J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

“Work for the Parson is consequently made”

The books that the Rev. Andrew Burnaby, the Rev. Samuel Peters, and Lt. Thomas Anburey published in London between 1775 and 1789 all discussed the American custom of “tarrying” or “bundling.” Some scholars have found evidence of similar habits in the British hinterlands and northern Europe, but they were evidently curious for Londoners. And soon after the Revolutionary War bundling became a matter of public concern in the new republic.

The 27 Oct 1788 Herald of Freedom, published in Boston, included a letter signed “Francois de la E—” and addressed “Dear Pierre.” This was the thirteenth in a series addressed from a French visitor to the new republic to one of his compatriots.

On 5 November, the New Jersey Journal reprinted the letter as “from a French Gentleman in Boston to His Friend in Martinique.” The 24 November American Mercury, published in Hartford, said the letters were “written by a French Gentleman in America to his friend in France.”

Martinique or France? It didn’t matter because M. de la E— was doubtless fictional. (If he’d been real, wouldn’t he have been M. de l’E—?) The letter stood in the time-honored tradition of writing about one’s society through the guise of a foreigners observing customs for the first time. Still, for fun you can imagine this passage being read in an outrageous French accent.
It is the character of a brave people, as the Americans doubtless are, to be generous, affable and courteous to strangers; in none is this character more conspicuous than in the New-Englanders, or Yankees, as they are called. If you enter any of their dwellings, you are sure to be treated with the greatest hospitality; this originates not from any mercenary principle, but purely from that desire to benefit our fellow creatures which ought to actuate the breast of every one.

Some, by receiving strangers, have entertained Angels, but unfortunately this does not happen to be the case with the Americans; by their attention to strangers they have suffered severely. The fair sex have been enticed into matrimony by some who have fled from the lash of justice in their own country, and escaped to this asylum of mankind. Many young and blooming virgins have been obliged to bemoan the hardness of their fates, in being netted to exotic villains already tied by hymenial bonds in other climes. Their daughters, likewise, have been frequently debauched.

This may in some measure be owing to the practice of bundling, which prevails in some of the country towns. As you perhaps are ignorant of the manner in which this is performed, I will just give you an account of the process, it is simply this. A young fellow who has a sneaking inclination (as they call it here) for a girl, pays her a visit. The parents, as in duty bound, very obligingly quit the room, to give the young couple an opportunity of making their own bargain.

Jonathan obtains permission to stay with her. He is then conducted to her bed-chamber, where they prepare themselves for bundling, by taking off part of their clothes. The careful mother frequently takes the precaution to sew up the bottom of her daughter’s under-coat. However, the impulse of passion too often renders ineffectual this slight barrier.

Work for the Parson is consequently made; and in addition to matrimony, they are obliged to undergo the pennance of standing in the broad aisle of the meeting house, before the whole congregation, to confess the grreat sin they have committed, in obeying the injunction of the great Father of the universe, to increase and multiply, before the Priest had given his sanction to it.

They marry very young here, and the women are very prolific; of course the country must populate rapidly, without any emigration from the old world.—It is daily increasing in strength—their young men are naturally inclined to war, and very ambitious.
“Jonathan” denoted the typical Yankee of this period, and to some extent the typical American. Perhaps a tad less fictional than Francois de la E—.

TOMORROW: The end of bundling in Dedham (yeah, right).

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