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Enslaved couple Monemia and Jacob McKoy lived in North Carolina in the mid-19th century. In 1851, Monemia — already the mother of 7 children — gave birth to conjoined twins Millie and Christine.
While all enslaved parents lived with a constant fear of being separated from their children at the auction block, that threat was more pronounced for the McKoys because Millie and Christine were considered “genealogical wonders.”
The girls each had their own limbs but were joined at the pelvis.
The sisters’ unusual anatomy began to attract curious visitors almost immediately after their birth, and when the sisters were ten months old, McKay sold them for $1,000 to a showman interested in exhibiting them.
Millie and Christine eventually ended up in the possession of Joseph Pearson Smith, who hired them out to various road shows, where they were billed as “The Carolina Twins.”
By the age of three, they were appearing in P.T. Barnum’s famed American Museum in New York City.
Smith’s wife taught Millie and Christine how to read, write, sing, dance, and play the piano; she also taught them to deliver recitations in German and French.
During this period, one of the showmen charged with exhibiting the twins stole them away from Smith and took them to England.
Monemia McKoy fought endlessly to find her girls
Smith eventually found the girls in England and, with Monemia at his side, sued to regain custody of them.
He won this suit, and the sisters returned to Wadesboro, North Carolina, where Smith had relocated the girls’ parents and siblings.
“In a staggering act of Black motherhood, Monemia travelled there, along with the girls’ owner and a detective,” wrote Drs. Berry and Gross in their book. “The three bought tickets where the 6-year-old twins were scheduled to perform. When Monemia was reunited with her daughters in the front row, she fainted.”
Following this reunion in the late 1850’s, the court in Birmingham, England, granted full maternal rights to Monemia.
Monemia and her daughters returned to the US where the twins received an education and continued to perform throughout the world.
“The Carolina Twins” were inseparable from their land and community
Records show the twins were eventually able to purchase the property where they were born, providing housing for their parents and siblings.
Throughout their career and retirement, Millie and Christine also gave financial support to Black schools and churches.
After Emancipation, the twins decided to remain with the Smiths. They continued to appear widely for nearly thirty years.
In the summer of 1871 they again traveled to England, where they performed for Queen Victoria, who presented the pair with diamond hairclips.
In the 1880s, the sisters joined Barnum’s traveling circus, but they retired to Columbus County at the end of the decade.
When Millie died of tuberculosis in October 1912, doctors gave Christine morphine to help end her life quickly and painlessly. Still, some accounts say that Christine outlived her twin by as many as 17 hours.
Information in this article was gathered via UNC Chapel Hill: Documenting the American South.