Siamese Twins

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

The original “Siamese twins” were a pair of conjoined twins, Chang and Eng Bunker, who were born on May 11, 1811 in Siam (now Thailand), in the province of Samutsongkram, to a Chinese fisherman (Ti-eye) and a half-Chinese/half-Malay mother (Nok).

They were joined at the sternum by a small piece of cartilage; modern surgeons would have easily separated the two.

In 1829, they were discovered by a British merchant named Robert Hunter, and he went on to exhibit them as a curiosity during a world tour.

Here’s where the story gets particularly odd:

Upon termination of their contract with their discoverer, they successfully went into business for themselves. In 1839, while visiting Wilkesboro, North Carolina, the twins were attracted to the town and settled there, becoming naturalized United States citizens.

Determined to start living a normal life as much as possible, the brothers settled on a plantation, bought slaves, and adopted the name “Bunker”. On April 13, 1843, they married two sisters: Chang to Adelaide Yates and Eng to Sarah Anne Yates. Chang and his wife had 10 children; Eng and his wife had 11. In time, the wives squabbled and eventually two separate households were set up just west of Mount Airy, North Carolina in the community of White Plains – the twins would alternate spending three days at each home. During the American Civil War Chang’s son Christopher and Eng’s son Stephen both fought for the Confederacy. The twins died on the same day in 1874. Chang, who had been in declining health for several years, died first; Eng died one hour later.

In fact, the Bunker clan has more branches than a loblolly pine:

Their descendants — some 1,500 — have scattered across the country, but many still live in Mount Airy, a town of 8,000 north of Winston-Salem, where the slow roll of the Piedmont plateau lifts to the Blue Ridge Mountains.

(Hat tip to Yana.)

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