- Historic Sites
Never Alone At Last
World-famous as medical curiosities, the original Siamese twins married, brought up families, and, as American citi'/ens, became prosperous planters in the Old South
August 1962 | Volume 13, Issue 5
If the pushing, shoving, and curious stares of the crowds and the thumping and probing of the doctors disturbed the brothers, they certainly were not displeased by the money which poured in. All of it belonged to them once they had reached the age of twenty-one and had dispensed with the services of their “owner,” Hunter. By 1833, they had amassed a fortune of some $60,000, and they decided to retire. After a little more than four years as famous freaks, they were world-renowned. They had not only advertised Siam, but they also constituted about all the civilized world knew of their homeland.
They returned to the United States, cut off the queues they had earlier worn, and became both naturali/ed American citizens and Baptists. They assumed the surname of Bunker. According to one story, they took it from a bystander at the immigration office when they were told they must have a family name. Another version is that they adopted the name Bunker (North Carolina corruption of Bon Coeur) from a friend in that state. At any event, when they settled there, the legislature allowed them to take the name.
They made their home near the town of Mt. Airy in Surry County, in the northwestern part of the state, and soon established themselves as prosperous and competent farmers. They were welcomed there. Tired of travel, they found the forested hill country appealing. It was no tidewater area of settled gentility but more like the frontier, a place in which men noted that with their four arms the twins made “excellent hands to carry up the corner of a loghouse” (as their authorized literary promoter put it). Each of them could use an axe at the same time without interfering with the other. Sometimes they swung one axe with all arms. With two axes they could cut from the opposite sides of a tree, bringing it down in short order.
Because they were “sensitive” men “disposed to shun observation,” they “selected so retired a portion of the country for their residence.” But they were hardly recluses. They had learned to speak English well by the time they arrived in North Carolina—perhaps from answering the questions of the curious who examined them. They had also learned the value of the dollar. With their savings they acquired a plantation with slaves and livestock. Later, after their marriages, they built a house in Mt. Airy itself so that their children might be near a school. Their back-country neighbors regarded them as “remarkable for their energy and industry” and their frugal manner of living. Those neighbors learned, too, that “in point of shrewdness in a trade” the twins were a match for anyone. In business deals, they were always partners and “in signing papers, one always signed for both.”
Though retired, the twins did not relish a life of inactivity. Excellent judges of horseflesh, they could tame the wildest colts. They could do more actual labor than any four slaves. Still, despite their disposition to shun the vulgar curiosity of crowds, both Chang and Eng were friendly, even gregarious, neighbors in the back country. Familiarity made them seem less freakish there. Respect for them grew after they killed a marauding wolf, known far and wide as “Bobtail,” which had terrorized the region by carrying off not only sheep, calves, and swine but, it was said, Negro babies as well.
The brothers became, like their neighbors, inveterate smokers and chewers of tobacco. They were regular attendants at church and other religious meetings. They joined their neighbors in fishing, hunting, and games—and while they played chess and draughts “tolerably well,” they got no enjoyment from playing each other. They joined in the lively interest of Carolinians in politics and took part in all elections in their district; it is not in the record as to whether they agreed or disagreed on political matters. Yet the Siamese strangers in Carolina sometimes quarreled with each other so violently that once they begged their family physician, Dr. Joseph Hollingsworth, to cut them apart, even if it killed them. As time went on, Chang grew more irritable and more attached to the bottle.
In 1853, after nearly twenty years of busy retirement, the twins took to the road again, announcing “their intention of exhibiting themselves once more, during a very brief period, after which it is their firm determination to take their final retirement from public life.” Possibly a little traveling circus which passed by their property—the sight of an elephant trudging through back-country Carolina set all the dogs howling—made them long for the excitements of the tent and the museum.
More probably marriage and growing families made it necessary. Ultimately Chang had ten children by his Adelaide. Eng had twelve by his Sarah Ann. As family men, they were much respected in the Carolina hills. Their descendants are today wellregarded citizens of North Carolina; one great-greatgrandson, a banker, still carries the friendly nickname “Chink.” (The roster of their scions has also included a president of the Union Pacific Railroad and a major general in the U.S. Air Force.)
There are no records upon which to base speculation about the conjugal relations of Chang, Eng, Adelaide, and Sarah Ann. Obviously their relationship was always a triangle if not a foursome. Under such circumstances it is not too hard to understand the early report that “their collateral domestic life was unhappy.” The sister-wives quarreled, so that the brother-husbands were forced to maintain separate establishments. They made a firm pact that they would spend three days in one house and three days in the other. Perhaps on the seventh day they rested.