Skip to Content

The Life and Travels of Millie Christine McCoy

Color advertisement for show including Mille Christine McCoy performance

Millie Christine McCoy performed around the world until retiring in the late 1800s.

Born Enslaved

Images of a carte-de-visite photograph of conjoined twins Millie and Christine McCoy.

Millie Christine McCoy, ca.1870s

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.

Images of a carte-de-visite photograph of conjoined twins Millie and Christine McCoy.

Millie Christine McCoy, ca.1870s

Kidnapped in New Orleans

Painting showing the city of New Orleans

New Orleans, 1852

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.

Painting showing the city of New Orleans

New Orleans, 1852

Smuggled to Philadelphia

Painting showing downtown museum street

Colonel Wood's museum in Chicago, mid 1860s. The museum was located at Clark and Dearborn streets.

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.

Painting showing downtown museum street

Colonel Wood's museum in Chicago, mid 1860s. The museum was located at Clark and Dearborn streets.

P.T. Barnum Museum

Black and white photograph of PT Barnum Museum on a busy street

P.T. Barnum Museum in New York City, 1858

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.

Black and white photograph of PT Barnum Museum on a busy street

P.T. Barnum Museum in New York City, 1858

Photograph of two rows of performers from the P.T. Barnum Museum

William Henry Johnson (back row, second from the left), the Muse Brothers (back row, third from left and right) and other performers of the Barnum and Ringling Brothers Circus, 1924

Touring Europe

Lithograph showing an aerial view of the fair in Liverpool

Image of a festival in Liverpool, 1849

Image of handwritten letter signed by Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson Smith requesting the return of Millie Christine, 1855

Image of typed advertisement to see Millie Christine

Broadside advertising Millie Christine in Edinburgh

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.

Lithograph showing an aerial view of the fair in Liverpool

Image of a festival in Liverpool, 1849

Image of handwritten letter signed by Joseph Pearson

Joseph Pearson Smith requesting the return of Millie Christine, 1855

Image of typed advertisement to see Millie Christine

Broadside advertising Millie Christine in Edinburgh

Continued Enslavement

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.

Touring the United States

Black and white photograph of Routh Goshen wearing a military style outfit

Routh Goshen, born Arthur James Caley, lived at PT Barnum's museum at the same time as Millie Christine. Standing at 7 feet, 11 inches, he was advertised as the tallest man in the world.

Black and white photograph of Millie and Christina

Millie Christine, 1866

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.

Black and white photograph of Routh Goshen wearing a military style outfit

Routh Goshen, born Arthur James Caley, lived at PT Barnum's museum at the same time as Millie Christine. Standing at 7 feet, 11 inches, he was advertised as the tallest man in the world.

Black and white photograph of Millie and Christina

Millie Christine, 1866

Millie Christine Perform for the Queen

Portrait of Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria, 1866

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.

Portrait of Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria, 1866

Painting of the exterior of the The Ciniselli Circus building

The Ciniselli Circus building in St. Petersburg, 1877

Expanding Their Audience

Black and white photograph of Paris Opera House

Paris Opera House, ca. 1860s

Black and white photograph of Munich Opera House

Munich Opera House, ca. 1860-1890s

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.

Black and white photograph of Paris Opera House

Paris Opera House, ca. 1860s

Black and white photograph of Munich Opera House

Munich Opera House, ca. 1860-1890s

Touring the West

Black and white photograph of the Loop

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."

Black and white photograph of the Loop
Image of typed advertisement for Millie Christine

Advertisement for Millie Christine as part of the Inter-Ocean Rail Tour

Homecoming

Photograph of Millie Christine on card

Millie Christine McCoy, ca. 1890s

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.

Photograph of Millie Christine on card

Millie Christine McCoy, ca. 1890s