On New Year’s Day, 1783, the senior-most major of the Virginia Continental Line wrote to the commander in chief asking for permission to resign his commission. David Stephenson had been in the army for seven years, beginning as a Captain of an Augusta County company in the 8th Virginia Regiment. His service had, in monetary terms, cost him everything.
“When I entered the service my fortune was very small and is now entirely expended,” he wrote. “Extravagance has been no cause of my present situation, nor is it from interested motives I would now wish to retire; but it is as really out of my power to equip myself decently as it is to purchase the Indies.”
Stephenson was, in fact, not far from home. He wrote to Washington from Winchester, Virginia where he may have been guarding prisoners or performing other duties in the Shenandoah Valley’s largest town.
Stephenson had traversed the former colonies from New York to Georgia, survived battles, malaria and capture by the enemy. Penniless, he told Washington that he could not even afford to clothe himself. “Conscious that your Excellency will never wish to continue an officer in Service whose appearance must be so inferior to his rank, I rest satisfied of your approbation to retire.”
The war was essentially over, anyway. Within months, there would be a treaty to formalize it. When Stephenson returned home he was about 38 years old. Before the end of the year he married Mary Davies. They were married for 27 years before he died about 1810. Mary died in 1815. An unproven account that they had one son together is challenged by Mary’s will, in which all of their property was given to nieces and nephews from both sides of the family. She also directed that their slaves were “to be liberated and transported to some free State.”
In 1855 an elderly widow named Jane Roberts applied for bounty land for her husband’s service “in the war with the Cherokees & British in the year 1776.” We don’t often think of the Revolution as a two-front war, but it was. Americans fought an Anglo-German army in the east and an Anglo-Indian opponent in the west. Most of the western fighting was against Indians who were fighting as proxies of the Crown. In Virginia’s northwest territory along the Ohio River and beyond, the Shawnee were the most fearsome.
An 8th Virginia soldier like Captain George Slaughter might have seen the Revolution as just one chapter in a six-decade fight with the Indians for control of Kentucky and Ohio. The territories were the scenes of nearly constant bloodshed from the defeat of General Edward Braddock in 1755 to the defeat of Shawnee chief Tecumseh in 1813. After more than two decades of intermittent barbarity, Slaughter and his comrades suffered from no moral anguish when it came to killing Indians. In 1781 he wrote Virginia Gov. Thomas Jefferson from Kentucky, “The Savages have been very troublesome this Spring; almost every other day we have accounts of some one being either kill’d or Captured; upwards of 40 Men, Women and Children have fallen a prey to them within the County of Jefferson in the course of 2 Months past and we have not had the satisfaction of getting but one of there Scalps.”
George Slaughter was born in Culpeper County, Virginia in 1739. He was a sixth-generation Virginian, descending from John Slaughter who is believed by genealogists to have arrived at Jamestown before 1620. When he was twenty-five years old, George volunteered to help put down a major Indian uprising known as Pontiac’s Rebellion—which was a sort of postlude to the French and Indian War. Colonel Henry Bouquet led nearly 1500 militiamen out of Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) in 1764 and subdued the Indians in Ohio. Bouquet required the Indians to return 200 white people who had been kidnapped over the years. This liberation combined joy with sorrow: most of the captives had been taken as small children and were fully assimilated into the tribes.
A decade later, Slaughter participated in Dunmore’s War. This was another campaign, led by the royal governor of Virginia, to “pacify” the Indians. After a lengthy and bloody battle at Point Pleasant on the Ohio River, the Virginians were victorious. Slaughter’s unit, however, reportedly arrived too late to participate in the fighting. After the campaign ended, Slaughter explored Kentucky for a while and planted corn—perhaps to lay claim to some land.
A year later, in 1775, he recruited one of the first companies for the famous Culpeper Minutemen, which probably means he participated in the Battle of Great Bridge—an early patriot victory in Virginia. The minute battalions were replaced in 1776 by additional full-time regular regiments, including the 8th Virginia. Slaughter recruited a company in Culpeper County, including an unknown number of former minutemen. Slaughter remained with the regiment through Charleston and Brandywine and was then promoted to major of the 12th Virginia just before the Battle of Germantown.
At Valley Forge, in December of 1777, he learned that his family in Culpeper had lost their house in a fire. That, and a smallpox epidemic (against which he, but not his family, had been inoculated), prompted him to request a furlough from General Washington. When the furlough was turned down, he resigned his commission on December 23 and headed home. On February 1, he contritely wrote to Washington begging to be reinstated. “If my reenstation can take place with propriety,” he wrote, “it will afford me great satisfaction; if not, I hope I can Acquiesce without murmuring.” The request was denied.
The next few months of his life are not well documented. Navigating some apparent contradictions among sources suggests that he was a “colonel of volunteers” for a time in 1778 before joining the Illinois Regiment commanded by Col. George Rogers Clark at the rank of major. This was a state regiment (neither Continental nor militia) authorized in January 1778 for the defense of the western frontier. Precisely when he joined is not clear. There is no evidence that he was at Clark’s first victories at Kaskaskia and Vincennes in July. However, an 1897 history by William Hayden English includes a vague and unsourced report that Slaughter was “a colonel of volunteers in 1778.” What this means and where Slaughter was during this time hasn’t been determined.
After Clark’s victories, Maj. John Montgomery returned to Virginia with dispatches. While there, Montgomery was promoted to lieutenant colonel and ordered to recruit additional forces to reinforce Clark. On January 1, 1779, Gov. Patrick Henry drafted orders for Clark based on decisions of the state legislature. “They have directed your battalion to be completed, 100 men to be stationed at the falls of the Ohio under Major Slaughter, and one only of the additional battalions to be completed. Major Slaughter’s men are raised, and will march in a few days, this letter being to go by him. The returns which have been made to me do not enable me to say whether men enough are raised to make up the additional battalion, but I suppose there must be nearly enough. This battalion will march as early in the spring as the weather will admit.”
Montgomery was redirected to help suppress an Indian uprising among the Cherokee in April of 1779, an operation known as Evan Shelby’s Chickamauga Campaign. William Hayden English wrote that Slaughter was along for this campaign, though documents to support this have not been found.
Slaughter’s participation in Shelby’s campaign is circumstantially supported by the fact that he was once again recruiting in Virginia in the fall of 1779. Slaughter recruited 150 men who were sworn into the service in mid-December when they headed west. They made it as far as Redstone Fort in Pennsylvania before getting bogged down by snow. In the spring, they made it to Fort Pitt and boated downstream to the falls of the Ohio River. This site is now Louisville, Kentucky, a city of which Slaughter is considered a founder.
Slaughter joined Clark on a 1780 campaign against the Shawnee in Ohio known as the Battle of Peckuwe (or “Piqua”).
Clark then left for Virginia and left Slaughter in command. Slaughter oversaw the construction of Fort Nelson at Louisville. It was from there that he reported to Jefferson on the dangerous situation with the Indians. Safety was not his only problem. He also reported, “We are here without money, Clothing, or any thing else scarsely to subsist on. By the fault of the Commissaries, Hunters or I cannot tell who upwards of One hundred and Thirty Th[ousan]d weight of meat was intirely spoiled and lost.”
Things improved for Slaughter and his neighbors from there. This can be seen in a letter his old 8th Virginia commander Colonel Abraham Bowman (who moved to Kentucky in 1779) sent home on October 10, 1784. Bowman wrote to a brother that "General Clark has laid off a town on the other side of the Ohio, opposite the falls, at the mouth of Silver creek, and is building a saw and grist mill there." This was Clarksville, in Clark County, Indiana. The same year, Slaughter was elected to the Virginia legislature. In 1792 Kentucky became its own state.
Slaughter eventually followed Clark and moved across the river. This was land that had been set aside for Virginia soldiers who had participated in “the reduction of the British in the Illinois.” Slaughter does not seem to have been one of them. Nevertheless, he moved to Charleston, then the seat of Clark County, in his last years and died there in 1818. No grave marker survives, but (according to a genealogy website) he may be in the Shelby Family Cemetery, better known as the Halcyon Hill Cemetery.
Like many 8th Virginia veterans who were prominent and important in their day, Slaughter has been largely forgotten. It is never too late for Louisville (or Culpeper, or Charleston) to memorialize him.
(Revised and updated, December 22, 2019)
He then led the Fincastle (Kentucky) County company for the 8th Virginia in 1776. After his company was decimated by malaria in south, he was detached to lead a new company in Morgan’s Rifles and took part in the first major American victory of the war at Saratoga. After the war, he served in the legislatures of Virginia and Kentucky (after it separated from Virginia) and served in the Kentucky militia as a colonel. In 1805 he married the widow of his neighbor and friend, Benjamin Logan.
I drove by the creek one more time and looked high up on the bluff on the opposite side. Through the trees, I could just make out a monument. Looking on my phone at pictures on FindAGrave.com, I decided it looked like Benjamin Logan’s grave marker. Knox’s grave is up there too, but can’t be seen from the road.
The Logan cemetery was cleaned up in 2015. Already “neglected and overgrown” in 1923, it was described in 2015 as “in complete disrepair; you couldn’t even walk through it, you had to spread the trees and the bushes and the vines apart to even get through it.” My search for Knox’s grave is a perfect allegory for the story of the 8th Virginia. The story is out there, but it’s frequently very hard to find.
Read More: "James Knox Was There Before Daniel Boone" (8/19/17)
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No other place does more to tell the story of the 8th Virginia Regiment than the house and museum at Locust Grove, near Louisville, Kentucky. It does this almost unintentionally. Locust Grove was the after-war home of Captain William Croghan (who was a major when the war ended). He married the sister of fellow 8th Virginia Captain Jonathan Clark and lived not far from Clark at the fall-line of the Ohio River (Louisville). This was a roughly 400-mile boat ride from his old home at Pittsburgh.For many 8th Virginia men, the opening up of Kentucky was their main reason for fighting in the war. Colonel Abraham Bowman, captains Croghan, Clark, James Knox, and George Slaughter all moved to Kentucky after (or during) the war. So did a large number of the regiment’s junior officers and enlisted men.
I have compared this research to a jigsaw puzzle—the compilation of thousands of discrete bits of information from a multitude of sources. It was a bit of a shock, therefore to visit Locust Grove and find a place that seemed in so many ways to be a memorial to the 8th Virginia Regiment and its veterans. It isn’t actually that, of course. I don't think the regiment itself is even mentioned. Much more is said about Croghan's brother-in-law George Rogers Clark. But the museum’s exhibits wonderfully contextualize and illustrate the world of the 8th Virginia, before, during and especially after the war.
Croghan was a very important man in Kentucky. He had money, land, and relationships. Much or most of that—including his marriage—came to him through his service in the war. The same could be said for many of his 8th Virginia comrades who prospered in the west. It was in large measure what they fought for during the Revolution: opportunity.
8th Virginia captain and major Jonathan Clark was the oldest of ten siblings in a family that left a powerful impact on American history. No other family can claim a larger role in the history of the War for Independence, the conquest of the old frontier (the “Northwest Territory”), and the exploration of the post-Louisiana purchase frontier than the Clarks can.
Today, the most famous of them is William, who was twenty years younger than Jonathan. Each of them, however, contributed to the founding and expansion of the nation in his or her own way.
Jonathan (1750 – 1811) was the oldest. A Captain in the 8th Virginia, he was later promoted to major and then lieutenant colonel and held a post-war rank of major general in the Virginia militia. He was at Brandywine, Germantown, Valley Forge, Monmouth, Paulus Hook, and the siege of Charleston--where he was taken prisoner. He lived his later years near Louisville, Kentucky.
George Rogers (1752 – 1818) was, during his life, the most famous sibling, known as the “Conqueror of the Northwest.” He led successful western campaigns against the Shawnee, who were allied with the British. Control of that Northwest Territory (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and a bit of Minnesota) was no small matter. Following the French and Indian War, the British Crown considered this territory to be part of Quebec. This territory would likely be part of Canada today were it not for George.
Ann Rogers (1755 – 1822) married Owen Gwathmey, an early settler of Louisville.
John (1757 – 1784) was, at the age of 19, awarded a commission in the 8th Virginia as a 2nd Lieutenant in Robert Higgins’ 1777 replacement company. He served only a short while. He was captured three weeks after his twentieth birthday at the Battle of Germantown. Held for much of the time in terrible conditions, he returned to his parents' home sick with "consumption" (pulmonary tuberculosis) in 1781. He was sent for a while to the Caribbean in the hope that the climate would help him. It didn't work. He returned home and continued to waste away until his death in 1784.
Richard Henry (1760 – 1784) served under George Rogers in several western engagements, starting at the age of nineteen. He died while traveling alone on horseback from the falls of the Ohio (Louisville) to Vincennes or Kaskaskia (Illinois). He is presumed to have drowned, though the family hoped for many years that he would turn up alive.
Edmund (1762 – 1815) served in the 4th Virginia Regiment as a young sergeant. This was the regiment the 8th Virginia merged with (and took the number of) in 1778. He received an ensign's commission in the 6th Virginia shortly before the siege of Charleston. He was taken prisoner there along with Jonathan and promoted to lieutenant while in captivity and released after Yorktown. He was received a captain's commission during the Quasi-War with France. He moved to Kentucky with the rest of the family and died there as a lifelong bachelor in 1815.
Lucy (1765 – 1838) married 8th Virginia Captain William Croghan. The Croghans lived and prospered on their estate “Locust Grove” east of Louisville, Kentucky. Jonathan lived close by and George came to live with Lucy in his later years, struggling toward his eventual death with an amputated leg and the effects of a stroke.
Elizabeth (1768 – 1795) married Richard Clough Anderson, a well-regarded officer in the Virginia Line and surveyor of Kentucky military bounty lands. She died young. Her husband remarried. One of his children from that marriage was Colonel Robert Anderson, the Union commander of Fort Sumpter at the outbreak of the Civil War.
William (1770 – 1838) explored the new frontier with Meriwether Lewis at the head of the Corps of Discovery from 1804 to 1806, co-leading the first overland journey all the way to the Pacific Ocean. He is now, by far, the most famous of the Clark siblings. He was later made governor of Missouri.
Frances Eleanor (1773 – 1825) married three times, the second time to Charles Mynn Thruston, Jr. Thruston’s father had been the rector of Berkeley Parish (Berkeley County), Virginia, and a colonel in the Continental Army. Berkeley County played an important role in the life of the 8th Virginia. The life of the elder Thruston holds strong parallels to the life of 8th Virginia Colonel Peter Muhlenberg—they were both “fighting parsons” from the Shenandoah Valley. Frances died in 1825 in St. Louis, Mo., at the home of her son, Col. John O'Fallon.
Jonathan and his wife Sarah Hite Clark lie in the center of six Clark family graves fronting a family monument at Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery. Flags adorn the graves of Jonathan, George, and Edmund, who fought in the Revolutionary War. Their famous younger brother, William, is buried in St. Louis, Missouri. (Author)
8th Virginia Colonel Abraham Bowman’s frontier cabin looks better than has in 200 years.
Frontier log cabins, usually built of American Chestnut on stone foundations, were very durable structures. A surprising number of them survive today, including the cabin 8th Virginia Colonel Abraham Bowman built about 1779 or 1780 when he moved to Kentucky. Nevertheless, after two centuries, the Bowman cabin showed signs of deterioration (and alteration) when images of it were submitted to the National Park Service in 1979.
Bowman and his brothers are remembered as accomplished equestrians, reportedly known back in the Shenandoah Valley as the “Four Centaurs of Cedar Creek.” Appropriately, most of his land in Kentucky is now part of one of the most important equestrian facilities in the world. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Emir of Dubai and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, is a horse enthusiast and owner of a global thoroughbred stallion operation which stands stallions in six countries. Soon after acquiring the property in 2000, Sheikh Mohammed had the Bowman cabin repaired and restored, along with other properties built long ago for Bowman’s children.
The unique cabin, which features a basement and an exterior staircase to a second floor, has never looked better. The most notable change from the restoration is the reorientation of the exterior stairs, presumably to their original position and providing more headroom over the basement stairs.
What did Peter Muhlenberg look like? The most frequently-seen image of the General is the oil-on-canvas portrait in the collection of the Martin Art Gallery at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The gallery, however, identifies this portrait as the work of an unknown artist, created on an unknown date: “circa 1800-1900.” Judging purely from that date range, there is a good chance that this familiar portrait was not made from life. Muhlenberg died in 1807.
The second-most commonly-seen image is the statue that stands in the United States Capitol, one of two statues representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This statue, which was created in 1889 by Blanche Nevin, hardly resembles the Martin Gallery portrait, though it is possible to imagine similarities. It depicts Muhlenberg as the new colonel of the 8th Virginia Regiment, removing his pastor’s robe to reveal a military uniform. (Muhlenberg was made a general after serving as the regiment's colonel for about a year.)
Directly upstairs from that statue, in the Capitol Rotunda, there is another image of Muhlenberg which may be the most reliable. It is a partially-obscured side image of General Muhlenberg in John Trumbull’s grand depiction of The Surrender of Lord Cornwallis. According to the Architect of the Capitol, Trumbull created this giant painting “between 1819 and 1820, basing it upon a small painting … that he had first envisioned in 1785…. In 1787 he made preliminary drawings for the small painting. Although he struggled for a time with the arrangement of the figures, he had settled upon a composition by 1788.”
Trumbull worked hard to make his depiction of the people in his history paintings as accurate as possible. He wrote that “to transmit to their descendants, the personal resemblance of those who have been the great actors in those illustrious scenes” was one of the goals of his patriotic painting. A war veteran from a prominent Connecticut family, Trumbull knew many of his subjects personally.
“To create portraits from life of the people depicted in this and other paintings," the Capitol architect's website says, "Trumbull traveled extensively. He obtained sittings with numerous individuals in Paris (including French officers at Thomas Jefferson’s house) and in New York. In 1791 he was at Yorktown and sketched the site of the British surrender. He continued to work on the small painting during the following years but did not [immediately] complete it; nevertheless, in January 1817 he showed it and other works in Washington, D.C., and was given a commission to create four monumental history paintings for the Capitol. Surrender of Lord Cornwallis was the second of these large paintings that he completed. He exhibited it in New York City, Boston, and Baltimore before delivering it to the United States Capitol in late 1820. He completed the small painting around 1828; it is now part of the collection of the Yale University Art Gallery.”
If he even needed a sitting, Muhlenberg would not have been a hard man for Trumbull to find. The retired general served in Congress and as vice president and de-facto governor of Pennsylvania during the earlier years of Trumbull’s project. Though Trumbull’s portrait should be considered the most reliable, it is worth taking a moment to compare the Trumbull side-image to the anonymous portrait at Muhlenberg College. They are quite similar. In both depictions he has a long nose, slightly angled eyes, and slightly jowly cheeks. If the college has not made an effort to research the origin of the portrait in its collection, it should.
After a prisoner exchange he immediately recruited a regiment of frontier militia and was present for the victory at Yorktown. An Ohio county and a West Virginia town are named after him. He was well-known to George Washington, who personally asked him to serve in General Arthur St. Clair’s army of 1791.
Washington clearly knew Darke and respected him. They may have served together in General Braddock’s army in 1755—though this is unproven and seems unlikely. If they served together in the French and Indian War it was more likely during the less well-known frontier conflicts that followed, when Darke served as a ranger. After the revolution, they had a business relationship though the Potomac Company, formed by Washington and others to make that river navigable. Darke Visited Mount Vernon in 1786 and 1787. Washington visited with Darke near the latter’s home close to Harper’s Ferry in 1790. In 1791, Washington wrote to Darke asking him to recruit officers for St. Clair’s army in advance of the campaign to pacify the Indians in Ohio. In that letter Washington bluntly and unapologetically told Darke that he was his third choice to command a regiment—pending a reply from his second choice (his first choice was “Light Horse Harry” Lee, who declined).
Intriguingly, what may be the best evidence of a close (but certainly unequal) relationship between Darke and Washington is a gift. According to longstanding tradition—apparently perpetuated by descendants of Washington’s nephew—Darke presented Washington with a sword. The date of the presentation is unknown, but it is believed by at least one researcher to have been worn by Washington at his presidential inauguration. The sword itself is real—it is on display at the Washington’s Headquarters Museum in Morristown, New Jersey.
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Croghan commanded the remnants of a 140-man detachment that included his own company from Pittsburgh, and another seventy 8th Virginia soldiers who had missed the spring rendezvous at Suffolk, Virginia. For the year, Croghan's men were attached to the 1st Virginia Regiment. That regiment's field officers (colonel, lieutenant colonel, and major) were all sick or wounded, so a man of Croghan's own rank was in command: Capt. John Fleming from Goochland, Virginia. In a week, even Fleming would be dead. There is good reason to think that Croghan was also too sick to command his men and that Lt. Abraham Kirkpatrick (also from Pittsburgh) stepped up to lead.
The crossing and the all-night march to Trenton were arduous. The bloody footprints in the snow we learned about in school were very real. Men who sat too long on the way to Trenton froze to death. But the suffering resulted in a victory over the Hessians that revived the American cause. “[B]eat the damn Hessians and took 700 and odd prisoners,” wrote Sgt. Thomas McCarty in his diary. The march back was even worse than the approach. A week later, at the battle of Princeton, only a handful of Captain Croghan's men were fit for service.
At Trenton, Croghan's men fired on the enemy just yards in front of General Washington and alongside the soldiers of Colonel George Weedon's 3rd Virginia. Their victory, though small in military terms, revived a dying cause. Afterward, the overconfident British became more cautious and Washington found a tactical model for victory against an enemy that was better trained and equipped.
Thereafter, Christmas would always carry a special meaning for those who were there. After the war George Weedon wrote a song that was sung each year at a large party he held at his home in Virginia. The song was remembered by the orphaned son of Gen Hugh Mercer, who died at Princeton. The younger Mercer knew Weedon as his “uncle and second father.” He recalled that for “many years after the Revolution my uncle celebrated at ‘The Sentry Box’ (his residence, and now mine) the capture of the Hessians, by a great festival—a jubilee dinner, if I may so express myself—at which the Revolutionary officers then living here and in our vicinity, besides others of our friends, were always present. It was an annual feast, a day or so after Christmas Day, and the same guests always attended. …I was young, and a little fellow, and was always drawn up at the table to sing ‘Christmas Day in ’76'…. It was always a joyous holiday at ‘The Sentry Box.’”
Christmas Day in '76
On Christmas Day in seventy-six
Our ragged troops, with bayonets fixed,
For Trenton marched away.
The Delaware ice, the boats below,
The light obscured by hail and snow,
But no signs of dismay.
Our object was the Hessian band
That dare invade fair Freedom’s land,
At quarter in that place.
Great Washington, he led us on,
With ensigns streaming with renown,
Which ne’er had known disgrace.
In silent march we spent the night,
Each soldier panting for the fight,
Though quite benumbed with frost.
Green on the left at six began,
The right was with brave Sullivan,
Who in battle no time lost.
Their pickets stormed; the alarm was spread
The rebels, risen from the dead,
Were marching into town.
Some scampered here, some scampered there,
And some for action did prepare;
But soon their arms laid down.
Twelve hundred servile miscreants,
With all their colors, guns, and tents,
Were trophies of the day.
The frolic o’er, the bright canteen
In center, front, and rear, was seen,
Driving fatigue away.
And, brothers of the cause, let’s sing
Our safe deliverance from a king
Who strove to extend his sway.
And life, you know, is but a span;
Let’s touch the tankard while we can,
In memory of the day.
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Despite his evidently very rough edges, Kirkpatrick became part of the post-war Pittsburgh elite. He co-founded the Bank of Pittsburgh and ran an early steel mill. His grandson Abraham Kirkpatrick Lewis was a pioneer in the Pittsburgh coal business, shipping coal on flat boats all the way to new Orleans.
In 1794, President George Washington sent Abraham Kirkpatrick several bottles of imported wine to thank him for helping put down the Whiskey Rebellion. One bottle survives, having been kept by the family for over two centuries. Its contents are now evaporated into a dry sediment. It was put up for auction a few years ago but didn’t sell. Details about the object, including a high-definition image, can be seen at the Skinner auction house website.
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is researching the history of the Revolutionary War's 8th Virginia Regiment. Its ten companies formed on the frontier, from the Cumberland Gap to Pittsburgh.
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