To Bun­dle or to Tarry

New England Review - - Rediscoveries - 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 trav­el­ers 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

Bundling, as may be seen from the above quoted def­i­ni­tions, was prac­ticed in two forms: first, be­tween strangers, as a sim­ple do­mes­tic makeshift ar­range­ment, of­ten aris­ing from the ne­ces­si­ties of a new coun­try, and by no means pe­cu­liar to Amer­ica; and, se­condly, be­tween lovers, who shared the same couch, with the mu­tual un­der­stand­ing that in­no­cent en­dear­ments should not be ex­ceeded. It was, how­ever, in ei­ther case, a cus­tom of con­ve­nience. . . .

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

1 His­tory of New York, 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

1 By Wash­ing­ton Irv­ing, p. 211. 4th Am. edi­tion.

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. . . . 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 men 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 than all the bundling among the boors with their ru­rales pedantes, through ev­ery vil­lage in New Eng­land be­sides. . . .

Bad­i­nage, ridicule and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion aside. . . , 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 the 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 for 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 won't 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 were 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

2 hos­pitable re­pute, and per­pet­ual prac­tice.”

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

3 pain of ex­com­mu­ni­ca­tion.”

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 man tar­ried with their sweet­hearts, who did not bun­dle with them. 2 Trav­els through the In­te­rior Parts of Amer­ica; in a Se­ries of Letters (by an of­fi­cer; a new edi­tion, Lon­don, 1781, 8vo), vol. II, pp. 37–40. 3 An­bury's Trav­els, pp. 87, 88.

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