Doubtless fueled by pictures of primly dressed cardboard Thanksgiving Pilgrims, many modern Americans believe that their forefathers & mothers were chaste and modest, too busy creating a new country to give way to impure thoughts, let alone actions.
Not so. The years directly before the American Revolution showed a record number of premarital pregnancies and babies born soon after marriages - records that in some cases weren't equaled until the 1960s. Despite the warnings of the colonial church, sex was not only practiced outside of marriage, but freely discussed and joked about, too. This bawdy story comes from the diary of John Adams, and while it might have been embellished a bit for the audience, it shows that even in supposedly straight-laced New England, a good jest with double-entendres was considered an excellent way "to raise the spirits" - and it also seems that the new Mistress Bicknal enjoyed herself, too.
"Last Thursday Night, at Cranach's Wedding, Dr. Tufts, in the Room where the Gentlemen were, said We used to have on these Occasions, some good Matrimonial stories, to raise our spirits. The story of B. Bicknal's Wife is a very clever one. She said, when she was married she was very anxious, she feared, she trembled, she could not go to Bed. But she recollected she had put her Hand to the Plow and could not look back, so she mustered her Spirits, committed her soul to God, and her Body to B. Bicknal and into Bed she leaped and in the Morning she was amazed, she could not think for her Life what it was that had scared her so."
Many thanks to John Bell for reminding us of this passage - and please check out his excellent Boston 1775, a blog devoted to history, analysis, and unabashed gossip about the start of the American Revolution in Massachusetts.
Above: Detail from Illustration for 'Wedding Proposals', print by Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki (1726-1801), 1780, Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Stanley Talpis, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.