Millie and Christine McKoy were conjoined twins who toured the world as "The Carolina Twins" and the "Two-Headed Nightingale" during the 19th century. The children of slaves, Millie and Christine spent time working for P.T. Barnhum as human oddities but were able to transcend that label and achieve international fame. As the only African-American conjoined twins of their time, they received attention from royalty, doctors, and audiences alike, while being poked, prodded and gawked at for their entire lives. Their tragic end, however, may be the most heart-wrenching part of their story.
Millie and Christine were born to Monimia (a Native American) and Jacob McKay (an African) in 1851. Monimia and Jacob were slaves in Welches Creek, NC, owned by a blacksmith named Jabez McCay. Millie and Christine were Monimia and Jacob's eight and ninth children. Millie and Christine were joined at the pelvis and the lower spine, but they each had two arms, two legs, and their own vital organs.
One doctor described their anatomy, although he used language intimating they were just one person, indicating: "Millie-Christine was united at the lateral, posterior portion of the pelvis, the sacrum and the coccyx joined, the lower part of the spinal cord united."
Millie and Christine's mother, Monemia, showed her children to their owner Jabez McKay, who quickly took the opportunity to make money off of their anatomy. The twins could never be workers for him, so McKay sold the twins and their mother to South Carolinian showman John Pervis for $1,000 when the children were just eight months old.
Pervis began putting Millie and Christine on display immediately and gave McKay a percentage of the profits. Pervis sold the twins within two years, however, to Brower, a showman funded by merchant Joseph Pearson Smith.
After their initial purchase as babies, Millie and Christine changed hands several times before they were 10 years of age. Once John Pervis sold them to Brower and Smith in 1853, they appeared at the North Carolina State Fair as well as numerous road shows as "The Carolina Twins." Only a couple of years later, Millie and Christine were kidnapped from a show in New Orleans, after which they were put on display at P.T. Barnum's American Museum in New York City.
In 1855, Millie and Christine were acquired by W. J. L. Millar, a former professor who became a showman. Millar exhibited the twins in Canada, continental Europe, and England, where Joseph Pearson Smith was able to locate them. Some accounts indicate Pearson Smith had been aware of the girls' location, but lost track of them around the time Millar began showing them, despite actively searching for his investment.
Once Joseph Pearson Smith found Millie and Christine in England, he gathered up their mother, Monimia, and crossed the Atlantic to reclaim them. By this point, slavery was illegal in England, and Pearson Smith faced a legal battle if he was going to get the girls back. He sued for custody and was allowed to retrieve his property but, technically, they were released back to their mother.