David Lauderdale

Column: SC heroine of American Revolution could still inspire

Ernestine Boyne of Gardens Corner holds a 1960s newspaper article about her daring Revolutionary War kinsman, Emily Geiger on July 2, 2014, at her home.
Ernestine Boyne of Gardens Corner holds a 1960s newspaper article about her daring Revolutionary War kinsman, Emily Geiger on July 2, 2014, at her home. Staff photo

Ernestine Seigler Boyne of Gardens Corner could raise an American flag in her yard today if she wished. It would wave beautifully in the breezes off Huspah Creek.

But she chose to celebrate this Independence Day by sharing an old newspaper article. She doesn't want its story to be forgotten.

From time to time, Ernestine pulls out her yellowing copy of a big "Sunday Magazine" spread in a 1960 edition of The News and Courier of Charleston. It's about her South Carolina kinsman Emily Geiger and her daring heroics in the American Revolution.

Emily Geiger, goes the story that used to be taught to every South Carolina school child, was a teenager who turned spy in 1781.

Geiger risked a bloody death by carrying a message through the teeth of British forces so that Gen. Thomas Sumter would know to come reinforce Gen. Nathaniel Greene in the Upstate.

Sure enough, young Emily was stopped and questioned. But before the suspicious British could get a woman there to search Geiger, she tore the general's note into small pieces and ate it. She was released and managed to get the message she had memorized to Sumter.

Ernestine was a Geiger. She even has a sister named Emily. Her family is from the Columbia area, but she grew up in the village of McClellanville on the coast above Charleston. As children, Ernestine and Emily milked cows and traded the milk for voice lessons. Their teacher, a Mrs. Dantzler, told Emily about her heroic forebear.

"That story really had a big impact on us," Ernestine said. "My sister said, 'If Emily could do it, I can do it, too.' And she did. She just went from there."

Emily married a Baptist preacher named Harry Ericson and became the heart of many a church by leading the children in singing.

When her husband retired, she took up ceramics and had a large shop in Folly Beach, where "Miss Emily," now widowed and in her late 80s, is still an institution.

"She went right to the top in ceramics," Ernestine said.

Ernestine also had to bring the can-do spirit when she moved to northern Beaufort County in 1958. She drove a school bus and her first husband, the late J.B. Seigler, helped fight forest fires. The family started a company that produced the widely distributed Seigler's Artichoke Relish made in Gardens Corner. After that, the family ran a piano shop. Ernestine led the choir for 25 years in area churches.

Her second husband, the late Howard Boyne, ran a television and radio repair business in Beaufort. Now, she and husband Bill Farris putter around the quiet Lowcountry haven she and J.B. named "Heart's Content Plantation."

When the story about Emily Geiger that inspired her life was published in The News and Courier, the headline asked: "Was She Fact or Fiction?" Since documentation is scant, it's a legitimate question. But the story of Emily Geiger is presented as fact in today's "South Carolina Encyclopedia" and in Walter Edgar's book "South Carolina: A History." The Bluffton chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is named for Emily Geiger.

Her story shows how brutal the American Revolution was, and the important role South Carolinians played in the birth of a nation that is celebrated today.

It's a story that once inspired two Lowcountry girls milking cows. Ernestine thinks it could help even more today.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.