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Wilkes: Bauguess, Bunker, Siamese Twins, Martin

December 26, 2020


Bauguess v. Martin

In April of 1868, Mary Bauguess and her daughter Melissa brought a suit before the Wilkes County Court of Equity against James O. Martin.  Their claim was that he was unfairly attempting to “eject” them from the 245 acres on which they lived in Traphill.  The land had previously been owned by Mary’s father and grandfather, and they had most recently bought it from the Siamese Twins, Eng and Chang Bunker.  This occurred at a time of economic uncertainty during and soon after the Civil War when the value of money was fluid.


Mary and Melissa’s Case

It was on 4/18/1868 that Mary and Melissa Bauguess, represented by Abraham C. Bryan, stated their case before the court.  Mary was 59, and Melissa was 34.  Abraham was 29 years old and part of a wealthy and influential family in the community.  He was not only their lawyer, but also Mary’s nephew.   Their families lived less than three miles from each other, along the southeastern edge of what is now Stone Mountain State Park.  In later court appearances, the case was handled by Abraham’s brother John Q. A. Bryan who was six years older.


The Bauguess ladies claimed they had bought 245 acres from Eng and Chang Bunker on 9/21/1855, and that they had lived there ever since then.  They paid the Bunkers in two bonds, one for $150 and another for $500.  The agreement was that they would pay off the balance in “their own time” while they continued to live there.  That’s quite a deal! 


The property was made up of six adjoining tracts that were purchased by the Bunkers between 1839 and 1844.  It was located on both sides of Longbottom Rd, and it must have included Old Roaring River Baptist Church and the cemetery.  Most of the property was east of the church and south of the road, however, neither landmark was mentioned in the early deeds or in the court case.


Approximate map of the 245 acres owned by Eng and Chang Bunker in 1844.


The largest of these adjoining tracts was 100 acres entered by Mary’s grandfather Richard Bauguess in 1791 and sold to him by the state.  It’s commonly stated that Richard’s first wife Nancy McCarty died soon after the family arrived in Wilkes County, and that she was one of the first buried in the old church cemetery about 1790.  That would make sense given that Richard owned land here.  Another tract was 50 acres entered by Mary’s father Robert Bauguess in 1801.


According to From Siam To Surry by Melvin Miles, when the Siamese Twins first arrived in Traphill with their manager Charles Harris, they rented two rooms in the home of Robert Bauguess.  Charles soon “took a liking” to Robert’s daughter Fanny, and they married in 1839.  It was at that wedding celebration that Eng and Chang Bunker met sisters Sally and Adelaide Yates, and four years later they were married on 4/13/1843.  The following year both couples had their first child.  By 1845 the twins moved away from Traphill to Surry County near Mt. Airy.  From this court case, it appears that the twins continued to own their Traphill homeplace for another ten years.  In 1855 they agreed to sell it to the daughter and granddaughter of the man who offered them a place to live when they first moved to the area.


Mary, or Polly, Bauguess was born in 1809, a daughter of Robert Bauguess.  She never married, but her daughter Melissa was born in 1834.  Mary and her daughter were still living with Mary’s father Robert in 1839 when the twins arrived with Charles Harris.  For weeks or perhaps months, they were all living under the same roof.  Even after Harris married Robert’s daughter and the twins started buying their own land, they were all living on adjoining property.  They were an extended family.  This helps to explain why the Bunkers, in 1855, would sell the land to Mary and Melissa Bauguess with essentially no conditions.  The Robert Bauguess family had been very good to them, and this was an opportunity to return the favor.


Abraham and John Q. A. Bryan were the nephews of Mary Bauguess.


Returning to Wilkes County court in 1868, Mary and Melissa stated that there were no payment terms on the $650 for purchasing the 245 acres, but they continued to make payments as they were able until December 1862.  That’s when they received a visitor at their house named James O. Martin.  Their claim in the court documents state that he arrived “professing to be their friend”.  He proposed that he would travel to the home of the Bunkers in Surry County and pay off the balance of the two bonds against the property.  He would take the title for himself, and whenever Mary and Melissa repaid him – along with costs for his expenses and trouble – he would reconvey the property to them.


Mary and Melissa stated that they were unsure how much they had already paid, but that it was likely between $300 and $400.  With a total cost of $650, even with interest, they had paid the twins about half of the cost already.  Upon agreement with Mr. Martin, the ladies gave him and additional $130 in bank bills toward the balance.  The following year, in the fall of 1863, they gave local doctor Tyre York $100 in Confederate bills for him to give to Mr. Martin.


Mary and Melissa further state that they now hold notes against Martin that are more than enough to pay the balance of what is due on the land.  They wish to settle the account and prevent him from ejecting them from the property.


Martin’s Response

It was over a year later on 12/16/1869 that they were again in court to hear the reply of James O. Martin as to the charges made against him.  In his response, he agreed that he did buy the land from the Bunkers by paying them the balance of what was due.  He says that his contract with the plaintiffs, Mary and Melissa, did not contain any agreement that they could “have their own time” to repay him.


The first page of James O. Martin’s response to the plaintiffs’ allegations.


He says that, contrary to their claim, he did not offer unsolicited help in December 1862 to pay off the balance of what was owed to the Bunkers.  He says the truth is that the Bunkers were pressing the plaintiffs for the money and threatening to turn them out of possession of the land.  The ladies had sent repeated messages to him to come to their relief, and that he did at last go to their house at their request.  After at first refusing, he eventually relented and agreed to take a deed for the land.  When they paid him back – with an additional amount for his trouble and expenses – he would sell the land to them.  Martin said he went to Surry County on 12/27/1862 where he paid the Bunkers the balance due.


He says that he took a deed when paying Eng Bunker, but he got no deed from Chang Bunker who refused to sign it.  This is curious because it seems like both owners, Eng and Chang, would have to agree to the sale in order for Martin to buy it.  But apparently Martin was able to work around that issue.  It’s also an interesting insight into Eng and Chang, themselves.  While it’s easy to think of them as one person, they clearly weren’t.  They each had a mind of their own, and they didn’t always agree.  I wonder if Chang refused to sign because he was wary of Martin’s true intentions.  If he was, then he was right to think so.


James Martin states that Eng signed over the deed, but Chang did not.


Martin further stated he agrees that Mary and Melissa did offer him $100 Confederate money in 1864 by way of Dr. York, but at that time the currency had significantly depreciated in value.  For that reason, he refused to take it.  He admits that he is attempting to remove them from the property for failure to pay.  He says that the ladies do not hold any notes against him.  (A “note” was an IOU on money borrowed by someone.)  However, he says that with the help of J. Q. A. Bryan, “they went around through the country and applied to several persons who held notes on defendant and borrowed said notes”.  This sounds like, perhaps, the community was rallying behind the Bauguess ladies and trying to help them hold onto their home and farm.  Neighbors provided their IOU’s against James Martin to Mary and Melissa to counter the notes that Martin held against them.  Not surprisingly, in his statement to the court, Martin objected to this practice.


The Decision

In the spring of 1870, the case was moved to Wilkes Superior Court.  In March 1871, the judge requested a deposition of Eng and Chang Bunker at their home in Surry County.  On 3/25/1871, J. W. Jackson, a Justice of the Peace, took the deposition of both brothers at the home of Eng Bunker.  They were each asked the same three questions, and they gave the same answers.


When asked what kind of money J. O. Martin paid when lifting the notes held against Mary and Melissa Bauguess for the land on which they live, the answer was that he paid all in Confederate money.


When asked if Martin explained what induced him to pay off the bonds or if Martin said anything else about his agreement with Mary and Melissa, they answered that Martin “said he had no interest, but did it to befriend Aunt Polly”.


When asked if Martin ever paid them any money other than that one time, they answered that he did not.  “I never saw him before nor since to my recollection.”


Eng Bunker’s answers in the deposition at his house in 1871.


The case was again before the Superior Court on 4/5/1871.  Bauguess attorney John Q. A. Bryan stated before the court that three years ago, soon before court began back in Spring 1868, he was present when A. Bryan (presumably his brother Abraham) asked the defendant Martin for a settlement.  “The defendant objected to taking any notes or papers then exhibited and stepped off, refused to settle.  The defendant admits the correctness after statement.”  Mr. Bryan is showing the court that the ladies had tried to settle with Martin in 1868, but that he was unwilling to do so, even getting angry and stomping off on one occasion. 


John Q. A. Bryan (1833-1905), attorney for Mary and Melissa Bauguess.


The judge arrived at a decision that was favorable to Mary and Melissa.  By the court’s calculation, Martin’s costs amounted to $359.24 which was due to him after paying the Bunkers for the deed.  The court also found that the plaintiffs held bonds against Martin in the amount of $360.58.  No evidence was offered to show when or how the plaintiffs obtained these notes, only that they did in fact have them.  While the defendant objected to the use of those bonds, that was not a matter for the court, and they were allowed as payment.  The judge’s final order was that Martin was not to interfere with Mary and Melissa’s possession of the land.  Martin was ordered to pay the court costs, another $10 to the commissioner, and to pay the “small balance due to plaintiffs”.  This “small balance” must be the $1.34 difference between Martin’s costs and the value of the collected bonds, and I imagine he paid that amount begrudgingly with clenched teeth!


After The Decision

After the 1871 decision, Mary and her daughter Melissa continued to live on the land.  Melissa married neighbor Winfrey Holbrook perhaps about 1873 when her daughter Myrtle was born.  The 1880 census lists Winfrey Holbrook (age 49), Sarah M. Holbrook (age 46, wife), Mary E. M. Holbrook (age 7, daughter Myrtle), and Mary Bauguess (age 67, mother-in-law) in the household.


Melissa Bauguess (1834-1926), daughter of Mary Bauguess.


Winfrey Holbrook died in 1882, leaving his widow Melissa with her elderly mother and young daughter Myrtle in charge of a large farm.  In 1883 the property began to be divided with the southwest 27 acres being sold to a Holbrook cousin J. S. Holbrook (DB 4, p350).  Melissa died in 1926 at the age of 93.  She was buried at Old Roaring River Church which was at the corner of the land where she had lived her entire life.


On 7/29/1931, 110 acres of this property was sold by George W. Brown and his wife Myrtle.  Myrtle Holbrook Brown was Melissa’s daughter who was born just two years after her mother and grandmother fought to keep their home.  By 1950 a portion of this land northeast of the church had been sold to Mack W. Brown, and then to Daniel Joe Hutchinson (DB 260, p378).


James O. Martin

James Oliver Martin was born about 1830 to a wealthy family who lived on the south side of the Yadkin River in the Brier Creek community south of Roaring River.  He was 32 years old when he first visited Mary and Melissa Bauguess at their home in 1862.  They disagreed about whether that visit was solicited or not, but the result was a contract allowing him to buy their property from the Bunkers.  A quick glance online suggests that James may have traveled for several years, living near relatives who spread out into Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas.  It doesn’t appear that he married, and he eventually settled back in Wilkes County near where he grew up.  He died in 1900.


Eng and Chang Bunker

The court records provide three dates that relate to the Siamese Twins Eng and Chang Bunker.  The first is 9/21/1855 when they sold the land to Mary and Melissa.  According to Melvin Miles’ From Siam To Surry, a year earlier the twins were on a tour throughout the eastern part of the country.  Upon their return, and with their growing families, they were exploring options to give everyone some space.  After all, they had 13 children between them.  This eventually led to them building a separate house.  Eng’s family would live in one, and a mile away, Chang’s family would live in the other.  The brothers would divide their time between the two.  Perhaps they finally sold their Traphill property as a way to acquire extra money for this project.


On 12/27/1862, James O. Martin visited the Bunkers to pay off the bonds for the Traphill property.  This was, of course, in the middle of the Civil War, and the twins were becoming concerned about their economic future.  They owned as many as 31 slaves to support their farming ventures, and the result of the war could disrupt that source of income.  Surely they realized that a never-ending loan to Mary and Melissa Bauguess was limiting their cash flow.  On the other hand, they didn’t want to make a decision that would have bad consequences for Aunt Polly and Melissa.  Perhaps this conflicted point of view explains why one brother signed the deed to Martin, and the other didn’t.


At the time of their 3/25/1871 deposition, the twins were 60 years old.  The previous August, they were on a ship returning from a tour in Europe when Chang suffered a stroke paralyzing his right side.  This limited their mobility, and caused them to reconsider an attempt at surgical separation.  They decided against it, and Chang eventually regained limited use of his right side.  They died in 1874.


Eng and Chang Bunker with two of their children.


Final Thoughts

I wonder how the area along Longbottom Rd would be different if James O. Martin had succeeded in removing Mary and Melissa from the land.  Maybe it wouldn’t have made much of a difference.  As a businessman, he would have probably resold it to make a profit.  He had bought the land with depreciated Confederate money, and he could have sold it after the war accepting only the more valuable bank notes.  If the 245 acres included the church and the cemetery, that would have been part of the transaction as well.


This version of events is the result of reading court records, land deeds, genealogies, and the book about the twins by Melvin Miles.  There are probably other records out there somewhere that would add a new twist or help explain the motivations for the decisions that were made.


I descend from Richard Bauguess through three of his children:  James (b1775), Emanuel (b1797), and Sarah (b1800).  Son Robert, the father of “Aunt Polly”, was born in 1777 and died in 1872, the year after the case was settled in court.