventy shillings ($16.75) per barrel, at a profit of almost $20,000.
Such were the profits that the Salem shipmasters and merchants made from their ventures in the Pacific -- and all because Captain William "Old Glory" Driver ventured into the Bay of Islands to refresh his barrels of drinking water. 


Anonymous said...

Capt William Driver is buried in Nashville Tn.He reired from the sea when he realized his wife was sick.He went into business with his brother,He became ill when he took the flag and flew it over the court house and stayed with the flag to keep the confederate soldiers from capturing it.

Anonymous said...

By act of Congress the Nashville Municipal Cemetery , wherein is the grave of Ship Captain Wm Driver, the US Flag is flown 24-7 to honor Old Glory the lasting nick-name bestowed on our flag by the captain in 1831.

Unknown said...

To whom it concerns,

I am writing on behalf of the National Flag Foundation a non-political, non-profit focused on the history, meaning and care of the US Flag, headquartered in Pittsburgh .We are currently creating a multimedia interactive, illlustrating the history of the Flag, In this space the image we are requesting will be used in as touchscreen kiosk and visible to visitors of the education center in the Koppers Building in downtown Pittsburgh, which is free to the public.
we are interested in the image of Captain William Driver that appears in this Blog

I am attaching a release form. If you could please sign and let me know how you would like too be credited that would be great!

Thank you in advance for your helpQFA NFF Photo Copyright Release Form 200402

Brian E Goerke
412 979-0304

La la land said...

Hi. Lately I've been doing a research about William Driver and found out that he had a wife and kids. I'm just surprised, because I also found out that he had some more kids in Fiji.
There is a family in Fiji, known as the Driver family and apparently, they descended from William Driver himself. Did they not record this as well?

World of the Written Word said...

Thank you for your comments. It's a long time since I checked this post, so I apologize for belated replies. While it is quite a surprise to find that there is a Fijian family, I am not surprised. I guess all those months at sea made men lusty, and it also helped with trading if they had "in-laws" on the island.

As for the image, it came from volume II of George Granville PUTNAM, "Salem Vessels and their Voyages" (Salem, 1924). I expect it is out of copyright.

The flag he kept hidden during the Civil War was sewn inside a bedcover -- though maybe that is a myth!

Underwater said...

Yes I can confirm that there are Drivers of mixed blood who consider themselves descendants of Capt. Driver. Interestingly the one I knew George Driver is also of short stature as his ancestor apparently was. Intelligent hard working people who only knew parts of the story until I was able to carry out some research on returning to the USA.
With DNA testing I think the truth could now be clarified.

World of the Written Word said...

I will be very interested to learn the result of the DNA, if a test is carried out. But, saying that, I am certain that he would have had a Fijian family. The whalemen from Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard certainly left their mark on Cloudy Bay! The descendants not only have the same names, but they look like images of the Americans.