Gone were the days that a girl pointing across a magistrate's court to a scruffy farm boy was enough to force him to marry her. Marriage wasn't as formal an affair back then as you might think.But with bundling, if the girl should fall pregnant, there would be plenty of witnesses to claim the boy in question had access and opportunity. No ruination for the girl, no fatherless child, no shame for the parents, and the guy? You didn't need a license or even a presiding authority.It was acceptable to have a common-law marriage, where you basically held hands and agreed to be married. And as court records of the day show, lots of men chose to do it right in front of a nice big bed with a woman they had no intention of eating breakfast with.Sometimes they hopped the next ship for England and got away with it; sometimes they were caught and escorted by armed guard and enraged father into marital bliss. FIND A LIVE ONE The earliest colonists — the Puritans who struggled for every mouthful of food and whose yearly death count exceeded that of any George Romero movie — did not have time for the frippery of love and courtship. Courtship involved finding a woman of childbearing-ish age who had survived the previous winter.The man plowed things and kept threats of attack at bay.Colonial society came up with a fairly ingenious solution. Which makes modern parents look pretty lame by comparison. Not necessarily while bundling, but behind the barn, in the meadow, during the corn shuck fest.If you were 17, you might suggest to your strict Christian parents that you'd like to snuggle up with sultry Goodie Sally from across the hog farm. You've probably heard of this practice, called "bundling," where unmarried couples could sleep together in the same bed, sometimes with a plank placed between them (for all the good it would do). They planned ahead for it like some parents today stock their son's skater pants with condoms. HOLD HANDS AND MAKE EMPTY PROMISES Handfasting, or spousing, was another way for a dishonorable young rogue to get lucky.
In the early 18th century, the American patriarchal home was at its finest. OVERTHROW A MONARCHY, EROTICALLY Ah, but then came the Revolutionary era. It was no longer so deathly important that the farm of Goodman Figgenbottom share the water rights of Goodman Pundersnoot, by way of their children sharing bodily fluids.And not patriarchal as we use the term today, where it can be applied to anything from the injustice of the glass ceiling to men who insist on standing up to pee. Plus, the idea of "patriarchy" and completely ruling your "subjects" was losing its popularity in an America that was screaming at a king to stay out of its room. PROMISE TO STAY ON YOUR SIDE OF THE BUNDLING BOARD By comparing marriage records with subsequent birth records, historians can tell that by the late 18th century, 30 to 40 percent of American brides were pregnant at their weddings.