Did bundling, as pictured in the movie The Patriot (2000) really happen in colonial America? Yes! Examining historical relationship etiquette can provide students with insight into their own behavior.
In 1811, an English dictionary described “bundling” as
“a man and woman sleeping in the same bed, he with his small clothes, and she with her petticoats on; an expedient practised in America on a scarcity of beds, where, on such an occasion, husbands and parents frequently permitted travellers to bundle with their wives and daughters. This custom is now abolished.”
But, as historian Jack Larkin noted, if bundling during courtship was supposed to prevent sexual contact and pre-marital pregnancy, it often failed. Young Americans courted unchaperoned at dances, singing schools, sleighing and quilting parties and often paired off and spent time alone. In the late 1700s, pregnancy before marriage was frequent. The number of pregnant brides had been rising in America since the late 1600s and peaked in the decades during and after the Revolution. In the 1780s and 1790s, nearly one-third of rural New England brides were pregnant.
The lyrics of “A New Bundling Song” (published in Boston between 1810-1814) noted “sometimes say when she lies down, She can’t be cumbered with a gown.” Men and women that bundled were supposed to wear clothes and be wrapped in sheets and be “chaste” but this did not always happen.
Many of our modern ideas about the sexual strictness of “the past” reflect the new, stricter morality that developed in the 1800s. Ask students to examine modern relationship etiquette and compare and contrast it to the past using primary sources.
For more about courtship and dating and primary sources for the classroom – See Chapter 3 – Manners and Etiquette – in Exploring Vacation and Etiquette Themes in Social Studies
For more about bundling:
Text of A New Bundling Song , 1810-1814
The Reshaping of Everyday Life by Jack Larkin p. 193-195
Header Image: “The Country Wedding” 1820. By John Lewis Krimmel. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.