To Bundle or to Tarry
HENRY REED STILES (1832–1909), whose ancestors emigrated from England to New England in the midseventeenth century, was a physician, genealogist, and historian. His post-secondary education, interrupted by periods of ill health, began at the University of the City of New York, continued at Williams College, and concluded with degrees in 1855 from the Medical Department of the University of the City of New York and the New York Ophthalmic Hospital.
After undertaking a medical practice for a short time in New York and then in Illinois, Stiles was married to Sarah Woodward in 1856 and assumed a position as editor of the Toledo Blade. Thereafter he became a partner in the F. C. Brownell educational publishing company, until the state of his health prevented him from continuing such work and he turned his attention to investigating his family lineage. He began by searching the early archives of Windsor, Connecticut, and in time this led him to compile a thousandpage record of that town's history, which was first published in 1859; a revised and greatly expanded edition appeared in 1891.
Over the course of his life, Stiles continued to practice medicine intermittently, and committed himself to it exclusively when he became head of the Dundee Homeopathic Dispensary in Scotland in 1877, but after four years his health compelled him to relinquish this position and he returned to New York; there he continued to serve as a medical consultant, and from 1888 until his death two decades later he maintained a sanatorium on Lake George in New York.
In addition to producing numerous works concerned with families and places in Connecticut, Stiles was involved in the editing and 1895 publication of Letters from the Prisons and Prison-ships of the Revolution. . . , as well as Joutel's Journal of La Salle's Last Voyage, 1686-7 (1906). His magisterial three-volume History of the City of Brooklyn— a rich repository of information regarding the life of that New York City borough during its first two centuries—was published by subscription in 1867 and 1870. He first took notice of the interesting American practice of “bundling” in his 1859 History and Genealogies of Ancient Windsor, Connecticut, in which he referred to it as “that ridiculous and pernicious custom which prevailed among the young to a degree which we can scarcely credit [and which] sapped the fountain of morality and tarnished the escutcheons of thousands of families.” This general observation displeased quite a few of Stiles's readers, who detected in it “too much inclination to malign, or at least ridicule, Connecticut institutions.”
In his prefatory remarks to Bundling, Its Origin, Progress, and Decline in America, brought out in 1871 by the Knickerbocker Publishing Company in Albany, New York, Stiles assured his erstwhile critics that any such disrespect had been the furthest thing from his mind. “I cannot but think,” he wrote, “. . . that those who have found, or think they have found, an inimical design in any pleasantries in which I may have indulged while describing the customs and manners of by-gone days—have betrayed a thin-skinnedness, and an ignorance of the true glory of Connecticut history, when they imagine that her far fame can be seriously tarnished by the fly-specks of certain customs—at no time without their vigorous opponents—and long since rendered obsolete by the march of improvement.” The excerpts below are taken from Stiles's brief but always timely study.