These days in the computer industry bundling is known as the hotly contended “practice of selling different, often unrelated, products in a single package.” These may be composed of “hardware
or both; for example, a modem or a selection of software may be bundled with a personal computer to make the purchase of the computer seem more attractive.”
Others could think of bundling as a way of wearing lots of clothing to protect from the harshness of the outdoor weather. Long ago it was a way of wearing clothing or some other deterrent, not for inclement indoor conditions, but more so from fathers who expected young men to be honorable.
Hints about of bundling in writing begin with ancients texts of the Old Testament in the book of Ruth (Ruth 3:2-14 ). It’s also been described in other cultures:
"Many of the Afghan tribes have a custom in wooing, similar to what in Wales is known as bundling-up, and which they term namzat bazé. The lover presents himself at the house of his betrothed with a suitable gift, and in return is allowed to pass the night with her, on the understanding that innocent endearments are not to be exceeded.
(Journeys in Balochistan, Afghanistan, &c. Vol. III. p. 287.)
Most likely, say several historians it was eventually adopted as a practice in Europe; then among early American colonists where bedtime courting became a pre-marital practice among many communities as a way for couples to spend time alone without risk of offspring.
The etymological history of the root word comes from the verb "bundle," a relative of "bind," most likely borrowed from the Middle Dutch bondel meaning a "sheaf of papers, bundle." A different relation may be "band" as in bandanna from Hindi bandhnu that describes, "tie-dyeing" since bandhna means "to tie". A further distant connection can be made to the Hinid word "kummerbund" and kamarband, derived from the Persian kamar meaning "waist" + band "band."
Bundling used as an intransitive verb describes a custom practiced in Wales and New England of betrothed couples sleeping in the same bed while fully dressed. You may have seen the whimsical scene about bundling in the movie The Patriot when the militia arrive in Pembroke for a respite and gather fresh supplies Gabriel calls on Anne. Later that evening Gabriel lies awkwardly on one side of Anne's bed while her mother cautiously sews him into a body-sized "bundling bag. Anne watches, embarrassed as her mother finishes with the last few stitches, completely hemming in Gabriel, with only his head sticking out of the heavy, canvas bag.
Occasionally girls trying to “catch a beau” would place a lit candle in the window as a way to say that they were interested in marriage. Gentlemen traveling by knew this was an indication that they could stop at the house and be bundled for the evening. To save fuel and for safety reason fires were extinguished when families retired for the evening so sewing the two interested parties into separate bags was a chance for them to stay up un-chaperoned and continue with their conversations without catching cold or worse!
The Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue explains one reason for this practice in Colonial America due to the: “scarcity of beds, where, on such occasions, husbands and parents frequently permitted travellers to bundle with their wives and daughters."
Sometimes called tarrying or questing the practice quietly spread to New York and Pennsylvania and may well have been practiced in some of the Mid-Atlantic States. Also used by the Amish and Mennonites bundling was intended to be more of a psychological barrier than a material one, at times in addition to this extreme measure of sewing couples in clothes into bags; pillows, and bolsters divvied up sleeping spaces. Pennsylvania Dutch are credited with the idea of placing a wooden board down the center of the bed that, in effect, cut the bed in half.
Carrying on under covers was for more than just a courting pair. During the 1600’s homes were small without the luxury of extra rooms. With more than a dozen or so children, families were customarily large so it’s reasonable to surmise that there was a lot of crowding in those small abodes. By the 1700’s going to bed in Bolton, Connecticut during the American Revolution came as a charming surprise to one contingent of French countrymen. Local historian Hans DePold recounts their lifestyle, way of life and clothes with regards to bundling:
When the French army of Rochambeau came to fight for American independence, its soldiers sported more ribbons and petticoats than our Connecticut young ladies. They had more formal-looking underwear than the Bolton locals wore for clothing. They prudishly changed in their tents while the local young people skinny-dipped in the rivers and streams.
You can imagine how surprised and disarmed the soldiers were when young ladies entered the privacy of their tents as they sat about in their frilly smocks. The diaries of the French officers tell those stories and more. Americans, with their vivaciousness and innocence, gave the French many shocking stories to write home about.
On October 28, 1782, General Verger wrote the following in his diary as he prepared to march to Bolton after the war was won:
"When they visited our camp, the girls came without their mothers and entered our tents with the greatest confidence. I cannot refrain from reporting a very extraordinary custom of this charming province, which is known as "bundling."
"A stranger or a resident who frequents a house and takes a fancy to a daughter of the house may declare his love in the presence of her father and mother without their taking it amiss; if she looks with favor upon his declaration and permits him to continue his suit, he is at perfect liberty to accompany her wherever he wants without fear of reproach from her parents ... Then if he is on good terms with the lady, he can propose bundling with her.
"... The man may remove his coat and shoes but nothing more, and the girl takes off nothing but her kerchief. Then they lie down together on the same bed, even in the presence of the mother--and the most strict mother. If they are alone in the room and indiscreet ardor leads the man to rashness towards his Dulcinea, woe to him if the least cry escapes her, for then the entire house enters the room and beats the lover for his too great impetuosity. Regardless of appearances, it is rare that a girl takes advantage of this great freedom, which confirms the food faith of these amiable citizens."
The culture shock of meeting such innocent, loving, and trusting people was more than the French soldiers could understand. That made the French behave all the more gallantly and honorably.
Those who partook in bundling were good, honest, and trustworthy both fully intended to marry eventually, from good families. Without fanfare or too much publicity, for many people courting could be a lifetime practice. Before modern medicine mortality rates were high and life was do or die. It wasn’t too unusual for a man or woman to have married three or more times. Singleness was generally frowned upon with bachelor’s facing special tax levies and women in their twenties were labeled as old maids. In an excerpt from Night Life of the Pennsylvania Dutch (Better Known as Bundling)
A woman from Dover, Pa. who courted in this fashion had the following comment to make.
"We never did anything wrong. All we do is talk and kiss a little; then we go to sleep. I can't see anything wrong with that."
Other arguments for Bundling sound like this:
"Some people say that bed-courting is a sin. I don't think so. My husband and I got to know each other that way and we have been happily married ever since."
An Amish boy told me, "I don't think many of out people bundle. If any do, I don't see anything wrong with it as long as you keep your clothes on and just talk."
A parent had this to say about his boy. "I don't mind if the boy wants to meet some nice girls this way. As long as he minds his manners, nothing will happen bad. If he don't behave, I told him that 'if he makes his bed, he has to lay in it."
Bundling was created as a way to socialize among early colonials and readily came about since farming was the primary way of life. People rose before dawn and went to bed after dark. The purpose was ostensibly used as an occasion for one to call upon the apple of his eye Many times men of marriageable status would travel great distances between farmlands to court making returning before nightfall impractical.
”Pre mature” births eventually led to bedtime courtships falling out of favor with the churches. One preacher said bundling " was the best device the devil had next to the snake in the garden." Eventually condemned as immoral, gossip eventually drove the practice out of public discussions, however, a number of family diaries have been discovered that tell about the tradition throughout the 1800s and there are some that mention bundling taking place as recently as 1937 in the United States.
Bolton Community News:
Dictionary of Americanisms, by John Russell Bartlett (1848):
Night Life of the Pennsylvania Dutch (Better Known as Bundling), J.E. Herrera A.B., B.D.M.S.M., Dutchcraft Company, Gettysburg, PA:
The Patriot: Film Fact or Fiction: