Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Eng and Chang Bunker

The next stop, just outside of Mount Airy, may surprise those of you who aren’t familiar with two of our most famous citizens. No, not Andy Griffith. He and his TV show have been done to death in Mount Airy. You can have lunch at the Snappy Lunch, have your hair cut at Floyd the Barber, blah, blah, blah. I’m just not that interested in an almost 50 year TV program.

No, TB and I went to see Eng and Chang Bunker’s grave on the outskirts of town. Eng and Chang were the original Siamese Twins.

Eng and Chang were born in the village of Samutsongkram, Siam (now Thailand) on May 11, 1811. Eng and Chang Bunker were connected at the chest by a cartilaginous band of flesh. On April 1, 1829, the twins left Siam and began a career traveling with two agents, Robert Hunter, a British merchant, and Abel Coffin, an American sea captain. Eng and Chang earned money by making appearances throughout the United States, Canada, South America, and Europe. In their far-flung travels, Eng and Chang became such popular celebrities during the 1830s that their promotion as "Siamese Twins" were terms that became synonymous with connected or conjoined twins.

In 1832, they fulfilled their contracts and declared their independence from their agents. By the late 1830s, Eng and Chang tired of all their traveling and opted to settle in North Carolina. There, the brothers married sisters, Adelaide and Sarah Yates. The sisters were the daughters of Nancy and David Yates, Quakers from Wilkes County. The couples were married on April 13, 1843 and produced 22 children between the two families. They moved to White Plains, just west of Mount Airy, in 1845. They were successful farmers and good citizens. They split their time between the two families with a rigidly followed system of three days in one house followed by three days in the other with each being the master in his home. They observed this without exception until they died on January 17, 1874, at the age of 62.

Some interesting facts about Eng and Chang Bunker (from the Surry County Arts Council website):

  • That in 1839, Eng and Chang Bunker were the first Asians to become citizens of this country. They took the name Bunker from their close friends Fred and William Bunker who lived in New York City. They were such close friends that at one time, Chang had bequeathed all his estate to their sister, Catharine Bunker.
  • That Eng and Chang were excellent fishermen, expert in the use of firearms, excellent performers on the flute, excellent with tools and construction, and above average in intellect.
  • They had sons who fought in the Confederate army. Eng and Chang opened their homes to weary and hungry Confederate soldiers.
  • They were the first Buddhists to enter this country.
  • They brought the first Siamese Buddhist text into this country.
  • They remain the only conjoined twins to have children.
  • They lived to be 62 years old, longer than any other conjoined twins.
  • That Chang died first on January 17, 1874 and Eng died several hours later.
  • That their last living child, Robert E. Bunker (named after Robert E. Lee), died on January 25, 1951.

Photograph of Chang and Eng Bunker circa 1865 taken by Mathew Brady.
On the right is Chang, his wife Adelaide, and their son Patrick Henry;
on the left is Eng, his wife Sarah, and their son Albert


Anyes said...

Such a different life, thank you Karen

frayedattheedge said...

How fascinating - what a wonderful story (but I don't want to think about them fathering all those children!)

Karen said...

Anyes: Interesting to discover that they found a home in North Carolina, isn't it?

Anne: A wonderful story about them, but, no, I don't even want to go there. It has quite a yuck factor, I think.