For Americans living today, the Colonial era is a time of myth and legend. Because the days when the Founding Fathers lived are so central to our country’s history, we sometimes forget what life was like for ordinary colonists.
Today we might find it hard to believe that like modern generations, the colonists dealt with premarital sex, pregnancy, and blended families, along with some hardships (short lifespans, dying children) that we might have a hard time understanding. By searching your family’s history, you might be able to uncover how many of these startling issues your own ancestors encountered and survived.
1. COURTSHIP PRACTICES INCLUDED BED-SHARING
Although modern Americans imagine Colonial-era sexual morals to be, well, Puritanical, in the mid to late 1700s, more than one in three girls was pregnant when she walked down the aisle. So don’t be surprised if the birth or baptismal record of a progenitor that you discover on Ancestry is dated fewer than nine months after the parents’ wedding certificate. One unusual northern Colonial tradition may have encouraged this premarital fecundity. Bundling, or bed courting, involved young, unmarried couples testing their compatibility by sharing a bed for the night. More common among lower classes and along the frontier — perhaps due to the shortage of fuel for warmth and light — chastity was supposedly ensured by setting a “bundling board” (a long, upright plank) between the couple or by having them sleep in separate compartments of a large “bundling sack.” As Washington Irving later observed in 1809, no one was too surprised when hormones defeated these measures: “To this sagacious custom, therefore, do I chiefly attribute the unparalleled increase of the … Yankee tribe.”
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