In 1851, Millie and Christine McKoy were born. They were Black pygopagus conjoined twins, singers, and actresses.

Millie and Christine (the “Carolina Twins”) were born in Whiteville, North Carolina, to Jacob and Monemia McKoy, who Jabez McKay enslaved. Before the sisters’ birth, their mother had given birth to seven other children, five boys and two girls, all of regular size and form. The twins were conjoined at the lower spine and stood at an approximately 90-degree angle to each other.

The twins were sold to South Carolinian John C. Pervis at ten months of age. Pervis and McKay reached an agreement where Pervis exhibited the girls for pay and then paid a percentage to McKay. Fourteen months after the original sale, they were sold to a showman, Brower, who had the backing of a wealthy merchant named Joseph Pearson Smith. Brower exhibited the twins at North Carolina’s first state fair in 1853. They were called “freaks of nature.”

However, the North Carolina State Fair was a success for Brower and the Carolina Twins. Brower was cheated by a Texas adventurer, who offered land worth an estimated $45,000 as a purchase price for the twins. Brower accepted, sent the twins to the Texan, and waited several days for the deeds before realizing he had been tricked. Brower returned to North Carolina to relate the loss to Joseph Pearson Smith. Since Brower was left destitute, Smith was given the promissory note and was now the owner of the Carolina Twins. Several managers handled Millie and Christine before being reclaimed by Smith in Britain in 1857.

Before their emancipation, the girls had been shown in fairs and freak shows in several U.S. cities and Canada. Smith traveled to Britain to collect the girls from their mother, Monemia. He and his wife provided the twins with an education and taught them to speak five languages, dance, play music, and sing. During their time in Britain, they met Queen Victoria. The Emancipation Proclamation ended their slave status, and they were no longer anyone’s property. The twins enjoyed a successful career as “The Two-Headed Nightingale” for the rest of the century and appeared with the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey circus.

In 1869, a biography on the twins, titled History and Medical Description of the Two-Headed Girl, was sold during public appearances. Joanne Fish Martell, the former court reporter, discovered a memoir by the girls at 17 and used that and other sources to create her book Millie-Christine: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, published in 2000. The twins’ motto was “As God decreed, we agreed,” and they strove to turn impediments into assets. As toddlers, they were clumsy and fell frequently. They eventually developed a sideways walk that turned into a crowd-pleasing dance style. They were able to master keyboard duets with one soprano and one alto voice and learned to harmonize. They went by the stage names “The Carolina Twins,” “The Two-Headed Nightingale,” and “The Eighth Wonder of the World .”

The twins traveled worldwide, performing songs and dances for entertainment, overcoming years of slavery, forced medical observations, and forced participation in fairs and freak shows. When they were in their 30s, the twins moved back to the farm where they were born, which their father had bought from Jabez McKay and left to them. On October 8, 1912, Millie and Christine died at age 61 of tuberculosis; Christine died 12 hours after her sister. They were buried in unmarked graves, but in 1969 they were moved to a cemetery in Whiteville. Engraved on their tombstone were these words: “A soul with two thoughts. Two hearts that beat as one.” (African American Registry, 2023)

By osibanews

Eliel Otote A is an Actor and Filmmaker, with a bias for journalism. He was a freelance feature writer with the Nigerian Observer in the 80's in Benin City, he also presented programmes on both radio and television. Eliel is the Editor and Publisher of OSIBAnews Network Magazine, of which this blog is an affiliate.

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