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BUNDLING: NEW ENGLAND IN THE MID- TO LATE-1700s

 

Mary Caroline Crawford, Social Life in Old New England (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company; 1915; pp. 196-199).

 

‛No one who reads history intelligently can have failed to observe that morals, as well as social customs, are inextricably bound up with climatic conditions, transportation facilities, and the current standards of living. The fact that Madam Knight, when making her renowned journey from Boston to New York in 1704, frequently shared her sleeping-room with strange men – travelers like herself – does not at all mean that this estimable Boston schoolmistress was a lady of light morals, but simply that the exigencies of the situation and the customs of the time made necessary this, to us, revolting custom. In a similar way we may account for the much more revolting custom of bundling, as it was called, which so frequently prefaced marriage in old New England. . . .

 

‛Bundling, it should be understood, was not regarded as an immoral custom . . . . Two young people who intended to marry lived far apart and worked early and late all the week. Only on Saturday evening and Sunday could they meet for love-making [courting – Ed.]. Accordingly, on the eve of the Sabbath, the man would journey to the home of his beloved and, quite regularly, stay there until Sunday. Throughout the evening they would be able to see each other only in the presence of the family, for houses were small and fires were a luxury. The one fire which most people could afford usually burned in the kitchen, and the ordinary farm-family could not afford to burn this after nine or ten o’clock. Hence the girl and her lover were bundled up together, after the others had retired for the night, often on the extra trundle-bed which most kitchens then contained, in order that they might keep warm and enjoy each other’s company without waste of light or fuel. There appears to have been no secrecy about the practice; the very “bundling” was frequently done by the mother or sister of the girl who was being thus “courted.” And, in theory at any rate, the couple wore their clothing. None the less, the practice was frequently responsible for the birth of a child very soon after the young people had been made one in marriage. On this account it was that the church established what was known as “the seven months rule”, a rule, that is, that a child born within seven months after the marriage of its parents should not be accorded baptism (lacking which it was damned if it died) unless the parents made public confession of and expressed penitence for the “sin of fornication before marriage.”’

 

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