Originally from Siam but later residents of Surry County, Eng and Chang Bunker became the reference for the medical condition when twins are conjoined. Born in 1811, the two were joined together at the chest by a thin band of flesh and remained that way until their 1874 death.
After seeing the twins in Siam, Scottish trader Robert Hunter purchased them from their parents. In cooperation with American captain and trader Abe Coffin, Hunter emarked on a business plan. For a passage to the United States, he insured the twin’s lives, and once in America, Hunter rented rooms across the nation to exhibit the Siamese twins. Eng and Chang later worked for P.T. Barnum during the mid-1830s. They were not part of Barnum’s circus; rather they were separate exhibits and were showcased in theatres.
While on tour, Eng and Chang stopped in Wilkesboro, North Carolina and fell in love with the Piedmont landscape. No doubt tired of being spectacles the two wanted to settle down and live normal lives. They moved to North Carolina, owned and operated a store, and then worked as farmers.
The North Carolina years were more than likely the happiest days in Eng and Chang Bunkers lives. In 1839, the two became American citizens (and adopted the name of a bystander, Fred Bunker), and in 1843 Eng married Adelaide Yates and Chang married Sarah Yates. The couples resided in Surry County. There, Eng and Chang built two houses (one for each wife). The twins spent three days at Adelaide’s house and then three days at Sarah’s house (one day, probably Sunday, was spent together as a large extended family). Eng fathered ten children and Chang twelve.
Civil War exigencies and circumstances depleted Eng and Chang’s finances. So they rejoined P.T. Barnum’s show; however, they were unable to earn pre-war profits. During this time, they started inquiring whether they an operation might successfully separate them. In 1871, Chang suffered a stroke. Although he recovered, his health started failing him. In 1874, after a period of bronchitis, Chang died in his sleep, and Eng died a few hours later. An autopsy revealed that Chang died from a cerebral clot while fright claimed Eng’s life; he had wondered constantly what might happen to him once his brother passed.
The two are buried at White Plains Baptist Church in Surry County.
Jack Claiborne and William Price, eds., Discovering North Carolina: A Tar Heel Reader (Chapel Hill, 1991) and H.G. Jones, Scoundrels, Rogues, and Heroes of the Old North State (Charleston, SC, reprint, 2007).