Flag Day is a celebration of the American flag that occurs each year on the anniversary of the flag’s official adoption, June 14, 1777.
During the Revolutionary War, colonial troops fought under many different flags with various symbols—rattlesnakes, pine trees, and eagles—and slogans—”Don’t Tread on Me,” “Liberty or Death,” and “Conquer or Die,” to name a few. The Declaration of Independence made the adoption of an American flag necessary. Previously, each colony or special interest had its own flag.
On the 14th of June, Congress made the following resolution: “The flag of the United States shall be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white, with a union of thirteen stars of white on a blue field …” Official announcement of the new flag was not made until Sept. 3, 1777. The term “Stars and Stripes” was adopted by the Continental Congress as the official American flag on June 14, 1777. Whether it is legend or fact, most school children are still taught about how Betsy Ross was commissioned in 1777 by George Washington to sew our nation’s flag.
In 1916, the anniversary of the Flag Resolution of 1777 became a nationally observed event by a proclamation by President Woodrow Wilson. However, it was not designated as National Flag Day until August 3, 1949, when an Act of Congress designated June 14 of each year as National Flag Day.
Today, Flag Day is celebrated with parades, essay contests, ceremonies and picnics sponsored by veterans groups, schools, and groups like the National Flag Day foundation whose goal is to preserve the traditions, history, pride, and respect that are due the nation’s symbol, Old Glory.
Interestingly, the phrase “Old Glory” to describe our flag can be traced right back to a young sea captain from Salem, Mass. It was Capt. William Driver, 21, who coined the phrase “Old Glory.”
According to an article by author Monte Anderson, in 1831, Capt. Driver was given the flag as a birthday present from his family and friends. The flag was installed on his ship, the brig “Charles Dogget.” As the breeze unfurled the flag, the sight so moved Driver that he exclaimed, “I call it, ‘Old Glory!” Shortly afterward, Driver left for a sailing expedition that proved to be quite memorable. During the trip, from 1831 to 1832, Driver and his crew landed at Pitcairn Island and rescued marooned mutineers from the ship, the H.M.S. Bounty.
In 1837, Driver 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 was permitted to raise 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.
Additionally, strong evidence indicates that Francis Hopkinson of New Jersey, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was responsible for the stars in the U.S. flag. At the time the flag resolution was adopted, Hopkinson was the chairman of the Continental Navy Board’s Middle Department. He also helped design other devices for the government, including the Great Seal of the United States. For his services, Hopkinson submitted a letter to the Continental Admiralty Board asking “whether a Quarter Cask of the public Wine will not be a proper & reasonable Reward for these Labours of Fancy and a suitable Encouragement to future Exertions of a like Nature.” His request was turned down since the Congress regarded him as a public servant.