In 1858: Viewed from “across the pond,” Americans seemed a sickly lot, but at least we had cricket!

I recently happened upon the London Times article “Bad Health and Body-Fragility of Americans” which was published in 1858 in many US papers including the Long-Islander (Friday, 12 March 1858; article below, courtesy of Fulton History dot com).
Cricket

It’s quite a curious read, the writer observing how weakened the American populace had become compared to their ancestors, the early colonists, and he had various theories for that, as did Americans themselves—they also found this phenomenon distressing. He mentioned feeling somewhat encouraged by America’s adoption of cricket as a sport, and indeed if you troll through 1858 newspapers, you will find plenty of mentions of cricket being played around the US. Click here to view a digital image of the printed engraving “Cricket Match Between Canada and the United States, at Hoboken [NJ], August 2, 3, and 4, 1858.”

Cricket1902

A cricket match in Newport, Rhode Island, 1902 – Credit: Library of Congress digital images (Catalog number 2007663759)

Cricket had been played in America since the early 1700s. George Washington is even said to have joined in a game with his troops at Valley Forge during their winter encampment of 1777-1778. Philadelphia, which once had as many as 100 cricket clubs, became its epicenter. While the sport’s popularity began to wane when baseball gained a foothold during the Civil War years, it was still being widely played into the early 20th century (up to the WWI-era). Interestingly, efforts are underway to rebuild this most English of sports in America where it is experiencing a revival in places like Atlanta and Los Angeles. For the interesting 2006 Smithsonian article “The History of Cricket in the United States,” click here. The Atlantic‘s 2014 article “Cricket Is Back” is also worth a read.

Bart King of Philadelphia, 1897. King is considered to be America's best cricketer ever.

Bart King of Philadelphia, 1897. King is considered to be America’s best cricketer ever.

Cricket or no cricket, at least on the surface we seem to be doing better as a nation today than in 1858, when the average American was viewed as a “thin, frail creature.” That said, as we all know, the pendulum has definitely swung in what could be argued an equally undesirable direction: approx. 66% of Americans (and 62% of UK residents) are now categorized as overweight or obese.

And, while the US and the UK have garnered high numbers of Olympic medals (the US garnering the most of any nation), neither country can claim to be the most athletic. When comparing a country’s population to its medals, the US ranks 17th worst, and neither the UK nor the US makes it into the list of the top 20 healthiest countries in the world. So it looks like both sides of the pond still have some work to do. I wonder what they’ll be saying about all of us 158 years from now, in the year 2174? And, will they be viewing us from a Wall-E-world type of environment and marveling at how slim and mobile we are? Or will, fingers-crossed, the pendulum have swung back for them and stopped in a much healthier place? For their sake, I hope it’s the latter!

Resources:
The book of American pastimes: containing a history of the principal base-ball, cricket, rowing, and yachting clubs of the United States by Charles A. Peverelly, published 1868

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Categories: Cricket, Health Matters | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “In 1858: Viewed from “across the pond,” Americans seemed a sickly lot, but at least we had cricket!

  1. Interesting. I had no idea that Cricket was once an American sport. I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of it before. As for the shape we are in… what more is to be said. 🙂 –Curt

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  2. I find it absolutely fascinating to read primary sources like this one because it better portrays how people thought about issues in the past than any recently written summary possibly could. Parts of the article appalled and saddened me–and some parts made me smile. I especially liked the line, “Parents and school masters and school mistresses are exhorted to take care of the youth of both sexes who are growing up under their charge, and see that they do not turn out mere intellectual prodigies without any bodily stamina.”

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    • I find stuff like this fascinating as well. Yes, I know what you mean; the content made me wince in a lot of places, too. This article made it into dozens of papers so it must have been widely read and discussed. Perhaps those conversations were what led to the introduction of phys. ed. classes in schools and a more physically fit population. Ironically today, a lot of schools have done away with gym classes. You’d think with all the sedentary computer use going on, gym class would be one thing you’d keep in your curriculum.

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  3. I find cricket the most boring sport ever. Good on you Americans for letting is slide off your sports’ radar!

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