If we were to peek back in time, we might find that love, courtship and romance in Colonial America was significantly different than what is commonly accepted today. Love was expected to follow marriage, not precede it.
The growth of families was considered an important component for survival, and early marriage was often encouraged. Childbearing was viewed as the prime resource for adding more hands to work the land and was considered key to survival. Colonial citizens were pragmatic…undertaking a marriage was typically considered more of a business arrangement than a romantic endeavor. Suitors presented themselves, and based upon their qualifications, the girl’s dowry and – sometimes – her feelings in the matter – they were accepted or denied courtship privileges.
Great distances, the weather and other considerations that separated couples led to some unusual courting customs. Unlike many of today’s dating couples, a suitor might travel half a day or more to court his intended, and be forced to spend the night. “Bundling” became an accepted custom for a time, where a young man and woman would sleep in the same bed – fully clothed and often separated by a board in the middle of the bed – in order to get to know each other better. Needless to say this led to an increase in premature births and was discontinued after a time.
Courtship during Colonial times was an active undertaking for all ages. Because the death of a spouse was far more common, widows and widowers were expected to remarry quickly both for financial and security reasons. It was also important to make sure the children in these larger families had two parents to share the burden, especially if there was no mother in the home.
Doesn’t sound romantic? It may help to know that many marriages entered into under these conditions were long, relatively happy, and produced large families with long genealogical lines. All the same, it makes contemporary dating and courtship look a whole lot more sensible!