Emily Geiger, South Carolina’s Revolutionary War Heroine


In 1781, the British invaded the Carolinas. Generals Nathanael Greene, Thomas Sumter, Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee and Francis Marion, who later became known as The Swamp Fox were charged with the responsibility of ridding South Carolina of the British. With a unit of British reinforcements coming, General Greene felt if his forces could combine with General Sumter’s, they could overtake the reinforcements and do major damage. However, seventy miles of rough terrain separated the two generals, much of it marshland, and there were British sympathizers at every turn.


Nathanael Greene

General Greene put out a plea for a civilian to deliver a message to General Sumter. It would be dangerous work, and his men were ill and weak from lack of food. Eighteen-year-old Emily Geiger overheard her invalid father discussing the general’s dilemma and his call for help. She walked to General Greene’s camp, a few miles from where she lived with her father, and bravely offered to act as a courier for him. She was familiar with the route and wished to help the colonists any way she could. A desperate general agreed with her, and wrote the letter to be delivered to General Sumter.


General Sumter

Emily created a story for herself that she was going to see her uncle, just in case anyone should ask. But Torys were everywhere in South Carolina, and one had witnessed her arrival and subsequent departure from the general’s camp. She was tailed by the British from the moment she left camp.

Not suspecting she had been seen leaving the colonist’s camp, Emily rode hard about halfway to her goal. Fatigue and darkness forced her to beg for a room for the night from a total stranger. Unfortunately for Emily, the stranger was secretly a Tory. The man tracking her followed her to this house and decided he too needed some sleep before apprehending Emily. She woke to the man’s arrival and decided to escape after everyone fell back asleep. She snuck out the window, saddled her horse and took off, knowing the man she’d left sleeping would be after her as soon as he woke.

She got about 2/3 of the way to her goal when she was stopped by three British soldiers. They became suspicious of her story that she was to visit an uncle, and the fact her horse had been ridden hard made them more suspect. They captured Emily and took her to the camp of the British general, Lord Rawdon. He questioned her and found her answers evasive, so he ordered her locked into one of the upstairs rooms and went in search of a woman who could frisk her.ill_002

She quickly realized her dilemma and feared for her life should the missive to General Sumter be found. She opened the letter from General Greene, memorized its contents, and tore the letter into bite-sized pieces, which she began to eat. By the time the woman arrived and searched her and her clothing, nothing was left of the letter. General Rawdon had to let her go, but had his men accompany her to what they assumed was her uncle’s house, a few miles away. This home belonged to a colonist, who offered her a fresh mount and a guide to show her a shorter way to get where she was going. The guide helped her navigate her way through the night, but left her the next morning.

She continued her perilous ride until the afternoon of the third day, when she came upon soldiers in the Patriot uniforms. They delivered her to General Sumter. Even though she was hungry, bone-tired and near to passing out, she delivered the message she’d been sent with. General Sumter marshaled his forces and they left within an hour of Emily’s arrival, on their way to General Greene.

Three chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution in South Carolina were named for this patriotic female of the Revolution and she is now part of the South Carolina state seal. The woman holding the laurel branch is the image of Emily Geiger. statesealofSouthCarolinaseal








Becky Lower’s current work in progress features a feisty British woman and an American man during the Revolutionary War. After reading about the perils of Emily Geiger, Becky may have her heroine undertake a midnight ride of her own, to warn her lover of an impending battle. Keep up with the latest goings-on at Becky’s blog: beckylowerauthor.blogspot.com