Bundling, or tarrying, is the traditional practice of wrapping one person in a bed accompanied by another, 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 America, 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 young widow, and Boaz, an older wealthy landowner, spend a night together in a grain storage room while not touching; the pair later get 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 colonial America, 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, with only isolated mentions of the practice amongst the Amish in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
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.
One of those "pathetic stories." They tell this story pretty well over the entire country.
It is about a candidate for sheriff some years ago. The office-seeker came to a rural home late in the afternoon. He inquired whether he could obtain a meal, and lodging for the night. the reply was that he could have both. The supper was a fine one and the candidate was in excellent humor.
As was the customary in those days, folks went to bed rather early and on announcing that he believed he would be off to bed, if they would tell him where to sleep, he'd retire.
The farmer said: "We don't have much room, but you can sleep with the hired girl."
The candidate replied that he was a married man, and a candidate, too, and that if it became generally known throughout the country that he had slept with a hired girl during his campaign, that some constituents might misconstrue his motives and manners; could he have no other place to sleep? The farmer said the only other place he could think of was in the barn.
So rather than chance it to sleep with the hired girl on account of what might have happened to him, and his campaign, he decided on the barn.
Early next morning, he heard the hired girl come into a cow stable and let out the cows.
After milking one or two, she came back to release a bull which had become restless, leading him to one of the cows. The story goes that the old bull sniffed around a bit, turned his head, and drawing away.
This infuriated the maid, and she yelled at the bull in evident disgust: "What the devil's a-matter with you? Are you a candidate for sheriff, too?"
In the media
Gabriel Edward Martin, Heath Ledger's character in The Patriot (2000 film) 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 series, Salem during Season 1, Episode 7, "Our Own Private America", adolescent teens are seen bundling. The girl breaks the sack.
- 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)
- Excerpts from Night Life of the Pennsylvania Dutch
- 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