CLOSE
Original image
ThinkStock

5 Courtship Rituals from Colonial America

Original image
ThinkStock

What’s a party without a little romance? Even the Colonists needed love, and their methods might just work for you at your flossy party this Fourth of July.

1. 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. Marriage was a survival pact. 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. In return, the woman would keep the vermin out of the gruel she whipped up and would provide an outlet for sinful Puritan urges. Urges which would, in turn, provide the young couple with more laborers, so that this circle of mosquito-infested, frost-bitten drudgery could continue until they were released to God by sweet death.

2. Have Your Dads Arrange It

After things were more settled in the (not-at-all-new) “New World,” the living got a little easier, and marriage became more businesslike. In the early 18th century, the American patriarchal home was at its finest. 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. Back then, a woman literally belonged to her father or husband. They had something called “laws of coverture” which prohibited a married woman from owning property, even if it was hers before the marriage. So “dating” wasn’t really a thing then. Dads did the dating for people.

Marriage was a business arrangement that two men would make, their bargaining chips being their sons’ inheritance and their daughters’ dowries. The goal was to marry wealth and property together; the people were incidental. Love schmove. Our corn crop was terrible this year. You’re marrying for maize.

3. Overthrow a Monarchy, Erotically

Ah, but then came the Revolutionary era. Everybody suddenly got cool.

A bunch of stuff was changing all at once. America had gotten crowded; there were more ways to sustain life than farming and acreage. 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.

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. Also, bigger towns and more spacious settlements meant it was harder to keep track of people’s private affairs with their privates.

So now that neither parents nor fear of death were choosing spouses, young people began to do it themselves. And when I say “it,” I mean "it" in the Degrassi Junior High sense. Y’know. “IT.”

4. 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.

Society wasn’t really upset that the girls were pregnant, as long as they got married to the father. But not all men were that honorable, especially since the towns were now drawing in unsupervised, strange men to work in seaports and industry.

Colonial society came up with a fairly ingenious solution.

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’d promise to keep your underpants on. And your parents would likely help you arrange it. Which makes modern parents look pretty lame by comparison.

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). Parents weren’t stupid. They knew the kids were likely to have sex. Not necessarily while bundling, but behind the barn, in the meadow, during the corn shuck fest. They planned ahead for it like some parents today stock their son’s skater pants with condoms.

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. 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. So he either had to pay up or put a ring on it. No ruination for the girl, no fatherless child, no shame for the parents, and the guy? Well, he got some. Totally worth it.  

5. Hold Hands and Make Empty Promises

Handfasting, or spousing, was another way for a dishonorable young rogue to get lucky. Marriage wasn’t as formal an affair back then as you might think. 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. You could do it anywhere. 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.  

Try one of them, or try them all, and good luck getting lucky like a Patriot this fourth!

Sources for this article were provided by Molly Wolf, Library Liaison to the School of Human Sexuality at Widener University.

Original image
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
arrow
Lists
5 Things You Didn't Know About Sally Ride
Original image
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are five things you might not know about the astronaut, who passed away five years ago today—on July 23, 2012—at the age of 61.

1. SHE PROVED THERE IS SUCH THING AS A STUPID QUESTION.

When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.

2. SHE MIGHT HAVE BEEN A TENNIS PRO.

When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”

3. HOME ECONOMICS WAS NOT HER BEST SUBJECT.

After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"

4. SHE HAD A STRONG TIE TO THE CHALLENGER.

Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.

5. SHE DIDN'T SELL OUT.

A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.

Original image
arrow
Space
Remembering Comet Hale-Bopp's Unlikely Discovery
Original image

Comet Hale-Bopp was a sensation in the mid-1990s. It was visible to the naked eye for 18 months, shattering a nine-month record previously set in 1811. It inspired a doomsday cult, wild late-night radio theories about extraterrestrials, and plenty of actual science. But a year before it became visible to normal observers, two men independently and simultaneously discovered it in a coincidence of astronomical proportions.

On the night of July 22-23, 1995, Alan Hale was engaged in his favorite hobby: looking at comets. It was the first clear night in his area for about 10 days, so he decided to haul out his telescope and see what he could see. In the driveway of his New Mexico home, he set up his Meade DS-16 telescope and located Periodic Comet Clark, a known comet. He planned to wait a few hours and observe another known comet (Periodic Comet d'Arrest) when it came into view. To kill time, he pointed his telescope at M70, a globular cluster in the Sagittarius system.

Comet Hale-Bopp streaks through a starry night sky.
Comet Hale-Bopp streaks through the sky over Merrit Island, Florida, south of Kennedy Space Center.
George Shelton // AFP // Getty Images

Hale was both an amateur astronomer and a professional. His interest in spotting comets was actually the amateur part, thought it would make his name famous. Hale's day jobs included stints at JPL in Pasadena and the Southwest Institute for Space Research in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. But that night, peering at M70, he wrote, "I immediately noticed a fuzzy object in the field that hadn't been there when I had looked at M70 two weeks earlier." He double-checked that he was looking in the right place, and then started to get excited.

In order to verify that the fuzzy object wasn't something astronomers already knew about, Hale consulted his deep-sky catalogues and also ran a computer search using the International Astronomical Union's computer at Harvard University. Convinced that he had found something new, Hale fired off an email very early on the morning of July 23 to the IAU's Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, telling them what he had found, along with detailed instructions on how to verify it themselves. Hale also tracked the object as it moved, until it moved out of view. It was definitely a comet, and it was definitely new.

Meanwhile, Tom Bopp was in Arizona, also hunting for comets. At the time, Bopp was working at a construction materials company in Phoenix, but he was also an accomplished amateur astronomer, with decades of experience observing deep-sky objects. That night, Bopp vas visiting the remote Vekol Ranch, 90 miles south of Phoenix, known as a great location for dark-sky viewing. He was with a group of friends, which was important because Bopp didn't actually own a telescope.

The Bopp group looked through their various telescopes, observing all sorts of deep-sky objects late into the night. Bopp's friend Jim Stevens had set up his homemade 17.5-inch Dobsonian reflector telescope and made some observations. Stevens finished an observation, then left his telescope to consult a star atlas and figure out what to aim at next. While Stevens was occupied, Bopp peered into Stevens's telescope and saw a fuzzy object enter the field of view, near M70. He called his friends over to have a look.

The Bopp group proceeded to track the fuzzy object for several hours, just as Hale was doing over in New Mexico. By tracking its movement relative to background stars, they (like Hale) concluded that it was a comet. When the comet left his view, Bopp drove to a Western Union and sent a telegram to the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams. (For historical perspective, telegrams were extremely outdated in 1995, but technically they were still a thing.)

Brian Marsden at the Central Bureau received Bopp's telegram hours later, after getting a few followup emails from Hale with additional details. Comparing the times of discovery, Marsden realized that the two men had discovered the comet simultaneously. According to NASA, it was the farthest comet ever to be discovered by amateur astronomers—it was 7.15 Astronomical Units (AU) from our sun. That's 665 million miles. Not bad for a pair of amateurs, one using a homemade telescope!

The Central Bureau verified the findings and about 12 hours after the initial discovery, issued IAU Circular 6187, designating it C/1995 O1 Hale-Bopp. The circular read, in part: "All observers note the comet to be diffuse with some condensation and no tail, motion toward the west-northwest."

Four men smile, posing outdoors next to a large telescope at night.
Comet hunters (L to R): David Levy, Dr. Don Yeomans, Dr. Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp pose next to a telescope during a public viewing of the Hale-Bopp and Wild-2 comets.
Mike Nelson // AFP // Getty Images

Less than a year later, Comet Hale-Bopp came into plain view, and the rest is history. It was a thousand times brighter than Halley's Comet, which had caused a major stir in its most recent appearance in the 1980s. Comet Hale-Bopp will return, much like Halley's Comet, but it won't be until the year 4385. (And incidentally, it was previously visible circa 2200 BCE.)

SECTIONS

More from mental floss studios