Documenting the American South Logo
Collections >> North American Slave Narratives, The North Carolina Experience >> Document Menu >> Summary

Millie-Christine, 1851-1912
The History of the Carolina Twins: Told in "Their Own Peculiar Way" By "One of Them"
[Buffalo]: Buffalo Courier Printing House, [18--?].


Twin sisters Millie and Christine McKoy (sometimes called Millie-Christine McKoy) were born into slavery in Columbus County, North Carolina, in 1851. Conjoined at birth, Millie and Christine were connected at the lower spine and shared one pelvis, but each sister had two arms and two legs. Both sisters—as well as their parents, Jacob and Monemia—were owned by a blacksmith named Jabez McKay, and the twins later adopted the slightly modified "McKoy" as their own last name. 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. During this period, one of the showmen charged with exhibiting the twins stole them away from Smith and took them to England. 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.

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. The twins used these skills when they were again exhibited, this time as the "Two Headed Girl" or the "Two Headed Nightingale." 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. Throughout their career and retirement, Millie and Christine gave financial support to black schools and churches. 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.

It is unknown exactly what year The History of the Carolina Twins was published. Scholar Joan Martell, who has written a biography of the twins, claims that the sisters wrote their autobiography when they were seventeen and published it as a pamphlet titled History and Medical Description of the Two-Headed Girl in 1869. The undated History of the Carolina Twins appears to be an exact reprint of the autobiographical portion this text, but it lacks the 1869 pamphlet's medical description, in which a physician describes his study of the twins' anatomy.

While authorship of the undated History of the Carolina Twins is credited to just one of the twins, its narrative is written in the first-person plural and opens with the twins' claim that they are "the greatest natural curiosities the world has ever had sent upon its surface" (p. 5). They go on to describe their birth (claiming they were born in 1852), noting that the woman who helped birth them couldn't tell at first whether they were a child or "something else" (p. 6).

They describe their kidnapping without ever naming the showman who stole them away from Smith and argue that it was Monemia's clearly evident "tenderness for us, her little deformities," that enabled Smith to win his court case in England (p. 10). After the trial, the twins return home to North Carolina, where they find their "'white ma,' Mrs. Smith" waiting for them (p. 14). Millie and Christine credit Mrs. Smith with instructing them in the Christian faith. After Mr. Smith dies, the twins declare their devotion to Mrs. Smith, who gives them part of the proceeds from their work. They declare, "Where she goes there will we go; where she tarries there will we halt," saying that they hope to "imitate that deep devotion which Ruth evinced toward Naomi" (p. 16).

The text goes on to reprint a song performed by the twins, as well as several articles and letters, including a letter from a newspaper editor impressed with the twins' "peculiar delicacy, modesty and ingeniousness" (p. 17). There is also a letter from five Philadelphia physicians who examined the twins and certified that their conjoined anatomy was not a hoax. At the end of the narrative, the sisters address the question of whether they are one person or two, writing, "Although we speak of ourselves in the plural we feel as but one person; in fact as such we have ever been regarded, although we bear the names Millie and Christina" (p. 20). The narrative then goes on to say that they "would not wish to be severed, even if science could effect a separation" because they "have but one heart, one feeling in common, one desire, one purpose" (p. 20).

Documenting the American South has also published another account of the life of Millie and Christine McKoy.

Works Consulted: Keene, Ann T., "Millie and Christine McKoy," in American National Biography, online database (Oxford University Press, September 2005), (accessed August 9, 2007); Martell, Joanne, Millie-Christine: Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2000; Millie-Christine, History and Medical Description of the Two-Headed Girl, Stanford, CT: Alton Vexierbild Co., 1976, First published 1869 by Warren Johnson.

Harry Thomas

Document menu