- Historic Sites
The Observant French Lieutenant
Form the Journal of Comte Jean-Francois-Louis de Clermont-Crèvecoeur
October 1972 | Volume 23, Issue 6
… Few members of the army had cause to complain of their lodging or their hosts. Nevertheless, one may reasonably state that the character of this nation is little adapted to society. The men are very cold, rather stiff, and reticent, except for a group called Quakers. …
[The Quakers’] form of worshipping the Supreme Being seems rather bizarre. Their meetinghouse is open to all. They assemble there twice on Sunday, morning and evening. The sexes are separated, and one never sees men sitting in the women’s pews. The utmost silence reigns, and the members of the sect seem lost in the deepest reflection. Everyone is seated. When they feel so inspired, the men, as well as the women and girls, may speak. Whoever finds himself in this condition is easy to detect by his convulsive movements: his voice, his body, and all his limbs become agitated. Then everyone awaits the gift of the Holy Spirit and prepares to listen to the discourse that follows these quakings. It often happens that they leave the meetinghouse without having uttered a word. …
This sect is very rigid, as I have said above. Quakers allow themselves no pleasures beyond conversation and meditation; they are forbidden to sing and dance. The women, who are very pretty and are more inclined to pleasure than those of other sects (and that is not surprising, considering the constraint under which they must live), cannot become accustomed to such rigorous behavior, particularly while they are young and pretty. They detest their religion and only come to like it at an age when French women begin to become devout. If the Quaker men are even more solemn than those of other sects, one finds that Quaker girls balance the score by being much gayer and more playful. They love pleasure but are always held back by the fear of displeasing their parents. Since they have no ministers, they have no ceremonies. They marry themselves in the presence of all their friends and relatives, promising mutual fidelity. They publish banns and sign a contract in order to ensure that their mutual possessions benefit their children. Their wedding feasts are terribly dreary, since nobody speaks. You may imagine how much fun that must be! …
… This … leads me to make a brief observation on the subject of American women, or girls. In a country so new, where vice should not be deeply rooted, why should there be such a large number of prostitutes? Only one reason seems to me to be the cause. Although the fathers and mothers keep an eye on their daughters during their childhood, once they reach the age when human nature demands that they know everything, they become their own mistresses and are free to keep company with anyone they wish. Among the country people (for today in the towns education has corrected the abuses of which I shall speak) the girls enjoy so much freedom that a Frenchman or an Englishman, unaccustomed to such a situation, straightaway seeks the final favors. It is actually the custom, when a young man declares himself to be in love with a young girl, without even mentioning marriage, to permit him to bundle with her. This permission is granted by the parents. He then shuts himself up in a room with the young lady to lavish the most tender caresses upon her, stopping short of those reserved for marriage alone; otherwise he would transgress the established laws of bundling. If the young lady should take offense at his intrepidity, her parents will give him a hard time. The truly virtuous girls, who are not governed by temperament, easily resist and conform to the letter of the law of bundling, but it is to be feared that those more amply endowed by nature in this respect succumb to this tender sport. Bundling, it would seem, is made for Americans only. The coldness and gravity of their faces proclaim that this sport suits them perfectly. The bundling period is not defined; you can play this game for five or six years before deciding to marry, and even afterwards if you wish, without committing yourself finally to marry the girl after receiving these initial favors.
The women are generally very faithful to their husbands. You find few libertines among them. Yet some girls lead a most licentious life before they marry, though once married they, too, become good. The men are not fussy in this respect; they believe a girl should be free and do not despise her unless she is unfaithful after marriage. Thus a girl who has proved her worth, if she is pretty or rich, is quite sure of finding a husband; if she has had the misfortune to be seduced and the seduction bears its unfortunate fruit, it is not she who is disgraced, but the man. Respectable houses are henceforth closed to him, and he cannot marry into a respectable family.