The cemetery at St. Paul’s Church in Summerville is where you will find many of Summerville’s early residents. I recommend you take a day and visit the grave sites. In the back of the church you will find the grave for Elvira N. Benjamin. According to church history the grave is located in section II, block C, Lott 2 of the cemetery.
Who was Elvira Benjamin? Her great grandfather was Commodore Alexander Gillon, known for his exploits during the Revolutionary War. He had a son named after him, Alexander H. Gillon. Alexander H. met and married Sarah Harriet Brisbane. Alexander and his wife Sarah had a daughter in 1817 and named her Anna Maria Gillon. She grew up and at the age of 21, on May 28, 1838, married John G. Benjamin. In 1840, Anna and John Benjamin had a daughter. They named her Elvira Nicole Benjamin. Her father died on September 22, 1846 six years after Elvira was born. In 1851 Anna Maria married Thomas N. Farr and they had six children. Anna Maria Gillon Benjamin Farr, died in 1900. She was 83 years of age.
Elvira Nicole Benjamin grew up. Her friends called her Ella and she lived in Charleston. She was never married and lived the single life.
August of 1884 was hot like most summer months. Ella decided to take a break from the city of Charleston and go to Sullivan’s Island. I’ll let the newspaper tell the rest of the story.

HEROINE AND MARTER
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THE TRAGIC OCCURRENCE ON SULLIVAN’S ISLAND
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A Charleston Lady Gives Her Life To Save A Drowning Child.

“A tragic occurrence on Sullivan’s Island yesterday afternoon illustrates anew the heroism and self-sacrifice of which woman is capable.
Between 2 and 3 o’clock in the afternoon a number of children went to the in bathing in front of Dr. Kinloch’s house on Sullivan’s Island. The spot has always been considered a dangerous one, and it is said that several persons have been drowned near the place, Miss Ella Benjamin, a resident of Charleston, who was boarding at Mrs. Walker’s house, went in to bathe with the children. Julian Reid, a little son of Mr. Loughton R. Reid, was among the children who were bathing, and the little fellow got beyond his depth and was in imminent danger of losing his life. Miss Benjamin as once saw the peril, and being a good swimmer went to his rescue. She reached the drowning child, caught him in her arms and held him above the waves for nearly fifteen minutes until a boat in which were two colored men came up.
The little boy was rescued by the colored men, who also made an attempt to rescue Miss Benjamin. The prolonged efforts to save the life of the child, however, had evidently exhausted her strength. She kept afloat until the little boy was safe, and then sank. Every effort was made to recover her body, but it was fully twenty minutes after the drowning when the search was successful. At the expiration of that time Miss Benjamin’s body floated to the surface and was taken ashore. The body of the lady will be brought to the city today for interment.
The information given above was obtained from a gentleman who reached the city on the 9:30 P.M. trip of the Sappho from the Island last night. The distressing occurrence has cast a gloom over the Island, which is not lessened by the thought that, in Miss Benjamin, one more woman has immortalized herself, and so added yet another bright page to the history of woman’s love and devotion.”
Taken from the News and Courier
Saturday, August 16, 1884

Mark D. Woodard
Summerville Tours
(843) 817-8616

Research sources:

  • South Carolina Vital Records
  • Heroine and Martyr. Post and Courier. August 16, 1884.