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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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Gleanings from the Web This Week

Today I’m passing on some choice passages from items about the eighteenth century I’ve recently read. First, Adam Gopnik commented in the New Yorker on the historical basis of Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol:

Much of it is bogus, to be sure—though modern Masonry borrowed some oogah-boogah from the Egyptian past, it was an Enlightenment club, whose greatest product was “The Magic Flute,” and which was about as sinister, and secretly controlled about as many governments, as the Royal Order of Raccoons in “The Honeymooners.”
For more substance, Anthony Vaver at Early American Crime analyzed the nature of eighteenth-century colonial immigration to the colonies that became the U.S. of A.:
Of the 585,800 immigrants to the thirteen colonies during the years 1700-1775, about 52,200 were convicts and prisoners (9 percent of the total). During these same years, slaves by far constituted the largest group of immigrants (278,400; 47%), followed by people arriving with their freedom (151,600; 26%) and indentured servants (96,600; 18%). Note that almost three quarters of all the people arriving in the American colonies during this time period did so without their freedom.
I also enjoyed Vaver’s previous installment, about how the British government and the businessmen who benefited from transporting convicts to the American colonies tried to continue doing so after the Revolutionary War. After all, why would those new “Americans” object to their former empire’s criminals?

Finally, Brad Pasley at Publick Occurrences 2.0 provides our dose of unabashed gossip with some quotations on the old American habit of “bundling”:
It meant that a courting couple would be in bed together, but with their clothes on. With fuel at a premium, it was often difficult to keep a house warm in the evenings. Since this is when a man would be visiting his betrothed in her home, they would bundle in her bed together in order to keep warm. A board might be placed in the middle to keep them separate, or the young lady could be put in a bundling bag or duffel-like chastity bag. The best protection against sin were the parents, who were usually in the same room with them.
Pasley reproduces the Rev. Samuel Peters’s writings on this topic. Peters was a Connecticut Loyalist, happy to say anything embarrassing about the nation he left behind (and then returned to). Peters is also our major source on Puritan “blue laws,” which he exaggerated. So Pasley adds, “Apologies to any social historians who may have more bundling expertise than me if I am spreading any common myths here.”

But bundling was no myth.

TOMORROW: A young British officer receives an invitation to bundle.


Robert S. Paul said...

Chris Hodapp, author of Freemasons for Dummies (a really good book), has a website that answers a lot of the claims in The Lost Symbol: http://www.freemasonlostsymbol.com/

Fortunately, Dan Brown didn't do too bad a job with the fraternity like he did with Opus Dei.

As far as bundling, there is a depiction of it in The Patriot, the best comedy about the American Revolution I've ever seen (What's that? It's not supposed to be a comedy? Uh oh).

J. L. Bell said...

Refreshing to hear from a reenactor who finds The Patriot to be funny rather than a travesty!

That movie shows Heath Ledger sewn up in a “bundling bag.” What little I’ve read of that part of the practice indicates that historically the woman was usually encased in the bag instead of the man. As with burqas, the solution to the perceived problem of male sexuality was to restrict the female.

Bob said...

I wonder what percentage of those transported criminals were being brought to New England? My sense is that it was a relatively small proportion because agricultural economics in this region generally didn't support it, but I'd be interested to see geographical details.

J. L. Bell said...

I think you’re right, that New England had less land for transported criminals to work on than the Middle and Southern Colonies. Anthony Vaver’s blog postings seem to be book-based, and he lists sources at the bottom of each, so it should be possible to find more about those numbers.