18th century Tag Archive

Bundling: A Curious Colonial Custom

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When you think of the word “bundling,” I’m sure you think of several layers of clothing to protect yourself from the cold. Or, more likely nowadays, getting your internet, cable and cell phone all under one contract. In Colonial America, Bundling was the practice of putting a courting couple together in bed for the night, fully clothed, to get better acquainted before marriage. It was considered an acceptable way for two young people to spend the night.

A theory for this respectability comes from the story of Ruth and Boaz from the Bible. According to most articles and books I’ve read about bundling, Ruth and Boaz spent the night together on the threshing room floor. The story as written in the Bible has Ruth sneaking in after Boaz has fallen asleep then sleeping at his feet. Her mother-in-law told her this was the way to get Boaz to marry her. Boaz even states that he doesn’t want anyone to know that a woman has entered the threshing room. Not sure why this makes bundling acceptable, but people are known to very loosely interpret the bible when it’s convenient.

The practice of bundling came over to the states with the first colonists. There are some writings still around that talk about the use of bundling in the UK and Holland. The earliest mention in the states goes back to 1634. Bundling, also called Tarrying, gave a young couple the opportunity to spend time together in an intimate setting. Something that NEVER happened in the 17th and 18th century. Keep in mind that during this time you didn’t get to choose who you married, your parents did. You married to align families, to access other resources like land or livestock, or just to make sure you married into a family with wealth, prestige, or adequate resources. Back in the UK and Europe, this was the way everyone approached marriage unless you were dirt poor and had nothing to exchange.

In the new world, you had the added pressure of extremely limited resources. Marriage was more about survival. Couples needed to have children to increase the workforce and build up their wealth and property. This survival culture is most likely why bundling is mentioned more in the prosperous 1700’s than the struggling 1600s. The more people had to offer, the more they had to bargain in exchange for marriage. It was all about coupling finances and property, and the woman was also considered property.

Despite the limited resources, Puritan’s practiced this tradition more than the Virginia settlers. More families settled in New England than in Virginia, which mostly consisted of single men for the first couple of years. This difference meant that while Puritan settlers didn’t have much when they arrived in the new world, they were more apt to keep their marriage traditions from back home. Marriage was decided between fathers and involved discussions of dowry and inheritance, even if there wasn’t much with which to negotiate.

A man with resources (or a man from a family with resources) was able to meet his intended beforehand instead of just meeting each other on the altar. This meeting often meant a long trip requiring an overnight stay. Needing to spend the night gave young couple an opportunity to spend it together with the intention of getting to know each other through late night conversation. To ensure there wouldn’t be any hanky panky, they would not only be clothed but have a barrier between them. Sometimes it was a board that went down the length of the bed (bundling board) or a large pillow (bundling bolster) down the middle, or put in a sack (bundling bag) that could be sewn or tied shut to prevent them from removing it. The rest of the family went to bed, and the young folk were left alone if there was room enough in the house to be left alone.

This practice seemed to be more common in New England. Puritan’s weren’t as conservative as you would think, at least as compared to their Catholic counterparts of the time. Yes, life and work were all for the glory of God, all rules came from the Bible, and sex was not allowed outside the confines of marriage. A significant difference was the Puritan’s belief that sex should be enjoyable to insure pregnancy. If a couple was not having sex or if the husband could not perform his duties, the marriage was annulled. Perhaps this is why bundling seemed like a good idea rather than being thought of as immoral. By giving the couple a chance to warm up to each other, they could ensure a prosperous marriage not only in wealth and property but also in progeny.

Early Americans even thought the practice was practical. Travelers were allowed to bundle with their daughters as a way to save money. This way expensive fuel wasn’t wasted to warm another room, or the room they were in for that matter. Not only could the soon to be betrothed whisper in the dark to save candles, but the traveling salesman could also bundle up with someone to conserve expensive firewood. This economic necessity is most likely why the practice seems to be limited to rural areas.

Despite all its practicalities, things did not always go as planned. There were times when the young lovers crossed the bundling board, or they managed to get free of the sack. When comparing marriage records with birth records, by the late 18th century at least 30 to 40 percent of colonial brides were already pregnant on their wedding day. Surprisingly, as long as they were getting married it didn’t seem to matter. It’s even suspected that if the bride was pregnant before marriage that bit of bundling could prove the paternity of the child as indisputable. The bundling young man had to be the father, making any accusations or need for proof unnecessary. Just marry the girl, and all is forgiven.

Not everyone was cool with bundling. There have been published rants from the clergy. Jonathan Edwards preached against it in the early 1730’s.  In 1781, Reverend Jason Haven even outed some people in the congregation while preaching against the practice. In 1809, Washington Irving mentioned it in his Knickerbocker’s History of New York as a “superstitious rite practiced by the young people of both sexes.” and points out “…that wherever the practice of bundling prevailed, there was an amazing number of sturdy brats annual born unto the state.” Bundling stayed around much longer than most clergy and sophisticated city dwellers liked. The custom spread from New England to New York and Pennsylvania then across the Midwest. There is some evidence that the Amish and Mennonites also practiced the custom for some time.

The custom fell out of favor quicker than you think. It stuck around for a long time but wasn’t very popular after the early colonies became prosperous. By the 19th century, it was still around but rare. You can find people talking about it as late as the 1930’s with stories about bundling “among the plain people.” Being thought of as only practiced by “plain” people will hurt any custom’s popularity.

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Today in Sex History: January 31st – The London Lock Hospital Opens

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The London Lock Hospital, which opened today in 1747, is known as the first VD clinic.

Lock was not a person’s name but a hold over from lock hospitals, also known at lazar hospitals, which housed those who suffered from leprosy. The first hospital for leprosy to use the Lock name, Southwark Lock Hospital, opened in the 12th century. The term “lock” doesn’t have a concrete definition. Some say it referred to the French word, la loque, for the rags or strips of linen used to cover afflicted areas of the leper’s body. Another possible origin is from an early Anglo-Saxon word, loc, that means “that by which anything is closed, an enclosed place, enclosure, fold.

Leprosy was on the decline by the 17th century, so there wasn’t much use for the lazar/lock hospital system anymore. Sexually transmitted infection was a much bigger problem. Several lazar hospitals, such the Southwark Lock Hospital and the Kingsland Lock Hospital, switched to treating syphilis and gonorrhea. Surgeon William Bromfeild (The correct spelling of his surname, not Bromfield) saw the need for a hospital in London dedicated to the treatment of venereal disease. He formed a committee and started work on The London Lock Hospital. They purchased a house near Hyde Park Corner to convert into the new hospital.

London Lock Hospital opened on January 31st with 30 beds, a staff of surgeons, physicians, nurses, apothecaries, a chaplain, and Bromfeild as a staff surgeon. The hospital treated 300 people in the first year. Unfortunately, the treatment of sexually transmitted infections used by the hospital was ineffectual. Mercury in a variety of forms was the most common treatment. It never worked and came with horrible side effects like tooth loss, increased sweating and salivation, bone loss, gum ulcers, and neurological damage. Mercury was more likely to kill you than cure you.

The National Health Service took over the London Lock Hospital in 1948, then closed it in 1952.

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Sexuality in Fashion: When Men Were Peacocks

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Some time ago my kids and I were visiting a park where the peafowl ran free. I say peafowl because peacocks are only the males of the species; peahens are the females. It was spring so many brilliantly trained peacocks seemed to be everywhere that day, ready to impress. They strutted around with tails fanned out, giving them a shivering shake every now and then, as the smaller neutral feathered peahens seemed to be going about their business nonplussed. Several moms were standing with us in an open field watching nature’s show when I noticed some mom’s referring to the peacocks as “she” and “her.” It seemed they thought the courting male fowl to be female.

It’s always frustrating for me when I hear parents give their children misinformation instead of just saying, “I don’t know” then seeking out the right info. Dare I say something and correct these women in front of their children?

I couldn’t help myself. I had to. For science.

When I pointed out the fanciful birds were indeed male, they were surprised. It was strange to them that the female would be dull colored and the male so extravagantly plumaged. Because I couldn’t shut my mouth at that point, I also pointed out that pretty much the entire animal kingdom is set up that way. I eventually wound up explaining that males are colorful to help attract a mate and females are camouflaged to protect them, important vessels of procreation as they are, from predators. What I didn’t get to is that men have also been peacocks in our past, we just don’t remember. I’m not just talking about the swinging 60’s, the glam 80’s or even the metrosexual new millennium. Men centuries ago have had periods where they rocked wigs, highish heels, makeup, and fanciful dress. These were mostly affluent nobles but a rising merchant class meant the middle-income crowd could also indulge in fanciful fashion.

For most of ancient times, men and women dressed pretty much the same. In the 15th and 16th century, dress in the upper class becomes more elaborate. By the Tudor and Elizabethan time period men are slashed, puffed, sporting thigh high pumpkin hose and stockings. Then the 17th century arrived. Noblemen and aristocrats begin a journey into ostentatious display the likes of which we have rarely seen. The elaborate jewel pearl encrusted Elizabethan era becomes the sumptuous fabrics and ornate lace collars of the Jacobean era. Men are all about the ruff but not in the curled shaped upright ruff, instead, it’s wide, flat and made with exquisitely edged lace. There are even fancy lace cuffs appearing at the sleeves. The leg coverings saw short breeches descend from their height at the thigh, to knee length and full, then relaxing to a more natural form. Sashes and fancy garter ties are now all the rage. The heeled shoe makes its appearance, as does the high-topped boot that soars to such height it become fashionable to have them hang and sag around your calves.

As we head into the 17th and 18th centuries, men are wigged out, wearing makeup, high-heeled, and looking fabulous. Early 17th century Jacobean moves to the jaunty mid-century Cavalier, made popular by the Three Musketeers movies. Cavalier brings long curled locks, fancy long poufy sleeve peeking out from the end of coat sleeves, longer more elaborate coats, ribbon loops, the birth of the cravat and Jabot as neckwear, and petticoat breeches which were so wide they often looked like short skirts.

It culminates with the Restoration era where long curly locks are replaced by bigger long curly wigs, garter ties with bows become festooned with ribbon loops, jackets bloom with more ribbon loops, hats grow wider brims and longer feathers, shoes are heeled with fancily decorated as are the ever widening cuffs. Makeup becomes popular, mostly to hide scars due to smallpox along with the use of beauty patches that also help to cover scars. If you’ve ever seen The British Fops Lucien Callow and Fagan on Saturday Night Live, this is what they were making fun of. The Restoration era is the Fops heyday.

Dandy fashions continue into the rococo period to the early 18th century, but with fewer ribbon loops. The last stand of men’s fashionable extravagance, at least until the 1960s, would be the “macaroni” of the mid 18th century. Trendy men’s court fashion becomes its most metrosexual until it calms down to a more sedate dandyism spearheaded by Beau Brummel. Men’s fashion would become increasingly dull and drab as attitudes towards masculine dress become more rigid in the 19th and 20th centuries.

It’s interesting to note that the times that men are letting their peacock flags fly, are when sexual mores are more relaxed. The renaissance saw an increased acceptance of sex for pleasure, although usually within the confines of marriage. While cheating had to be kept on the down low, mistresses and boys on the side start to become more apparent in the literature of the time. The 17th and 18th centuries find the aristocracy enjoying what seems like a great deal of sexual freedom. Men marry to procreate and pass their fortunes and titles onto their progeny while pursuing mistresses and courtesans for pleasure. There is a sense that men flirted more and sex was more acceptable.

The 18th century is a time where a more modern attitude towards sex takes root. When sex gets tightly buttoned up in the Victorian and Edwardian eras (19th to early 20th century) men’s dress becomes less ornate. During the sexual revolution of the 60s, we see the return of the dandy and a blurring of the gender lines in fashion. It makes me wonder if the absence of the metrosexual in preference for the more conservatively adorned hipsters has something to do with the current clash of sexual identity. Only time with tell. I’m hoping the peacocks return to parade and shake their stuff again.

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The Beggars Benison: 18th Century Gentlemen’s Club

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©Trustees of the British Museum

©Trustees of the British Museum

While I was looking for more information about a photo of a somewhat obscene silver platter dated 1732 that popped up while I was doing research (as we do), I came across an article titled “Masturbation Clubs of the 1700s.” In it, I read about the fascinating proceedings of the Scottish Club, The Beggar’s Benison. I also couldn’t stop thinking about something else. Let me get this out of the way right now.

The first rule of Masturbation Club is there is no Masturbation Club.

I couldn’t resist.

You might be thinking to yourself, “Isn’t masturbation like a solo thing?” “Why would you join a club?” Or you might be thinking, Masturbation club? Where have you been all my life?” Either way, group masturbation happens today with Jack/Jill off clubs and group masturbation parties. Check your local listings. What I was surprised to find out is that gentlemen’s clubs focusing on sexuality were all the rage in early 18th century UK. They’ve gone in and out of fashion over the past couple of centuries.

I know, I really shouldn’t be surprised but I was.

I’m not even sure how I came across the photo of the large plate engraved with words, most noticeably “the way of a man with a maid” and “test platter.” Oh and the vulva framing an erect penis and testicles with a little charm hanging from the shaft. The little charm is most likely a sporran or purse but it looks rather odd where it’s placed on the erect phallus. Along the outside rim are etched the words “The Beggar’s Benison Anstruther 1732.” All of this just screamed, “Must google this!” and sent me down a rabbit hole into the libertine adventures of 18th century London and Scotland. I found out that Beggar’s Benison was not really a masturbation club it was more. I also found there were other clubs and lots of lascivious behavior in these “gentlemen’s” clubs. Many clubs with various themes sprung up in 18th century London.

The 1700s saw a change in attitude about sex that had been evolving over time. It was not the change you would think. While sex for pleasure has always been around, attitudes towards it often changed with the times and with social standing. It seems before the age of enlightenment, the middle ages were all about sex for procreation but mostly for the lower classes. The nobility still had to marry and reproduce but often looked for sexual pleasure away from the marriage bed. Sexual promiscuity really depended on wealth, class, and whether you can get away with it. The nobility had been sleeping around for centuries already and prostitution never went away even when Henry the VIII tried to close the brothels to keep fast spreading STDs at bay. Syphilis and gonorrhea were rampant at the time, having spread through Europe like wildfire. This didn’t deter the sexually adventurous, unfortunately, and problems with these diseases continued into the next century.

By the 1700s, it seems that men that possessed wealth and power managed to find new and more exciting ways to party. Reconstruction of the monarchy after 1660 found a society ready to throw away the shackles of puritanism. There is a growth in men’s clubs providing a place for men to act and speak more freely. Open talk about sex and sexuality became popular at some of these clubs. At the same time, prostitutes and brothel madams could hold a celebrity like status. Their published diaries were as sought after then as leaked sex tapes and kiss and tell biographies are today. The libertine lifestyle was all the rage of the day even though people like Tissot were working hard to prove that masturbation was a ruinous hobby that would lead to debilitating illness. Heading towards the 19th century one part of society was trying to develop anti-masturbation technology while the other was putting their penis on a plate and ejaculating into it.

The full name of the club was Most Ancient and Puissant order of the Beggar’s Benison and Merryland. It was founded in 1732 in Anstruther, Scotland. Benison means blessing and Merryland is a euphemism for a woman’s body. Kind of like a sexy amusement park. The name comes from the club’s origin myth that King James, dressed as a commoner, received a blessing from the maid who carried him over a stream. What I find intriguing about The Beggar’s Benison is that the stories may have been exaggerated and even the written documentation may not show the whole truth. Artifacts and records were saved and are currently held in a collection at the University of St Andrews in Fife, Scotland. David Stephenson, the author of the book The Beggar’s Benison, looked over the records and finds that some dates don’t match up and they are not written in the proper minutes form, something that rarely if ever happens at the time. It’s speculated that some of these records were either written by someone who wanted to make the club out to be more obscene than it actually was, either to make it seem more interesting or more grotesque. It’s possible the sexual activity was only during the 1730s.

The Testing Platter was used to welcome in new initiates. Surviving documents state that the initiate would enter nude after being prepared in a closet. The initiate approached a table or altar in the center of the room where the Testing Platter awaited. It was apparently necessary to have an erection. Said erection would be placed on the platter with a white cloth placed over it. Then the officers and knights would join the initiate, also placing their erections under the white cloth so that they all touched. Wine was drunk; a passage from Song of Solomon was read, and often a piece of erotica. The documents state usually that “all frigged” which I’m taking to mean they all ejaculated onto the plate. Huzzah for gentlemanly brotherhood. None of this seems to have been thought of as homoerotic, merely celebrating the virility of manhood and sexuality. There are phallic drinking glasses, medals with erotic figures on the back, and some seals with similar imagery.

When not welcoming initiates, they read erotica and had rather serious lectures about sex. They hired “posture girls” to disrobe and pose so as to get a closer look at the most intimate parts of her body. No touching, no talking, just looking. Documents don’t tell us if this continued during the entire time the club was meeting. They only met about once or twice a year and seem to fall out of favor towards the end of the 18th century. It folded in 1836, just in time for the Victorian era to begin and a century of sexual repression. In it’s time, this band of sexual merry makers, or as Samuel Johnson defined them in his dictionary “An assembly of good fellows meeting under certain circumstances,” spread to Edinburgh, Manchester England, and possibly even St Petersburg. They would also spawn a spin-off group called the Wig Club. Someone would try to resurrect it in the early 1920s but to no avail. At least they left some very interesting collectibles and some scandalous stories behind.

I’ll leave you with the blessing placed upon King James and used among the Benison members (heh, I said members). “May prick, nor purse, never fail you.”

 

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