Thursday, February 09, 2012

Bundle Me, Baby!

When I write and read historical romance, I tend toward highly sensual, even erotic stories.  That’s just personal taste, and yours may be quite different from mine.  Given my preference, I naturally have an interest in sexual mores and practices from past eras.  I often come upon surprises like bundling.

Bundling was a practice popular in the Puritan times and the 18th century in the northeast and Amish areas of this country.  It involved allowing couples to share a bed during courtship.  The young man would spend the night at his intended’s family’s house.  The two would remove their outer clothing, and the girl’s mother would wrap each of them in separate blankets on a bed that was divided down the middle by an obstacle like the bundling board or bundling sack.  The young people would then spend the night together talking and getting to know if they were compatible.

There were several practical benefits of the practice.  In Colonial America, houses were far apart.  In order to visit the woman he was courting, a young man would often have to slog long distances through snow and other bad weather.  It was only natural for him to spend the night.  Not only were beds in short supply, but houses were cold and firewood and candles too dear to allow for long hours spent in leisure after supper.  Bundling together for heat while passing a pleasant time with the person you intended to marry made sense.

There was even a biblical basis for bundling in the story of Ruth and Boaz, (Ruth 3:6 and 3:13) in which the couple laid together all night on the threshing floor and later became husband and wife.
An anonymous ballad of the 1780's explains the rationale for bundling.
Nature's request is, give me rest,
Our bodies seek repose;
Night is the time, and 'tis no crime
To bundle in our cloaths.
Since in a bed, a man and maid
May bundle and be chaste;
It doth no good to burn up wood
It is a needless waste.
Let coat and shift be turned adrift,
And breeches take their flight,
An honest man and virgin can
Lie quiet all the night.

(From the website of Colonial Williamsburg

I remember hearing about the practice of bundling when I was a teenager and thinking “They could get away with THAT?”  I knew darned well that a board or sack wouldn’t prevent young people from getting to each other if they wanted.  I ask you:

Sure enough, Washington Irving wrote in his History of New York "that wherever the practice of bundling prevailed, there was an amazing number of sturdy brats born . . . without the license of the law, or the benefit of clergy . . .” (Quoted in © 1975 - 1981 by David Wallechinsky & Irving Wallace "The People's Almanac" series of books.)  Of course, only couples who were seriously courting, with their parents’ permission, were allowed to bundle.  Marriage between the two was only a matter of time.  A baby who made his/her appearance “early” wouldn’t cause a terrible scandal.

Maybe we ought to reinstate the practice…for consenting adults, of course.

Alice's website

1 comment:

Wendy Soliman said...

That's really interesting. I've never heard of bundling before. Of course, if I put it in a story, my hero and heroine wouldn't abide by the rules. Where's the fun in that!