Bundling (tradition)

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Bundling, or tarrying, was 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,[1][2] especially in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. When used for courtship, the aim was to allow intimacy without sexual intercourse.

Courtship practice[edit]

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. The practice was limited to the winter and sometimes the use of a bundling board, placed between the boy and girl, discouraged sexual conduct.

By word of mouth from Victorian times: In Buckinghamshire (England) it is understood the practice involved each of the young persons being put into a sack, or bag, which was tied closed at their neck. They were then allowed to sleep together, each in their own sack. They could cuddle one another, but that was as far as they could go. The practice was not limited to a specific time of year and was not uncommon during the 19th century. No doubt this was also practiced in other counties in England.

In America[edit]

In colonial America bundling was condemned by Jonathan Edwards and other preachers.[3]

The practice of bundling continued in the early United States, where in the case of a scarcity of beds, travelers were occasionally permitted to bundle with locals. This seemingly strange practice allowed extra money to be made by renting out half a bed. Hotels rented rooms for the night, shared by many occupants, and sharing a bed entailed an additional fee.

There are indications that, as late as the mid-19th century, bundling was still practiced in New England, although its popularity was waning. The court case of Graham v. Smith, 1 Edm.Sel.Cas. 267 (N.Y. 1846), 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 as a practice seemed to have died out almost everywhere, with only isolated references to it occurring among the Amish in Ohio and Pennsylvania.[4]


The writer Washington Irving, in chapter 7 of Knickerbocker's History of New York as well as other of his works, refers to bundling as a Yankee practice.

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[edit]

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.

Anna Gunn's character in the HBO series Deadwood mentions removing a bundling board from their bed in Season 2, Episode 2.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ History of Sex, Love and Sexuality 1750 America and Bundling, The People's Almanac 1975 - 1981
  2. ^ Stiles, Henry Reed (2005), Bundling: Its Origin, Progress and Decline (reprint ed.), Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 978-1-4179-8628-6 
  3. ^ Marsden, George (2003). Jonathan Edwards: A Life. Yale University Press. p. 130. ISBN 9780300129946. 
  4. ^ 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

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