The Life and Travels of Millie Christine McCoy
Millie Christine McCoy performed around the world until retiring in the late 1800s.
Millie Christine McCoy were conjoined twins born enslaved in 1851 who were exhibited as young children at museums and sideshows. The McCoy Plantation was located in Columbus County, North Carolina, near the town of Whiteville. Jabez McKay sold the twins to John C. Pervis with the stipulation that their mother Monemia be allowed to accompany them. Sometime after September 1853 a deal was brokered with a new buyer, “Mr. Brower," who purchased the twins through a promissory note with Joseph Pearson Smith, of Wadesboro, North Carolina.
The twins performed while enslaved and after emancipation, eventually aging out of their former enslaver’s custody. As adults, the twins journeyed across the United States and Europe throughout the second half of the 19th century.
In October 1853, Millie Christine were exhibited at North Carolina’s first official State Fair which attracted 4,000 to 6,000 daily visitors. When the fair ended, Monemia returned to the plantation where she was enslaved, and Brower took the twins to New Orleans where they were verified as authentic conjoined twins by local medical doctors. While in New Orleans, the twins were kidnapped and did not reappear publicly until 1854.
In New Orleans, Brower was swindled by a man promising $45,000 for Millie Christine. Millie Christine reemerged in a museum in Philadelphia in 1854. The museum was operated by Colonel John H. Wood, a student of PT Barnum who went on to establish the Wood Museum in Chicago in the 1860s.
Around the same time, the twins' kidnappers placed them on display at P.T. Barnum's American Museum in downtown Manhattan. Barnum exhibited many other side-show performers, including African American performers like William Henry Johnson, billed as Zip the Pinhead, and George and Willie Muse, billed as Eko and Iko.
After appearing in Canada with William J.H. Millar, the twins were taken to Liverpool, England. At this point, they had been separated from their home in North Carolina for the vast majority of their young lives. A private investigator traced the girls to Europe, leading their mother Monemia and their enslaver, Joseph P. Smith to Liverpool on New Year's Day, 1857.
Millie Christine were reunited with their mother in Birmingham, England. They were about 5 and a half and had spent most of their life in the care of people who had kidnapped them. When Monemia was reunited with her daughters, they were put on display together in the United Kingdom. While touring in Scotland, Monemia gave birth to another daughter, Elvy.
In 1862, Joseph Smith, the twins' enslaver, died. Smith's estate included over 30 enslaved people, 12 of whom were sold at auction by Smith’s wife, Mary A. Smith, to cover his debts. Millie Christine continued to be enslaved by the Smith family. Joseph Smith Jr., along with his mother, Mary Smith, took over managing many of Millie Christine's travels.
After the Civil War, the twins performed in Baltimore, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and New York City. While in Baltimore and Philadelphia, the twins were examined by multiple doctors. In New York, Millie Christine again appeared at the P.T. Barnum Museum, this time with other performers like Routh Goshen, Anna Swan, and "General Grant Jr." Millie Christine also travelled with conjoined twins Chang and Eng Bunker.
Millie Christine toured New England in 1869. They spent time in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine. In 1870, Millie Christine and the Smiths traveled through the Midwest, performing in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, and Nebraska.
Millie Christine departed for their European tour after performing in Philadelphia and New York City. While in Philadelphia, the twins sought medical treatment and were subject to a medical photo by attending physician Dr. William Pancoast for his book Photographic Review of Medicine & Surgery. Their performances in New York City would be their last in the United States for seven years.
While in Great Britain the twins performed for Queen Victoria and her family, who gifted them diamond studded combs. The twins also attended the wedding of their fellow performers, Anna Swan and Martin Van Buren Bates, at St. Martin’s Church in London. Millie Christine performed around England until the end of 1872 before traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia to perform in Hinné's Circus.
Millie Christine began performing in Paris in 1874. While in France, many doctors sought to examine the twins, yet each time the twins refused. While performing in Tours, France, their dress caught fire but a fellow performer put it out, saving the twins' lives.
Millie Christine performed in Germany, Hungary, Holland, and Italy before returning to the United States. At the end of their trip, Millie Christine could speak French, Spanish, German and Italian.
The McCoy Twins arrived back in the Unites States after seven years abroad and performed at the Philadelphia Concert Hall in January 1879. Shortly after that, Millie Christine headed west for 18 months. The twins traveled with other popular circus acts from Pennsylvania to Texas and made stops in Chicago, St. Louis, San Antonio, and New Orleans as part of the Inter-Ocean Rail Tour.
Millie Christine toured the Western United States via “Rock Island Route,” a Western railway, immortalized in the song "Rock Island Line."
Though the twins continued to perform both in the United States and in the United Kingdom, the second half of the 1880s and the first half of the 1890s saw the twins touring less. They built a large, 14-room house in Columbus County, North Carolina where they had previously been enslaved. Millie Christine eventually retired to Whiteville, North Carolina.