The Lives of Chang and Eng: Siam's Twins in Nineteenth-Century America

By Joseph Andrew Orser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THREE
The Connected Twins

In 1839, Chang and Eng retired to a small, rural community in northwestern North Carolina. In Wilkes County, the Piedmont ran out of real estate and the Blue Ridge rose in its place. Streams with their origins in the mountains that ringed Wilkes to the north, west, and south fed the county’s major waterway, the Yadkin River, which in turn nourished a fertile landscape. On respectable farms, men of influence produced healthy quantities of tobacco, wheat, rye, oats, and, especially, corn. In the forests, early settlers of the state’s western lands could hunt pheasant and venison, squirrels and bear. And at home, these men, pioneers of their state’s expansion and veterans of their nation’s struggle for independence, wished they could rest assured that their homes and their families would prosper, that the Upper Yadkin would continue to deserve the name “Happy Valley.” Alas, they could not.1

Wilkes County was established with the birth of the nation and had been peopled in large part by veterans of wars with the British and Indians, attracted by the wild beauty and natural resources of the land, and their families. By the late 1830s, however, the residents of Wilkes County were experiencing an extended period of diminishing economic opportunities. In this, Wilkes was not unlike much of the Carolina Piedmont and indeed much of the southern seaboard, which saw thousands of young families migrate to the Old Southwest between 1810 and 1860. Even when compared with neighboring counties, however, opportunity for Wilkes County residents—in agriculture, manufacturing, education, and a host of other indicators—seemed to lie elsewhere.2

But for the Siamese brothers Chang and Eng—and for the Irish-born Charles Harris—Wilkes County offered opportunity. For much of the previous ten years, life for these three had consisted either of traveling from small town to small town, always strangers or outsiders, or of spending months in large cities, most regularly New York, trekking daily from boardinghouse to exhibition hall. The northern United States, gripped in the early years

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The Lives of Chang and Eng: Siam's Twins in Nineteenth-Century America
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction - The Monster Now before Us 1
  • Chapter One - In and Chun 9
  • Chapter Two - Under Their Own Direction 37
  • Chapter Three - The Connected Twins 76
  • Chapter Four - Asiatic Americans 105
  • Chapter Five - Southern Curiosities 147
  • Chapter Six - Over Their Dead Bodies 174
  • Epilogue - The Past Rears Its Head 193
  • Notes 203
  • Bibliography 243
  • Index 253
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