America in the 1850s


What was the lifespan of the white American at this time?

It is much more difficult to say than, for example, the lifespan of an average person today. The reason for this is that there were several great “bars” or “hurdles” to cross on the way to a good old age. Quite a few Americans did make it to their seventies or eighties, but they had to make it past the childhood illnesses that came on at around the age of three. Assuming one made it through chickenpox, measles, and the like, there was another great time of hazard for women: the childbearing years. Even if a woman did not die while giving birth, she often succumbed to complications after the fact. But assuming that she made it past that barrier, the next big one was the time of accidents, trips, and falls. These were especially prevalent in the lives of men, and the risk was compounded by how much “frontier life” they were exposed to. Cutting down trees, sawing wood, building log-frame houses, not to mention fording streams and breaking in animals, all took their toll, and it was a rather rare person who made it to middle age without enduring real wounds and accidents. One affliction that befalls modern-day Americans was not very prevalent in their time: heart attacks. The vigorous labor they performed, plus the relatively clean food they ate, kept heart attacks at bay. High blood pressure and strokes were another matter, however: many Americans were felled by what was at that time called a “fit of apoplexy.”


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