Bundling, or tarrying, is the traditional practice of wrapping two people in a bed together, usually as a part of courting behavior. The tradition is thought to have originated either in the Netherlands or in the British Isles and later became common in colonial United States, especially in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Some Nebraska Amish may still practice it. When used for courtship, the aim is to allow intimacy without sexual intercourse.
It is possible the precedent for bundling came from the biblical story of Ruth and Boaz, in which Ruth, a widow, and Boaz, a wealthy landowner, spend a night together in a grain storage room. Tradition says they did not touch, and the pair later got married.
Traditionally, participants were adolescents, with a boy staying at the residence of the girl. They were given separate blankets by the girl's parents and expected to talk to one another through the night. Occasionally a bundling board or bundling sack was placed between the boy and girl to discourage sexual conduct.
In United States
In Colonial United States, Jonathan Edwards and other preachers condemned bundling; yet the practice continued into the period of the early Republic, when if beds were scarce, travelers occasionally were permitted to bundle with locals. This seemingly strange practice allowed extra money to be made by renting out half a bed. Some hotels rented rooms for the night, shared by many occupants, and sharing a bed entailed an additional fee.
It is possible that, as late as the mid-19th century, bundling was still practiced in New York state and perhaps in New England, though its popularity was waning. The court case of Graham v. Smith, 1 Edm.Sel.Cas. 267 (N.Y. 1846), for example, initially argued before Judge Edmunds in the Orange Circuit Court of New York, concerned the seduction of a 19-year-old woman; testimony in the case established that bundling was a common practice in certain rural social circles at the time. By the 20th century, bundling seems to have disappeared almost everywhere, except for the more conservative Old Order Amish affiliations, where it is still in use in the 21st century, regardless of location.
This amazing increase may, indeed, be partly ascribed to a singular custom prevalent among them, commonly known by the name of bundling—a superstitious rite observed by the young people of both sexes, with which they usually terminated their festivities, and which was kept up with religious strictness by the more bigoted part of the community.
In the media
Gabriel Edward Martin, Heath Ledger's character in the 2000 film The Patriot, is bundled when he spends an overnight visit at the home of Anne Patricia Howard (Lisa Brenner), the girl that he is courting.
In the TV series Salem during Season 1, Episode 7, "Our Own Private America", adolescent teens are seen bundling. The girl breaks the sack.
In the TV series A Discovery of Witches during Season 1, episode 5, Matthew de Clairmont and Diana Bishop discuss the "bundling" custom.
- History of Sex, Love and Sexuality 1750 America and Bundling, The People's Almanac 1975 - 1981
- Stiles, Henry Reed (2005), Bundling: Its Origin, Progress and Decline (reprint ed.), Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4179-8628-6
- Marsden, George (2003). Jonathan Edwards: A Life. Yale University Press. p. 130. ISBN 9780300129946.
- Shachtman, pp. 10
- Shachtman, Tom. Rumspringa: To Be or Not to Be Amish. New York: North Point Press (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), 2006.
- Ekrich, Roger A. At Day's Close: Night in Times Past. Chapter 7, 2005.
- Walsh, William S.: Handy Book of Curious Information. J. B. Lippincott Company, 1913
- Little Known Facts about Bundling in the New World by Ammon Monroe Aurand Jr (1895-1956)
- Folk Lore of the Pennsylvania Germans
- The Art of Bundling: Being an Inquiry into the Nature and Origins of that Curious but Universal Folk-Custom, with an Exposition of the Rise & Fall of Bundling in the Eastern Part of North America. By Dana Doten, 1938
- "Bundling" in the Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online
- The original bundlers: Boaz and Ruth, and seventeenth-century English courtship practices - Critical Essay - Journal of Social History, Spring, 2002, by Yochi Fischer-Yinon