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 04, 2012

The “Reformed Bundler” Speaks

The Columbian Informer, or, Cheshire Journal began publishing Keene, New Hampshire, in April 1793. It lasted about two years.

Early in its history, probably in May 1793, the Informer published an essay titled “A Circulating Letter to Bundling Females” signed “The Reformed Bundler.” This was the most upfront argument against bundling yet to appear in U.S. newspapers. It began with an image worthy of Freud:

My very Worthy, dear Young Ladies,

Suffer a few words to drop from my pen, out of a sincere regard to your persons, your reputations & future happiness.——Bundling is become but too, too fashionable among you fair ones; by this I mean, that foul and very pernicious practice of receiving young men into your beds and bosoms, and in that (if not vicious) very immodest situation, spending whole nights together, under pretext or pretensions of courtships.— . . .

It indulges too much freedom and familiarity between the sexes; and to this pernicious practice, anti-nuptial fornication chiefly owes its base existence, and all its unhappy attendants, which are either marriage without love, or a desertion of the poor credulous, deceived and ruined female, with the helpless and hapless fruit of false and stolen love, to lead out a most miserable existence, despised and rejected, to the painful galling mortification of all friends and relations—an existence most detestable—more to be shunned—more to be dreaded, and avoided, than even death itself. . . .

Would you wish to sustain a fair reputation? Surely then, you must discard the practice of bundling; for no sooner are you wrapped up in bed, encircled in your Paramors arms, delicacy is suffocated, modesty blushes and expires, and with the wings of the morning reputation takes her early flight, and seldom returns. . . .

On every side, are spectacles of misery, deploring their past folly of bundling, dropping their heads in gloominess, and all around them black desparation. Would you wish to be truly esteemed and loved? Then in place of a bed, be seated in your chairs; for a true lover, who alone is worthy your esteem, will think it no hardship to sit a few hours in the enjoyment of your smiles. Would you know when you are truly esteemed? Then permit me to prescribe this one invariable rule; in courtships, SIT UP—for in a judgment of charity, some young females would not have one sweet heart for ten, were it not for the indulgences of the bed.
I’m struck by how the “Reformed Bundler” saw only two possible outcomes of the habit: a loveless marriage or an illegitimate child. The essay didn’t acknowledge the possibility of a couple already fond of each other being hurried into marriage a little faster than they might have planned, but happily enough—which seems to have been the basis of a lot of eighteenth-century New England marriages. Nor a couple bundling without conceiving a child (whether or not they’d had sex). But “abstinence education” doesn’t always adhere to facts.

This “circulating letter” was reprinted in the 11 June 1793 Western Star, published in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. But its appearance in the 18 May Herald of the United States, published in Warren, Rhode Island, is more interesting, because there it prompted a response.

TOMORROW: Down in Rhode Island.

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