Fort Klock Historic Restoration
& Indian Castle Church

The Art of Bundling

Being an Inquiry into the Nature and Origins of that Curious but Universal Folk-Custom, with an Exposition of the Rise & Fall of Bundling in the Eastern Part of North America.

By Dana Doten, 1938


If a certain temerity may be attributed to the modern writer who undertakes the subject of bundling, how shall we describe the heterodoxy of Dr. Henry Reed Stiles, who, in 1869, published the first and only real treatise on bundling, to the enraged consternation of the literary world of his day? BUNDLING; ITS ORIGIN PROGRESS AND DECLINE IN AMERICA is a serious and admirable study, but its candor was about as congenial to American society of the 1860's as the works of Thomas Jefferson would be to Mussolini.

Stiles was not a sociologist-he was an antiquarian. But he was also an honest, and somewhat stubborn man. He had been understandably annoyed by the roar of protest which greeted an incidental reference to bundling in his HISTORY AND GENEALOGIES OF ANCIENT WINDSOR, CONN. (1859). This random remark precipitated a general attack on Stiles by Connecticut scholars, who "winced under the soft impeachment of having a bundling ancestry." As a fellow-antiquarian wrote, "Some of your friends... fear that this subject of bundling cannot be ventilated without endangering the fair fame of old Connecticut."

Stiles' bundling book was the answer to his critics-a complete and surely not hasty reply (it did not appear for ten years). It is a thoughtful, well-documented piece of work, only slightly impaired by the prevailing squeamishness of literary tone.

I do not wish to minimize the value of Stiles' contribution when I suggest that, with this fortunate exception, the nineteenth century conspired to suppress all knowledge of bundling, and almost succeeded in preventing us from ever learning the facts about a significant aspect of pre-Revolutionary life. Our Victorian forbears were fully as ashamed of the frankness of their grandparents as they would be of the directness of their grandchildren. They had conquered eighteenth-century honesty; twentieth-century explicitness had not yet arrived to harass them. For three generations they held the bridge against every crude, natural, outspoken influence, making the world safe for nice people.

The interval has passed. We are once more interested in the realities which faced our Colonial ancestors. This book tries to get back to such realities. It concerns itself quite as much with the Colonists, with the world of the American eighteenth century, as with bundling. For bundling is important not as an odd phenomenon but as a sign of the times, a real mirror of Colonial thought and behavior.

If THE ART OF BUNDLING were an operetta it could have no better motif than Yankee Doodle, that ragged but nimble tune which was launched by British regulars as a jeer at the Colonial militia, but which was immediately seized upon as a Yankee Marseillaise. Nothing is more redolent of the early American attitude towards life than the gay, shrewd banter of this song.

I must must acknowledge, if I cannot adequately repay, my debt to Mr. Foster C. Slayton, who has given steady, essential assistance through the many months of research this volume has entailed. It is no conventional gesture to set down that, but for his painstaking work and sympathetic criticism, the book could not have reached its present form.
Montpelier, Vermont
July 4, 1938

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