April 7, 2018

Pages 5193-5194
Whole Number 186

THE REV. COLBY SPARKS (ca.1801-ca.1869)

Most of our readers have doubtless heard of the "Siamese Twins," Chang and Eng, born in Siam (Thailand) in 1811, but we wonder how many know that the Rev. Colby Sparks, who was born in Wilkes County, North Carolina, in or ca. 1801, figured importantly in their lives. Your editor was reminded of this by an article about these famous twins in the April 1999 issue of Old News. It was the Rev. Colby Sparks, a Baptist minister of Trap Hill in Wilkes County, who was of some prominence in his day and who encouraged, and then performed, the marriage of the twins to sisters named Adelaide and Sarah Yates. Their unions resulted in a total of twenty-one children.

The Siamese Twins, whose mother's name was Nok, were born sometime in 1811, not far from the city of Bangkok. What made them famous, of course, was their being joined together at their lower chests by what is now believed to have been a band of ligament and muscle a few inches across. They probably did not share any vital organs, and today a surgeon could probably separate them without endangering the life of either one. In fact, when they were small, a surgeon in Bangkok had assured their mother that he could separate them safely, but she would not consent.

Adjusting to their handicap from infancy and stretching the band connecting them as they learned to walk, then run and jump, even to swim, the twins became remarkably mobile as a team. They were considered to be excellent fishermen. They also proved to be highly intelligent and came to realize their potential for making money through public exhibitions. At the age of 17, with the aid of a Bangkok merchant who took a personal interest in their well-being, they signed a.contract with an American sea captain named Abel Coffin to be brought to Boston for the launching of such a career. Paying their mother $500.00, Coffin agreed to pay the twins ten dollars per month for two years, then a monthly salary of fifty dollars until the age of twenty, when the contract would be completed. Although Abel Coffin became a rich man during the four years that he displayed the twins, not only in the United States but abroad as well, he seems not to have exploited them, and he abided by the terms of the contract

Upon reaching the age of twenty, the twins used their savings to launch their own career as entertainers, engaging the services of a man named Charles Harris to be their agent. by 1839, they had accumulated what amounted then to be a fortune, some $10,000. In their travels, the twins, as well as Harris, had decided to settle down in North Carolina, at a village called Trap Hill in Wilkes County. The twins purchased 150 acres of land there for $300 to become farmers, and they immediately began building a house. Their neighbors, though curious, accepted the strange pair into the community, and Harris soon fell in love with a local girl named Fanny Baugus.

Chang and Eng had always planned to return to Siam after they had made their fortune, but they had gradually become "Americanized," and it was also in 1839 that they chose to become citizens of the United States, adopting the surname Bunker. They were making good progress with their house building by the autumn of 1839 when they attended the wedding feast of their friend, Charles Harris, and his bride, Fanny, and it was there that they became acquainted with two sisters, Adelaide and Sarah Yates, daughters of a prosperous Wilkes County farmer named David Yates. Later, as they were passing the Yates farm, the twins were invited to come in the house to meet Adelaide and Sarah's mother, with whom Chang and Eng found they had something in common. Mrs. Yates was also a local curiosity--she weighed over 500 pounds and never left her home.

The courtship story of the Siamese Twins and the Yates girls, with Adelaide's attraction for Chang, but with Sarah's reluctance to consider marrying Eng, is long and complicated, with the girls' parents and friends strongly objecting to such a union. The Rev. Colby Sparks played an important role in this romance, not only in winning the eventual acceptance of David and Nancy Yates to the marriages, but he also managed to quiet a number of outraged local citizens. The twins even decided to risk death through surgical separation in order to achieve their hearts' desire, but in the end Caleb Sparks prevailed, and the double wedding took place on April 13, 1843. Because Mrs. Yates could not get through the front door of the Yates home, Sparks performed the marriages in her parlor.

It was agreed that each wife would have her own house, with the twins dividing their time between them, always three days in one, followed by three days in the other. During thirty-one years of marriage, there was a total of twenty-one children, fifteen of whom were living in January 1874 when the twin brothers died, Chang first with Eng following two hours later.

The Rev. Colby Sparks was the 12th and last child of John and Sarah (Shores) Sparks. Born in or ca. 1801, Colby married Sarah Pruitt in 1822, and they became the parents of nine children. He died in or ca. 1869. Colby was a great- great- grandson of 1.2 William Sparks, who died in 1709 in Queen Annes County, Maryland. (See the Quarterly of December 1955, Whole No. 12, pp. 97-104 for additional information on Colby and his branch of the Sparks family.)