By M. Swift
Known as the “The Carolina Twins” and “The Two-Headed Nightingale,” Millie and Christine McKoy were conjoined twins born slaves in Columbus County, NC in 1851. Owned by the blacksmith Jabez McKay, the McKoys resided on the McKay farm near Whiteville. The youngest of nine children, Christine and Millie were conjoined at the spine.
SOLD INTO THE CIRCUS
At just 10 months, McKay sold the twins to South Carolina promoter John C. Pervis. The agreement between the two was that McKay would get a cut of the pay from the shows. Over a year later, the McKoy twins were sold to another promoter by the name of Brower. From there, Brower and his patron Joseph Pearson Smith made a fortune displaying the children at North Carolina’s first state fair in 1853.
Seeing a chance to make more money from the McKoys, he sold them to a Texan who presented him with a chance at $45,000 in land—in today’s currency. As it would turn out, he would be conned after sending them off. Brower had to tell Smith about the sale and gave him the managerial rights to the McKoy twins.
After several years, Smith finally got Millie and Christine back in 1857. By now, the 6-year-olds had made it to England, a hot market for the sideshow part of the circus business at the time. Following the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, the twins were reunited with their mother Monemia and the Smith family gave them an education and classical music training.
LATER YEARS OF THE MCKOY TWINS
Millie and Christine continued performing in the circus—including P.T. Barnum’s circus—throughout the late 19th century. Their act including singing and playing instruments, hence the nickname “the Two-Headed Nightingale.” In the 1880s, the McKoy twins moved back to Whiteville to live on the farm they were born. Since they had left, their father purchased the farm from Jabez McKay.
The twins would until late 1912 when Millie contracted tuberculosis. After her death, Christine lingered for 12 hours before passing away.
M. Swift primarily writes on moments and important figures in Black history for Your Black World. He also writes heavily on wrestling, comics, gaming, and Black sci-fi and fantasy.