BUNDLING


by Henry Reed Stiles
BUNDLING "A man and a woman lying on the same bed with their clothes on; an expedient practiced in America on a scarcity of beds, where, on such occasions, husbands and parents frequently permitted travellers to _bundle_ with their wives and daughters."--_Grose, Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue_.

BUNDLE _v.i._ "To sleep on the same bed without undressing; applied to the custom of a man and woman, especially lovers, thus sleeping."--_Webster, 1864_.

BUNDLE _v.n._ "To sleep together with the clothes on."--_Worcester, 1864_.

     
*Origins*

THE NEW ENGLAND STATES


      Where, as we have already shown, it was, as with the Dutchmen, an _inherited_ custom. Its comparatively innocent and harmless character has, however, been fearfully distorted and maligned by irresponsible satirists, and prejudiced historians. Take, for example, the following passage from Knickerbocker's _History of New York_,[22] wherein he pretends to describe "the curious device among these sturdy barbarians [the Connecticut colonists], to keep up a harmony of interests, and promote population. * * * * They multiplied to a degree which would be incredible to any man unacquainted with the marvellous fecundity of this growing country. This amazing increase may, indeed, be partly ascribed to a singular custom prevalent among them, commonly known by the name of _bundling_--a superstitious rite observed by the young people of both sexes, with which they usually terminated their festivities, and which was kept up with religious strictness by the more bigoted and vulgar part of the community. This ceremony was likewise, in those primitive times, considered as an indispensable preliminary to matrimony; their courtships commencing where ours usually finish, by which means they acquired, that intimate acquaintance with each other's good qualities before marriage, which has been pronounced by philosophers the sure basis of a happy union. Thus early did this cunning and ingenious people display a shrewdness at making a bargain, which has ever since distinguished them, and a strict adherence to the good old vulgar maxim about 'buying a pig in a poke.'

      "To this sagacious custom, therefore, do I chiefly attribute the unparalleled increase of the Yanokie or Yankee tribe; for it is a certain fact, well authenticated by court records and parish registers, that wherever the practice of bundling prevailed, there was an amazing number of sturdy brats annually born unto the state, without the license of the law, or the benefit of clergy. Neither did the irregularity of their birth operate in the least to their disparagement. On the contrary, they grew up a long-sided, raw-boned, hardy race of whoreson whalers, wood cutters, fishermen, and peddlers; and strapping corn-fed wenches, who by their united efforts tended marvellously towards populating those notable tracts of country called Nantucket, Piscataway, and Cape Cod."

      Hear, also, that learned, but audacious and unscrupulous divine, the Rev. Samuel Peters, who thus discourseth at length upon the custom of bundling in Connecticut, and other parts of New England. After admitting that "the women of Connecticut are strictly virtuous, and to be compared to the prude rather than the European polite lady," he says:

      "Notwithstanding the modesty of the females is such that it would be accounted the greatest rudeness for a gentleman to speak before a lady of a garter, knee, or leg, yet it is thought but a piece of civility to ask her to _bundle_; a custom as old as the first settlement in 1634.

      It is certainly innocent, virtuous and prudent, or the puritans would not have permitted it to prevail among their offspring, for whom in general they would suffer crucifixion. Children brought up with the chastest ideas, with so much religion as to believe that the omniscient God sees them in the dark, and that angels guard them when absent from their parents, will not, nay, cannot, act a wicked thing. People who are influenced more by lust, than a serious faith in God, who is too pure to behold iniquity with approbation, ought never to _bundle_.

      If any man, thus a stranger to the love of virtue, of God, and the Christian religion, should _bundle_ with a young lady in New England, and behave himself unseemly towards her, he must first melt her into passion, and expel heaven, death, and hell, from her mind, or he will undergo the chastisement of negroes turned mad--if he escape with life, it will be owing to the parents flying from their bed to protect him. The Indians, who had this method of courtship when the English arrived among them in 1634, are the most chaste set of people in the world. Concubinage and fornication are vices none of them are addicted to, except such as forsake the laws of Hobbamockow and turn Christians. The savages have taken many female prisoners, carried them back three hundred miles into their country, and kept them several years, and yet not a single instance of their violating the laws of chastity has ever been known. This cannot be said of the French, or of the English, whenever Indian or other women have fallen into their hands. I am no advocate for temptation; yet must say, that _bundling_ has prevailed 160 years in New England, and, I verily believe, with ten times more chastity than the sitting on a sofa. I had daughters, and speak from near forty years' experience. _Bundling_ takes place only in cold seasons of the year--the sofa in summer is more dangerous than the bed in winter. About the year 1756, Boston, Salem, Newport, and New York, resolving to be more polite than their ancestors, forbade their daughters _bundling_ on the bed with any young man whatever, and introduced a sofa to render courtship more palatable and Turkish, whatever it was owing to, whether to the sofa, or any uncommon excess of the _feu d'esprit_, there went abroad a report that this _raffinage_ produced more _natural consequences_ then all the _bundling_ among the boors with their _rurales pedantes_, through every village in New England besides.

      "In 1776, a clergyman from one of the polite towns, went into the country, and preached against the unchristian custom of young men and maidens lying together on a bed. He was no sooner out of the church, then attacked by a shoal of good old women, with, 'Sir, do you think we and our daughters are naughty, because we allow _bundling_?' 'You lead yourselves into temptation by it.' They all replied at once, 'Sir, have you been told thus, or has experience taught it you?' The Levite began to lift up his eyes, and to consider of his situation, and bowing, said, 'I have been told so.' The ladies, _una voce_, bawled out, 'Your informants, sir, we conclude, are those city ladies who prefer a sofa to a bed: we advise you to alter your sermon, by substituting the word _sofa_ for _bundling_, and on your return home preach it to them, for experience has told us that city folks send more children into the country without fathers or mothers to own them, than are born among us; therefore, you see, a sofa is more dangerous than a bed.' The poor priest, seemingly convinced of his blunder, exclaimed, '_Nec vitia nostra, neo remedia pati possumus_,' hoping thereby to get rid of his guests; but an old matron pulled off her spectacles, and, looking the priest in the face like a Roman heroine, said, '_Noli putare me hæc auribus tuis dare_.' Others cried out to the priest to explain his Latin. 'The English,' said he, 'is this: Wo is me that I sojourn in Meseck, and dwell in the tents of Kedar!' One pertly retorted, '_Gladii decussati sunt gemina presbyteri clavis_.' The priest confessed his error, begged pardon, and promised never more to preach against bundling, or to think amiss of the custom; the ladies generously forgave him, and went away.

      "It may seem very strange to find this custom of bundling in bed attended with so much innocence in New England, while in Europe it is thought not safe or scarcely decent to permit a young man and maid to be together in private anywhere. But in this quarter of the old world the viciousness of the one, and the simplicity of the other, are the result merely of education and habit. It seems to be a part of heroism, among the polished nations of it, to sacrifice the virtuous fair one, whenever an opportunity offers, and thence it is concluded that the same principles actuate those of the new world. It is egregiously absurd to judge all of all countries by one. In Spain, Portugal and Italy, jealousy reigns; in France, England, and Holland, suspicion; in the West and East Indies, lust; in New England, superstition. These four blind deities govern Jews, Turks, Christians, infidels, and heathen. Superstition is the most amiable. She sees no vice with approbation but persecution, and self-preservation is the cause of her seeing that. My insular readers will, I hope, believe me, when I tell them that I have seen, in the West Indies, naked boys and girls, some fifteen or sixteen years of age, waiting at table and at tea, even when twenty or thirty virtuous English ladies were in the room; who were under no more embarrassment at such an awful sight in the eyes of English people that have not traveled abroad, than they would have been at the sight of so many servants in livery. Shall we censure the ladies of the West Indies as vicious above all their sex, on account of this local custom? By no means; for long experience has taught the world that the West Indian white ladies are virtuous prudes. Where superstition reigns, fanaticism will be minister of state; and the people, under the taxation of zeal, will shun what is commonly called vice, with ten times more care than the polite and civilized Christians, who know what is right and what is wrong from reason and revelation. Happy would it be for the world, if reason and revelation were suffered to control the mind and passions of the great and wise men of the earth, as superstition does that of the simple and less polished! When America shall erect societies for the promotion of chastity in Europe, in return for the establishment of European arts in the American capitals, then Europe will discover that there is more Christian philosophy in American bundling than can be found in the customs of nations more polite.

      "I should not have said so much about bundling, had not a learned divine[23] of the English church published his travels through some parts of America, wherein this remarkable custom is represented in an unfavorable light, and as prevailing among the _lower class_ of people. The truth is, the custom prevails among all classes, to the great honor of the country, its religion, and ladies. The virtuous may be tempted; but the tempter is despised. Why it should be thought incredible for a young man and young woman innocently and virtuously to lie down together in a bed with a great part of their clothes on, I cannot conceive. Human passions may be alike in every region; but religion, diversified as it is, operates differently in different countries. Upon the whole, had I daughters now, I would venture to let them _bundle_ on the bed, or even on the sofa, after a proper education, sooner than adopt the Spanish mode of forcing young people to prattle only before the lady's mother the chitchat of artless lovers. Could the four quarters of the world produce a more chaste, exemplary and beautiful company of wives and daughters than are in Connecticut, I should not have remaining one favorable sentiment for the province. But the soil, the rivers, the ponds, the ten thousand landscapes, together with the virtuous and lovely women which now adorn the ancient kingdoms of Connecticote, Sassacus, and Quinnipiog, would tempt me into the highest wonder and admiration of them, could they once be freed of the skunk, the moping-owl, rattlesnake and fanatic Christian."

      Or, to take another example of the abuse heaped by our English cousins upon this so-called "American custom of bundling." We extract the following from an article entitled _British Abuse of American Manners_, published in 1815.[24] It seems that it had long been a custom in the Westminster school, in the city of London, for the senior students, who were about to leave that seminary for the university, at the age of sixteen to eighteen, to have an annual dramatic performance, which was generally a play of Terence.[25] To this, as annually performed, there was usually a Latin prologue, and also an epilogue composed for the occasion and this epilogue turned, for the most part, on the manners of the day that would bear the gentle correction of good humored satire, in elegant Latinity. In the epilogue presented at one of these exhibitions, about 1815, in connection with the performance of Terence's _Phormio_, the following balderdash (with much else, as applied to American life and manners) was introduced and spoken by these ingenuous and virtuous British youth, before a large and enlightened audience:

"Nec morum dicere promtum est,
Sit ratio simplex, sitne venusta magis.
Æthiopissa palam mensæ formulatur herili
In puris naturalibus, ut loquimur.
Vir braccis se bellus amat nudare décentér,
Strenuus ut choreas ex-que-peditus agat.
Quid quod ibi; quod congere ipsis conque moveri
Dicitur, incolumi nempe pudicitiâ,
Sponte suâ, sine fraude, torum sese audet in unum.
Condere cum casto casta puelle viro?
Quid noctes coenaque Deûm? quid amœna piorum.
Concilia?"
Which being translated is as follows:



      "Nor is it easy to say whether the tenor of their manners is more to be admired for simplicity or elegance; a negro wench, as we are told, will wait on her master at table in native nudity; and a beau will strip himself to the waist, that he may dance unincumbered, and with more agility. There, too, we hear of the practice of _bundling_ without any infraction of female modesty; and the chaste maiden, without any deception, but with right good will, ventures to share the bed with her chaste swain! Oh, what nights and banquets, worthy of the gods! What delightful customs among these pious people?"

      But this spirit of misrepresentation and ridicule, so glaringly apparent in the foregoing extracts, and which has so universally characterized all those British travelers and authors who have attempted to describe our social habits and manners, is fitly rebuked, even as long ago as 1815, by an anonymous writer, whose trenchant pen reminds our British cousins of the old adage concerning "those who live in glass houses," etc.

      "From the time of Jack Cade," says he, "to Lord George Gordon, and down to the present day, neither your _grave_ or _gay_ authorities on the subject of _bundling_ and _tarrying_ are worthy of criticism. There is a littleness in noticing, in the _London Quarterly Review_, a work which heretofore has been distinguished for its taste, chasteness and celebrity, the observation of travelers who, if men of truth, could only mean to mention customs (if they were customs) of the most vulgar and ignorant, which at any rate are now as little known as are the operation of the blue laws of Connecticut, or part of the penal code enacted to keep in slavery and subjection the sister kingdom.[26]

      "Englishmen, examine your own cottages, particularly in the north, and on the borders, and extend your view to the western extremity of your island. Pray, what term will you give to that promiscuous bundling of the father, mother, children, sons and daughters-in-law, cousins, and inmates who call to _tarry_, and not unfrequently stretch themselves in one common bed of straw on the hovel's floor?[27]

      "Nay, even, in some parts of your empire, the hogs and the cows join the group, and form a most audible respiration from their noses, getting vent through the hole in the roof intended for a chimney, or spreading throughout the clay built edifice with odorific sweetness, though perhaps not so fragrant and refreshing as was the precious oil poured on the venerable head of Aaron, which Sternhold and Hopkins tell us filled the room with pleasure. In the early settlement of this country there might have been houses in the route of the inquisitive and insidious European travelers, unprovided with a spare bed on which he might stretch his limbs; but, now, should Mr. Canning[28] himself visit us, he need not fear being _bundled_--he need not travel far in any part of the United States without enjoying the luxury of a soft couch and clean sheets, where he can ruminate on the injustice he attempts on our national character."

      Badinage, ridicule and misrepresentation aside, however, there can be no reasonable doubt that _bundling_ did prevail to a very great extent in the New England colonies from a very early date. It is equally evident that it was originally confined almost entirely to the lower classes of the community, or to those whose limited means compelled them to economize strictly in their expenditure of firewood and candlelight. Many, perhaps the majority, of the dwellings of the early settlers, consisted of but one room, in which the whole family lived and slept. Yet their innocent and generous hospitality forbade that the stranger, or the friend whom night overtook on their threshold, should be turned shelterless and couchless away, so long as they could offer him even half of a bed. As an example of this we may cite the case of Lieut. Anbury, a British officer, who served in America during the Revolutionary War, and whose letters preserve many sprightly and interesting pictures of the manners and customs of that period. In a letter dated at Cambridge, New England, November 20, 1777, he thus speaks:

      "The night before we came to this town [Williamstown, Mass.], being quartered at a small log hut, I was convinced in how innocent a view the Americans look upon that indelicate custom they call _bundling_. Though they have remarkable good feather beds, and are extremely neat and clean, still I preferred my hard mattress, as being accustomed to it; this evening, however, owing to the badness of the roads, and the weakness of my mare, my servant had not arrived with my baggage at the time for retiring to rest. There being only two beds in the house, I inquired which I was to sleep in, when the old woman replied, 'Mr. Ensign,' here I should observe to you, that the New England people are very inquisitive as to the rank you have in the army; 'Mr. Ensign,' says she, 'our Jonathan and I will sleep in this, and our Jemima and you shall sleep in that.' I was much astonished at such a proposal, and offered to sit up all night, when Jonathan immediately replied, 'Oh, la!

      Mr. Ensign, you wont be the first man our Jemima has bundled with, will it Jemima?' when little Jemima, who, by the bye, was a very pretty, black-eyed girl, of about sixteen or seventeen, archly replied, 'No, father, not by many, but it will be with the first Britainer' (the name they give to Englishmen). In this dilemma what could I do? The smiling invitation of pretty Jemima--the eye, the lip, the--Lord ha' mercy, where am I going to? But wherever I may be going now, I did not go to bundle with her--in the same room with her father and mother, my kind _host_ and _hostess_ too! I thought of that--I thought of more besides--to struggle with the passions of nature; to clasp Jemima in my arms--to--do what? you'll ask--why, to do--nothing! for if amid all these temptations, the lovely Jemima had melted into kindness, she had been an outcast from the world--treated with contempt, abused by violence, and left perhaps to perish! No, Jemima; I could have endured all this to have been blest with you, but it was too vast a sacrifice, when you was to be the victim! Suppose how great the test of virtue must be, or how cold the American constitution, when this unaccountable custom is in hospitable repute, and perpetual practice."[29]

      Again, in a subsequent letter, the Lieutenant, after describing a New England sleighing frolic, says: "In England this would be esteemed extremely imprudent, and attended with dangerous consequences; but, after what I have related respecting _bundling_, I need not say, in how innocent a view this is looked upon. Apropos, as to that custom, along the sea coast, by a continual intercourse among Europeans, it is in some measure abolished; but they still retain one something similar, which is termed _tarrying_. When a young man is enamored of a woman, and wishes to marry her, he proposes the affair to her parents (without whose consent no marriage, in this colony, can take place); if they have no objections, he is allowed to tarry with her one night, in order to make his court. At the usual time the old couple retire to bed, leaving the young ones to settle matters as they can, who having sat up as long as they think proper, get into bed together also, but without putting off their under garments; to prevent scandal. If the parties agree, it is all very well, the banns are published, and they married without delay; if not, they part, and possibly never see each other again, unless, which is an accident that seldom happens, the forsaken fair proves pregnant, in which case the man, unless he absconds, is obliged to marry her, on pain of excommunication."[30]

      The word _tarry_, in the sense of _to stop_ or _to stay_, was more used by our ancestors than by the present generation; yet we think that Lieut. Anbury was mistaken in his idea that the _tarrying_ was but for a single night. It is true that marriages were early, and probably the courtships were short, but we all know enough of New England _sparking_ to know that a single night was cutting it rather short; and yet it is easy to see how Anbury should get his erroneous idea. True, if the lover was so unlucky as to get his final dismissal the first night, there was an end of the matter, and well might they fail to meet again; but, in that case, it is not likely that the favors of which he could boast would be such as to seriously affect the reputation of the girl with whom he tarried. The fact that in the custom of _tarrying_, the parties also _bundled_, does not authorize the synonymous use of the two words, which have nothing in common. For, doubtless many young men _tarried_ with their sweethearts, who did not _bundle_ with them. Again, when, on a sabbath night, the faithful swain arrived, having, perhaps, walked ten or more weary miles, to enjoy the company of his favorite lass, in the few brief hours which would elapse before the morning light should call him again to his homeward walk and his week of toil, was it not the dictate of humanity as well as of economy, which prompted the _old folks_ to allow the approved and accepted suitor of their daughter to pursue his wooing under the downy coverlid of a good feather bed (oftentimes, too, in the very same room in which they themselves slept), rather than to have them _sit up_ and _burn out uselessly_ firewood and _candles_, to say nothing of the risk of catching their _death a' cold_? Indeed, was not the sanction of bundling in such cases a tacit admission, on the part of the parents, of their perfect confidence in the young folks, which necessarily acted upon the latter as, at once, a strong restraint from wrong, and a strong incentive to right doing? The influence of early religious training, the powerful control which the church had obtained upon the social and domestic life of the people, and the superstitious aspect which, in those days, the gospel was made to wear, must also be taken into the account. And, moreover, is it not probable that the universality of the custom, which certainly cleared it from anything like odium or reproach, would naturally tend to preclude, in a degree, any improper ideas in the minds of those who practiced it? Such, then, we consider the _status_ of the custom in the earlier history of the colonies, and among the _first generation_ of settlers.

      "But," if the reader will allow us to quote from a previous work, "the emigration from a civilized to a new country,[31] is necessarily a step backward into barbarism. The _second generation_ did not fill the place of the fathers. Reared amid the trials and dangers of a new settlement, they were in a great measure deprived of the advantages, both social and educational, which their parents had enjoyed. Nearly all of the former could write, which cannot be said of their children. Neither did the latter possess that depth of religious feeling, or earnest practical piety which distinguished the first comers. Religion was to them less a matter of the heart than of social privilege, and in the _half way covenant_ controversy we behold the gradual _letting down of bars_ between a pure church and a grasping world.

      "The _third_ generation followed in the footsteps of their predecessors. Then came war; and young New England brought from the long Canadian campaigns, stores of loose camp vices, and recklessness, which soon flooded the land with immorality and infidelity. The church was neglected, drunkenness fearfully increased, and social life was sadly corrupted."[32]

      It is not, therefore, a matter of surprise that bundling should, in the increased laxity of public morals, become more frequently abused. Its pernicious effects became constantly more apparent, and more decidedly challenged the attention of the comparatively few godly men who endeavored to stem and to control the rapidly widening current of immorality which threatened to overwhelm the land.[33] The powerful intellect of Jonathan Edwards thundered its anathemas upon it; pious divines prayed against it in their closets, and wrestled with it in their pulpits; while many attempted by a revision of their church polity, by greater carefulness in the admission of members; by rules more stringently framed and enforced, to preserve, as best they might, the purity of the churches committed to their charge, and to make them, if it were possible, beacon lights amid the surrounding darkness of the times.[34] The task, however, was well nigh hopeless. The French wars were succeeded by that of the American Revolution, and not before the close of that struggle, may the custom of bundling be said to have received its deathblow, and even then it _died hard_.

      Its final disuse was brought about by a variety of causes, among which may be named the improved condition of the people after the Revolution, enabling many to live in larger and better warmed houses, and in the very few places where the ministers dared to touch the subject in the pulpit, as in Dedham, already referred to, a decided effect was produced, but it was confined to the neighborhood, having very little effect on the general custom. Probably no single thing tended so much to break up the practice as the publication of a song, or ballad, in an almanac, about 1785.

      This ballad described in a free and easy style the various plans adopted by those who bundled, and rather more than hinted at the results in certain cases. Being published in an almanac, it had a much larger circulation than could have been obtained for it in any other way (tract societies not being then in vogue), and the descriptions were so _pat_, that each one who saw them was disposed to apply them in a joking way to any other who was known to practice bundling; and the result was, such a general storm of banter and ridicule that no girl had the courage to stand against it, and continue to admit her lovers to her bed.

      We have found many persons who distinctly remember the publication of this song, and the effect which it had on the public mind, but all our efforts to find the almanac containing it, have proved of no avail.

      We have, however, been favored with the use of a broadside copy of a ballad, preserved among the treasures of the American Antiquarian Society, at Worcester, Massachusetts, which several of our ancient friends have recognized as identical with that in the almanac, one of them proving it by repeating from memory several lines from the Almanac version, which were precisely like that of the broadside, a copy of which we give herewith.



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