The conjoined twin brothers whose condition and birthplace became the basis for the term “Siamese twins” were born today in 1811. Now WE know em

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Eng and Chang Bunker were born May 11, 1811 during the Siamese government of Siam (present day Thailand).

They were joined at the sternum by a small piece of cartilage. Their livers were fused but independently complete.

Because of their Chinese heritage (their mother was Chinese-Malay), they were at first known as the “Chinese Twins.”

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Eng (left) and Chang Bunker

Then in 1829, British merchant Robert Hunter “discovered” them and paid their family to let them be exhibited as a curiosity during a world tour.

Upon termination of their contract with Hunter, the brothers successfully went into business for themselves.

In 1839, while visiting Wilkesboro, North Carolina, the Bunker twins became attracted to the area and decided to settle on a 110-acre farm in nearby Traphill.

Later, the brothers became naturalized United States citizens.

Utilizing their condition and birthplace, the brothers listed themselves as ‘Chang and Eng, Siamese Twins.’

Determined to start living a normal life, the Bunker brothers adopted the singular name “Bunker”.

On April 13, 1843, they married identical twin sisters: Chang married Adelaide Yates and Eng married Sarah Anne Yates.

The two married couples shared a bed built for four and would have a total of 21 children.

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A well-known 1865 portrait of the Bunkers, seated between their wives; two sons (Patrick and Albert) are seated at their fathers’ feet. The photo was taken by Civil War photographer Mathew Brady.

This made their respective children double first cousins. In addition, because Chang and Eng were identical twins, their children were genetically equivalent to half-siblings, thus making them genetically related in the same manner as half-siblings who are also first cousins.

Over time, the twin sister wives squabbled and eventually two separate households were set up – the twin brothers would alternate between wives every three days.

During the American Civil War Chang’s son Christopher and Eng’s son Stephen both fought for the Confederacy. Chang and Eng lost part of their property as a result of the war, and became very bitter.

After the war, the Siamese twins resorted to public exhibitions once more, promoting themselves as the “United Brothers.”

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This time, however, their tour garnered little success.

In 1870 during a transatlantic voyage, Chang was stricken by a debilitating stroke, and was paralyzed along the right side of his body forcing his brother Eng to be his physical support.

Then in early January of 1874, Chang contracted a severe case of bronchitis.

On the morning of January 17,1874, Eng woke to find his brother dead.

Eng refused a plea to be separated from his brother.

He died some three hours later.

An autopsy indicated that Chang died due to a blood clot in the brain; and Eng’s death was attributed to shock.

Eng’s widow died on April 29, 1892 and Chang’s widow died on May 21, 1917.

Legacy

The fused liver of the Bunker brothers was preserved and is currently on display at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Numerous artifacts of the twins, including some of their personal artifacts and their travel ledger, are displayed in the North Carolina Collection Gallery in Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; this includes the original watercolor portrait of Chang and Eng from 1836.

Watercolor painting of Chang (right) and Eng Bunker (left), circa 1836

Watercolor painting of Chang (right) and Eng Bunker (left), circa 1836

 

Later Mark Twain would write a short story, The Siamese Twins.

In 2000, the best-selling and multiple-award-winning novel Chang and Eng was published by Darin Strauss and based on the life of the famous Bunker twins.

The film rights to the novel were purchased by award-winning filmmaking team Gary Oldman and Douglas Urbanski. Oldman is currently working on the screenplay and will also direct.

Chang and Eng Bunker’s descendants – including several sets of non-conjoined twins – now number more than 1,500.

Many of their descendants continue to reside in the vicinity of Mt. Airy and descendants of both brothers continue to hold joint reunions.

Two hundred descendants reunited in Mount Airy in July 2011 for the two hundredth birthday of the twins, which was the twenty-second annual reunion.

Now WE know em

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