Chang and Eng Bunker were known as the original Siamese twins. Born in 1811, Chang and Eng were raised in a small fishing village where they led somewhat normal early lives. So why were they called Siamese twins? Most conjoined twins born in that era did not survive very long, so the fact that Chang and Eng survived long enough to travel around the world made them unique. They were born in the Kingdom of Siam, now Thailand, which is where the term "Siamese" comes from.
Although they shared bodies, like the famous conjoined twins Daisy and Violet Hilton, the Bunker twins didn't let that hold them back from leading normal lives. They performed shows for years before settling down to try to live out their days as "southern gentlemen." Chang and Eng were talented and natural showmen, but they were also dedicated fathers and husbands with their own personalities and interests. Their lives were filled with fascinating twists and turns, and their legacy lives on in museums, monuments, and the phrase they coined, "Siamese twins."
As Chang and Eng grew, their mother encouraged them to exercise and stretch their connecting band as much as they could to give them more mobility. Chang and Eng were quite active and could do much of the same activities that other children could, like swimming and running. Doctors who studied them saw that both boys could feel a pin prick in the center of the band, but as they moved the pin to one side, only one twin would feel it. Chang and Eng could also feel when the other was being tickled, and could taste whenever the other twin ate something sour.
When they were in their early teens, their main role in life was helping their family sell preserved duck eggs in a small fishing village. One day, British merchant Robert Hunter spotted the boys swimming in a river and initially thought they were a strange animal. Although King Rama III wanted to keep the twins in Siam, Hunter was eventually able to bribe him over a span of five years into letting the boys go West.
The twins spent about a decade performing around the United States and England. They were skilled performers, able to do flips and other physical feats like picking up very heavy objects. As much as they impressed the public, their reception was not always warm. Some people had concerns in those days before scientific progress, that simply seeing the conjoined twins would have a negative effect on "women of childbearing age." One woman from Kentucky gave birth to stillborn conjoined twins and "claimed she had seen numerous representations of the twins in newspaper advertisements around the time she conceived her children, which affected her imagination.”
Chang and Eng's father died when the boys were still quite young, so when their mother was offered $500 to contract the boys into Robert Hunter's care for 30 months, it was a smart decision for their family. Once the twins became legal adults, they were actually making some money from performing. Eventually, they saved a small fortune and built up their own little homestead in North Carolina. Because they were legally considered "white" in the United States, they were able to purchase a few dozen slaves to run it.