Did African Americans experience the [`]Antebellum Puzzle'? Evidence from the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War
The "Antebellum Puzzle" has been the subject of comment since the 1980s. It involves the paradox that, although the American economy was experiencing rapid economic growth in the several decades prior to the Civil War (1861-1865), the stature of native-born white males had been declining for the birth cohorts from the late 1820s. This was also true for free blacks (Komlos, 1992), but was apparently not true for slaves. This paper uses a sample of 8592 adult back males who were recruits to the United States Colored Troops during the Civil War. They were recruited significantly among ex-slaves. Recruits from the birth cohorts of 1838-1842 were then linked to characteristics of their counties of birth from the 1840 and 1850 U.S. Censuses. Unlike slaves in the coastal manifests, these African American recruits showed evidence of a decline in heights from the birth cohorts of the 1820s onwards. Unlike the native-white recruits, however, the characteristics of their counties of birth had relatively less power in explaining differences in heights. There was some support for the mortality hypothesis, but the nutrition hypothesis needs to be interpreted in light of the fact that slave owners has a strong interest in monitoring and controlling the diet of their slaves.
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