History of Sex, Love and Sexuality 1750 America and Bundling

About the practice of bundling in America in the mid 18th century, sharing a bed to help keep warm.

1750-The custom of bundling became the rage in America. Courting couples would lie in the same bed partly or fully clothed, sometimes with a special bundling board between them. Often the bundling board was breached or hurdled and the couples groped in the dark for additional ways to keep warm, and that is where the controversy came in.

In his Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, Grose defined bundling as "A man and 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." But there was more to the practice than the scarcity of beds or the lack of heat, as Washington Irving noted in History of New York. Irving cited those "cunning and ingenious" Yankees who permitted young couples to bundle due to their "strict adherence to the good old pithy maxim about 'buying a pig in a poke.'" He further noted "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 . . . a long-sided, raw-boned, hardy race of whoreson whalers, woodcutters, fishermen, and peddlers; and strapping corn-fed wenches, who by their united efforts tended marvellously toward populating those notable tracts of country . . . ." On the other hand, one old gentleman, explaining the custom to his grandson late in the last century, emphasized the practicality of bundling and denied any wrongdoing on the part of the participants. "What is the use of sitting up all night and burning out fire and lights, when you could just as well get under kiver and keep warm," he said. "Why damn it, there wasn't half as many bastards then as there are now!"

In any event, bundling was with us from the beginning in America and came close to being a universal custom from 1750 to 1780, at least among "the humbler classes," those who had to economize in their use of firewood and candles. While it's true that "innocent and generous hospitality" prompted many to share their wives or daughters and never turn a cold and weary stranger away while "they could offer him even half of a bed," bundling was for the greater part confined to courting couples. No doubt its end was primarily brought about by the improved lot of the people after the Revolution, when many were able to live in larger and better heated houses. But the voices of prudes and preachers--Jonathan Edwards prominent among the latter--whispering and thundering against the custom also contributed to its downfall.

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