OAK ISLAND, N.C. — Understanding what Samuel Matthews had to say wasn’t the easiest thing in the world.
He spoke with a thick accent familiar to anyone who’s traveled through Eastern North Carolina, and his voice sounded as if he had just swallowed a handful of the sandy soil native to this end of the state. His cell phone connection wasn’t the greatest, either.
And he might have been drinking.
But when Matthews understood that I wanted to ask him about his relatives Millie-Christine McKoy, the “other” conjoined twins from North Carolina, his grumbly demeanor changed considerably for the better.
“Why didn’t you say so? They were right famous in their day,” he said.
Thought of as one person
Most everyone, particularly in our part of the state, has heard of Chang and Eng Bunker — the original “Siamese twins” made famous by P.T. Barnum’s traveling circus.
Not quite as well known were the McKoy sisters. According to the N.C. State Archives, Millie-Christine was born July 11, 1851, the eighth child of slaves belonging to a man named Jabez McKoy, a farmer whose plantation was about 10 miles from what is now Whiteville.
The twins, who thought of themselves as one person, were joined at the lower back and shared one pelvis. Millie-Christine had two hearts and two brains and could carry on conversations with two different people at the same time. Her mother, too, thought of Millie-Christine as one child and treated the twins as such.
Viewed as a curiosity, the girls were kidnapped twice before they were 6 years old. Jabez McKoy, the plantation owner, figured to capitalize on them and entered into an agreement with another landowner to split the proceeds.
Eventually, they enjoyed some measure of fame. Millie-Christine traveled to Europe, sang and recited poetry they wrote. They even had an audience with Queen Victoria when they traveled to England.
In their early 30s, the twins returned to Columbus County and settled on the farm where they were born after inheriting Jabez McKoy’s plantation from their father who had purchased it.
In 1911, Millie contracted tuberculosis and died a year later, on Oct. 8, 1912. Christine died 12 hours later.
Read more: Winston-Salem Journal