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Chapter 1

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The History of West Point

by
Edward C. Boynton

published by
D. Van Nostrand,
New York, 1864

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!

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Chapter 3
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p20  Chapter II

Entrance to the Upper Highlands. — Martelaer's Rock. — Arrival of the Commissioners with Col. Romans, the Engineer. — Possession taken of the Island. — Correspondence with Col. Beverly Robinson. — Controversy between Romans and the Commissioners. A Garrison ordered to Fort Constitution. — First Proposition to occupy West Point and erect Redoubts on the east side of the River. — Removal of Romans, and Report of the Commissioners en route to Canada. — Order of Washington for a Board of Officers to Report upon the Condition of the Fortifications in the Highlands. — Report of the Board.

The Hudson River, in passing the upper Highlands, flows south through the gorge between abrupt and lofty mountains for a distance of nearly eight miles; the channel then changes east about one-fourth of a mile, and, thence changing, again pursues its southerly direction. Projecting half way across the river, and forming the left bank opposite West Point on the north, between the two right angles made by the channel, is an island; its  p21 west and northwestern sides are formed of bold and inaccessible precipices, while on the east is a large flag meadow, partially drained by ditches recently cut through it. This island, nowhere more than one hundred and thirty-four feet high, is probably two miles in circumference, and half a mile in width from north to south. It is covered with timber of an inferior description, and uncultivated, except on its southern and eastern edges.

The marsh meadow on the east, separated now from the island by the Hudson River Railroad, contains about three hundred acres, and the island probably two hundred and fifty.

Previous to, and at the commencement of the Revolution, this island was known as Martelaer's Rock Island, and otherwise as Martler's Rock, or Martyr's Cliff. The name is derived from a French family named Martelaire, who resided upon, or in its vicinity, about the year 1720. After the erection of the fortification known as Fort Constitution, the island received, and has retained to the present day, the name of Constitution Island.1

"The Commissioners appointed by the Provincial Congress, accompanied by an escort of twenty-four men and Col. Bernard Romans,​2 as an engineer, arrived at the  p22 island on the 29th of August, 1775, and immediately commenced the erection of the first of the 'Fortifications in the Highlands.' "

The "Fortifications in the Highlands" embraced not only the works to be erected on Constitution Island, but those also on Fort Hill, directly east of "Garrison's Station," known as the North and South Redoubts [the latter afterwards called Middle Redoubt]; one on Sugar-loaf Mountain, and the two Forts, Montgomery and Clinton, on the north and south sides of Pooplopen's Kill.

The New York Committee of Safety, to whom had been intrusted the management of public affairs during the recess of the Provincial Congress, transmitted to the Continental Congress, on the 19th of September, the plans, estimates, and report, prepared by Colonel Romans, of the works then in process of construction at Martelaer's Rock Island.

From the accompanying report it appears that Colonel Romans proposed to erect five block-houses; barracks, eighty by twenty feet; store-houses and guard-room, sixty by twenty feet; five batteries, mounting sixty-one guns and twenty swivels; a fort with bastions, and a curtain two hundred feet in length; a magazine, — and the whole was estimated at £4,645 4s. 4d.

On the same day the Committee forwarded the plans of Mr. Romans to Congress, the following note was addressed to Col. Beverly Robinson, with a view to the purchase of the island, of which he was reputed to be the owner:

"In Committee of Safety,
"New York,
Sept. 19th, 1775.

"Sir:— By order of the Continental Congress, founded  p23 on the necessities of the present times, the Provincial Congress of this Colony has undertaken to erect a fortification on your land, opposite to the West Point, in the Highlands. As the Provincial Congress by no means intend to invade private property, this Committee, in their recess, have thought proper to request you to put a reasonable price upon the whole point of dry land, or island, called Martelaer's Rock Island; which price, if they approve of it, they are ready to pay you for it.

"We are, Sir, your humble servants.

"To Beverly Robinson, Esq., at his seat in the Highlands.

"In Provincial Congress, New York, 6th October, 1775.

"A letter from Beverly Robinson, Esq., was read and filed, and is in the following words, to wit:

"Highlands, October 2d, 1775.

"Sir:— Your letter of the nineteenth of September I received a few days ago, in answer to which I must inform you that the point of land on which the fort is erecting does not belong to me, but is the property of Mrs. Ogilvie and her children. Was it mine, the public should be extremely welcome to it. The building a fort there can be no disadvantage to the small quantity of arable land on the island. I have only a proportion of the meadow land, that lays on the east side of the island.

"I am, Sir, your most humble servant,
"Bev. Robinson.

"To John Haring, Esq.,
"Chairman of the Committee of Safety, at New York."

In the mean time the Commissioners, Bedlow, Grenell, and Bayard, writing from Fort Constitution, Sept. 25, 1775, strongly urged upon the Committee of Safety, that Romans's plan was not sufficient, and being but a temporary expedient, the ruin of the Province would be insured if the position were permitted to fall into the possession of the enemy.

 p24  To these objections the Committee replied, that upon the re-assembling of the Provincial Congress, the subject would be laid before them.

As might have been anticipated, the Commissioners and Romans soon became involved in an unpleasant controversy; the former claiming, as superintendents, the right to approve or reject his plans, and to direct the mode of operations, while they openly declared the expense to be greater than the Province could tolerate. Romans as emphatically informed the Commissioners that they had simply to furnish men and money, and while by virtue of his appointment he would build the works, they must reserve their condemnation or approval until the Fortification was completed.

The Continental Congress, while debating Romans's plans early in October, passed a resolution of inquiry as to the propriety of constructing a battery at "Moore's house" [situated in what is now known as Washington's Valley], and at a point on the west side of the river, above Verplanck's [now Caldwell's Landing].

To this inquiry the Commissioners replied on the 16th of October, noting the progress of the works on the island, and declaring that a battery at "Moore's house" would be entirely useless. The point above Verplanck's they pronounced too easy of access, but at Pooplopen's Kill, opposite Anthony's Nose, they earnestly recommended that defences be erected. This is the earliest mention made of the position afterwards known as Fort Montgomery.

The Provincial Congress, on the 3d of November, having ordered three companies to proceed to, and constitute the garrison at Martelaer's Rock, it was "Resolved" on the  p25 8th, by the Continental Congress, "That a Commander, with the rank of Colonel, be appointed to take command of the Fortifications or Fortresses in the Highlands on Hudson's River." On the same day this body further appointed Robert R. Livingston, Robert Treat Paine, and J. Langdon a Committee, to "take an accurate view of the state of our Fortifications on Hudson's River, and to report as soon as it can be conveniently done."

This Committee reported to John Hancock, the President of Congress, on the 23d of November, "That the Fortress at Martelaer's Rock was in charge of Messrs. Grenell, Bedlow, and Lanman, Commissioners appointed by the Provincial Congress to superintend the work, which was carried on by Mr. Romans, agreeably to his plans presented to Congress. We must own," continues the report, "that we found the Fort in a less defensible situation than we had reason to expect. It does not command the reach to the southward, nor can it injure a vessel turning the West Point; and after she has got around, a small breeze, or even the tide, will enable a ship to pass the curtain in a few minutes.

"The Fortress is unfortunately commanded by all the grounds about it; but the most obvious defect is, that the grounds on the West Point are higher than the Fortress, behind which an enemy might land without the least danger. In order to render the position impassable, it seems necessary that this place should be occupied, and batteries thrown up on the shore opposite, where they may be erected with little expense, as the earth is said to be pretty free from stone, &c."3

 p26  This is the first official recommendation to occupy West Point, and establish batteries on the east side of the river, near Garrison's, on record [Nov. 23, 1775].

From Fort Constitution, December 7, the Commissioners again reported to the Provincial Congress, that "the point at Pooplopen's Kill is the best by far for any defensive works in the Highlands, and that a battery there would command the river up and down, the length of point-blank shot."

The controversy with Colonel Romans at this time had attained such proportions, and was accompanied with such exhibitions of warmth, that Messrs. Nicoll, Palmer and Drake were directed by the Provincial Congress to repair to the Highlands, and there endeavor to adjust the difference between the parties.

Mr. Palmer, on the part of this Committee, reported on the 14th of December, that Romans "must either have mistaken the charge committed to him, or else he has assumed powers with which he was not intrusted." The report reiterated the opinion before given, that the works did not sweep the river southward; and to effect this a barbette battery on the Gravel Hill, on the southeast shore of the island, to mount eight eighteen-pound guns, was recommended. [The Hudson River Railroad now skirts the Gravel Hill.] The Committee were earnest in the opinion that the works on the island were insufficient, and strong in their recommendation to plant a work at Pooplopen's Kill, which would mount sixteen or eighteen guns, and "sweep the river to the point of the Dunderberg, a distance of three miles, and up the river quite as far."4

 p27  This report having been favorably received by the Provincial, and transmitted to the Continental Congress, the latter body, on the 5th January, 1776, "Resolved, That no further Fortifications ought to be erected at Martelaer's Rock on the Hudson River, and that a point of land at Pooplopen's Kill, on said river, ought to be effectually fortified without delay."​5 On the 15th of February following, notwithstanding the foregoing resolution, Congress authorized the erection of the barbette battery on the Gravel Hill before mentioned, to mount eighteen guns. And further Resolved, "That a redoubt be erected on the eminence on the east side of the river opposite the West Point, to mount thirty guns," urging at the same time the early completion of works at Pooplopen's Kill. In the mean time, and in compliance with the resolution of Congress, the Committee of Safety appointed, on January 16th, Colonel Isaac Nicoll to the command of the Fortifications in the Highlands; and Mr. Romans having been superseded by Col. Smith, Engineer, ordered up by General Lee, the barbette battery on the island was laid out by him — so wrote the Commissioners, Feb. 29th — "much to our satisfaction."6

On the 20th of March, Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Chase, and Charles Carroll of Carrolton, were appointed by the Continental Congress, Commissioners to visit Canada, and invite the co‑operation of that province in the struggle for freedom.

While en route to their destination, they arrived "off Constitution Fort, April 5th," and going ashore, "from curiosity," they reported the state of the Fort as follows:  p28 The garrison consisted of three companies of minute-men, whose combined strength was 124 men. "On the south bastion, thirteen six-pounders and one nine-pounder were mounted; the east bastion mounted seven nine-pounders and one six-pounder. The block-house contained eight double fortified four-pound guns, mounted; and that the fortifications ordered by Congress on the 15th of February, and laid out by Engineer Smith, remain wholly neglected."

At this time the head-quarters of the army were in New York. On the 4th of May, Washington directed Lieut.‑Col. Livingston, of Col. James Clinton's regiment, to repair to the Highlands and relieve Col. Nicoll of the command, to which he was but temporarily assigned. The latter, however, refused to be superseded, and remained until discharged by the Provincial Congress, on the 8th of June. Col. James Clinton followed Livingston, and, arriving on the 20th of May, reported to head-quarters that he had discharged all the Commissioners except two, which he would retain until an Engineer was sent to him.

On the 21st of May, Washington wrote Gen. Putnam, then in the city and under his mound:— "I have great reason to think that the Fortifications in the Highlands are in a bad situation, and the garrison, on account of arms, worse.

"I would have you send Brigadier Lord Stirling, with Col. Putnam, and Col. Knox (if he can be spared), to see and report such alterations as may be judged necessary for putting them into a fit and proper position for defence."7

 p29  Putnam reported, on the 27th of May, that Lord Stirling, Col. Putnam, and Captain Sargeant left on this mission the day before.

The report of this Board is given at length, because the works, and the grounds adjacent thereto, were then surveyed for the first time by officers possessing military experience, and whose opinions were valuable and powerful in deciding the after operations on the points in question.

Lord Stirling to General Washington.​8

"June 1, 1776.

"Sir:— Agreeable to your request, I left New York on Sunday last, in order to view the fortifications on the Hudson's River in the Highlands. I took with me Colonel [Rufus] Putnam, Chief Engineer, and Captain Sargeant, of the Artillery. The winds were so adverse that we did not reach Fort Montgomery until Wednesday evening; but, with the help of our boat, we employed our time in visiting several other parts of the river that appeared proper for fortifying. At the mouth, or south end of the Highlands, about four miles below Fort Montgomery, there is a post [Stoney Point] which to me appears well worth possessing on many accounts; should the enemy be in possession of it, we should be cut off from our best communication with the whole country below the Highlands, eastward as well as westward. There is a very remarkable spot of ground [Verplanck's Point], easily fortified, which commands the passage of the river as well as either of the other posts; it also  p30 command the mouth and landing of Peek's Kill, from which there is an excellent road into Connecticut, which is only twenty miles off; on the opposite side is an excellent road into New Jersey and Pennsylvania. In the passage from this place to Fort Montgomery is a large island, which would be very useful to the enemy in their approaches to that place.

"Fort Montgomery is situated on the west bank of the river, which is there half a mile broad, and bank one hundred feet high; on the opposite shore is a point of land called Anthony's Nose, which is many hundred feet high, very steep, and inaccessible to any thing but goats, or men very expert in climbing. A body of rifle­men placed here would be of very great use in annoying an enemy, as the decks of every vessel that passes must lie open to them.

"The works begun and designed at Fort Montgomery are open lines, and all lie on the north side of a small creek called Pooplopen's Kill, on the south side of which is a point of land which projects more into the river, commands all the principal works, and is within two and three hundred yards of them. On the top of this point is a level spot of ground, of near an acre, commanded by nothing but the high, inaccessible mountains, at about twelve hundred yards distance; this spot, I think, should by all means be fortified, as well for the annoyance of the enemy in their approach up the river, as for the protection of the works at Fort Montgomery. Indeed, this appears to me the most proper place I have seen on the river to be made the grand post; and, in my opinion, should be a regular strong work, capable of resisting every kind of attack, and of containing a grand magazine  p31 of all kinds of warlike stores. The whole would then command the passage of the river with so formidable a cross fire as with deter any attempt to approach with shipping. Those works built are all faced with fascines, and filled in with strong, good loam; but as they are liable to take fire, the Commissioners who have the care and direction of the works, propose to roughcast the faces of embrasures with a strong mortar made of quicklime and sharp sand, of which there is plenty at hand. I advised them to try the experiment on part of the work as soon as possible. As these open lines are entirely defenceless on the land side, it will be very proper to erect a small redoubt on the hill, in the rear of them.

"Fort Constitution is about six miles above Fort Montgomery, on an island near the east side of the river, and near the north end of the Highlands, which on the west and south sides is bounded by the river, and on the north and east sides by low marsh and small creeks running through it. The works here consist of four open lines or batteries, fronting the river; the two easternmost command the approach up the river very well; the next, or middle line, commands the approach from West Point upwards; the westernmost battery is a straight line, constructed by Mr. Romans, at a very great expense; it has fifteen embrasures, which face the river at a right angle, and can only annoy a ship in going past; the embrasures are within twelve feet of each other; the merlons on the outside are but about two feet in the face, and about seven feet deep, made of square timber covered with plank, and look very neat; he also built a log-house or tower on the highest cliff, near the water,  p32 mounted with eight cannon (four-pounders) pointed out of the garret windows, and looks very picturesque. Upon the whole, Mr. Romans has displayed genius at a very great expense, and to very little public advantage. The works, in their present open condition and scattered condition, are defenceless; nor is there one good place on the island on which a redoubt may be erected that will command the whole; however, I have marked in the plan (No. 3) those heights which are most commanding; yet every work on the island is commanded by the hill on the West Point, on the opposite side of the river, within five hundred yards, where there is a level piece of land of near fifty acres in extent. A redoubt on this West Point is absolutely necessary, not only for the preservation of Fort Constitution, but for its own importance on many accounts. One also is necessary at the west end of the island, to command the approach that way, and to prevent a landing at the north side of the island. An easy communication by land, as well as by water, may be made with Fort Montgomery from the West Point.

"The garrison of Fort Constitution consists of two companies of Colonel James Clinton's regiment, and Captain Wisner's company of minute-men, in all about one hundred and sixty, rank and file. The garrison at Fort Montgomery consists of three companies of the same regiment, amounting to about two hundred men, rank and file. The field-officer of the regiment is Lieutenant-Colonel Livingston; but the command of the whole of both garrisons is still in the hands of Colonel Nicoll, who, it seems, last fall raised a regiment of minute-men for the purpose of garrisoning Fort Constitution, which regiment  p33 is all dismissed except Captain Wisner's Company of about forty privates. Lieutenant-Colonel Livingston has very prudently avoided any dispute with Col. Nicoll about the command, rather referring the matter to your Excellency's determination. The whole of the troops at both these posts are miserably armed, as will appear by the return (No. 4). Lieutenant-Colonel Livingston informs me he has lately received about forty fire-locks, all in very bad order, from the Committees of Dutchess County, and expects several hundred more in a few days in the same condition. I have therefore directed the blacksmith's shop at Fort Constitution to be enlarged, so that it will at the same time serve for an armory. A blacksmith's shop and armory of the like kind, I have directed at Fort Montgomery, and the artificers in those branches in Clinton's Regiment to be employed in them.

********

"The direction of the works at both these forts is in the hands of Commissioners appointed by the Provincial Congress of New York. Two Commissioners, with four carpenters, two blacksmiths and seven attendants, are at Fort Constitution; two Commissioners, one clerk, fifteen carpenters, and four masons, are at Fort Montgomery; the pay of these amounts to at least eight hundred dollars per month, besides their provisions, &c. One good engineer, with artificers from the army, might, I think, do the whole business as well.

********

"The artillery and ordnance stores, at these posts. appear by Captain Sargent's reports herewith (No. 6). The cannon in general are, to all appearance, excellent of their kind, excepting two nine and three six-pounders,  p34 which are dubious. There are also, I am informed, six cannon, six-pounders, four of them good and two dubious, at New Windsor, a place about six miles above Fort Constitution; they had better be brought down to Fort Montgomery.

"Considering the different directions all these matters are under, I have avoided giving any determinate orders about them, but it is highly necessary that explicit orders should soon issue.

"I am your Excellency's most humble servant,
(Signed)     "Stirling.

"To his Excellency, General Washington."

 p35  No. 4

Return of the Present State of the Garrison at Fort Constitution,
May 29, 1776, Lieutenant-Colonel Livingston.

Names of the Captains: Captain William Jackson's Company Captain John Wisner's Company of Minute-Men Increase Childs' Company Total at Fort Constitution
Captains 1 1 1 3
Subalterns *3 3 3 9
Sergeants 4 4 4 12
Corporals 4 4 1 9
Drummers and Fifers 2 2 1 5
Privates 73 42 37 152
Sick and Lame 17 10 27
Absent by Leave 1 1
On Command 8 8
Deserted
Guns fit for Use 4 31 6 41
Guns not fit 31 31
Cartridge-Boxes 86 3 89
Bayonets 1 3 4
Tomahawks
Guns Wanting 82 41 123
Bayonets Wanting 82 41 123
Tomahawks Wanting 82 41 123
Axes Wanting
Pails Wanting
Cartridge-Boxes Wanting 41 41

* Lieutenant Ellsworth gone to Albany, with a guard of six men, with powder.

I do hereby certify the above to be a true return.

(Signed)       Isaac Nicoll, 
Commissary of Stores.

 p36  No. 5

Commissioners, Superintendents, Mechanics, etc.,
at the works carrying on at Fort Constitution

Two Commissioners, — William Bedlow and Jonathan Lawrence.

One Clerk of the Check, — Jonathan Lawrence, Jr.

One Steward, — Adolph Delgrove.

Mechanics at work:— 4 Carpenters, 2 Blacksmiths, 1 Overseer, 1 Cook for the Commissioners, 1 Cook for the Artificers, 1 Waiter on the Commissioners, 1 Seaman in care of the barge.

The Sloop Liberty, Henry Palmer, in the service of Fort Constitution and Fort Montgomery: Master and two hands.

(Signed)    William Bedlow.

Fort Constitution, May 31, 1776.

Return of Persons Employed at Fort Constitution.

Per Month
2 Commissioners, pay 10s. per day each £30 0 0
2 Waiters, 53s. 4d. 5 6 8
4 Carpenters, at 6s. per day each 36 0 0
1 Overseer, 80s. per month 4 0 0
1 Clerk, at 100s. 5 0 0
1 Steward, at 100s. 5 0 0
1 Cook, at 53s. 4d. 2 13 4
1 Hired man, at 53s. 4d. 2 13 4
1 Blacksmith, at 6s. per day 9 0 0
1 Blacksmith 4 10 0
£104 3 4

Fort Constitution, May 31, 1776.

 p37  No. 6

A Report of Ornament and Ordnance Stores, with all the Implements for the Service of the Artillery, at Fort Constitution, May 29, 1776

Size — Pounders: 12 9 6 4 3 1
Number of Cannon 15 34 17 5 4 2
Metal Iron Iron Iron Iron Iron Iron Iron
Carriages, Garrison 14 16 12
Carriages, name unknown 2
Sponges with Rammers 19 16 8
Ladles with Worms 4 7 6
Cartridges, filled 21 26 16
Cartridges, empty 1,470 752 1,217 64
Cartridge-cases 12 12 12
Round-shot 1,010 900 654 86
Double-headed Shot 314 12
Chain-shot 12
Star-shot 7
Grape-shot 31 19 22 11
Canister-shot 8
Empty Canisters 100
Wads 108 108 108
Cannon Covers 2
Formers 4 2
Copper Measures 1 1 1
Aprons 8 10 3
Pompions 8 6 10
Priming-Wires 6
Powder-horns 20
Linstocks 62
Handspikes 80
Budge-barrels 8
Lanthorns 6
Six‑ounce Choice, Lead — pounds 493
Cartridge-paper, in reams 10½
Junk, for Wads — pounds 300
Sheet Lead 144
Hand-grenades 36
Slow-matches 319
Powder —
77 qr. Casks and 1½ bls.
lbs.
1925
Small Gin, with its Apparatus 1

(Signed)    Winthrop Sargent, Captain-Lieutenant of Artillery.

To the Right Hon. William Earl of Stirling, Brigadier-General.

 p38  The views contained in Lord Stirling's report were transmitted by Washington, on June 10th, to the officers in charge at Fort Constitution, and the desire expressed to have them adopted with as little delay as possible. In acknowledging their receipt, Colonel Livingston called attention to the omission in the copy of the importance "of throwing up a work on a point called West Point, directly opposite to us, which will be easy of access to our enemies should they pass or take Fort Montgomery. If," said this efficient officer, "I could obtain your Excellency's approbation, a work should be immediately thrown up on this place."

At this time, while Lieutenant-Colonel Livingston held the immediate charge of Fort Constitution, the whole command in the Highlands was exercised by Colonel James Clinton, who was more particularly interested in the construction of the works at Pooplopen's Kill, and which, as early as the 14th of May, had been commenced under Messrs. Palmer and Livingston, Commissioners under the Provincial Congress.9


The Author's Notes:

1 Hist. Putnam Co.

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2 Bernard Romans was born in Holland, but early in life removed to England, where he studied the profession of an engineer, and was employed as such by the British Government in America some time before the Revolution. Subsequently he was employed as a botanist, under the auspices of the same government; and while in New York, engaged in the publication of a Natural History of Florida, he was offered a position as military engineer by the New York Committee of Safety. In this capacity he submitted to Congress, on the 18th September, 1775, plans for fortifications to be erected in the Highlands opposite to West Point (Am. Archives, III). Colonel Romans remained in service (Captain Pennsylvania Artillery, Feb. 8, 1776) until near the close of the war, when he was captured at sea by the British, en route from New Haven or New London to Charleston, S. C. He is reported to have died about 1783.

[decorative delimiter]

3 Am. Arch., IV, III, 1657.

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4 Am. Arch., IV, IV, 421.

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5 Am. Arch., IV, IV, 1033.

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6 Am. Arch., IV, V, 326.

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7 Am. Arch., IV, VI, 534.

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8 Am. Arch., IV, VI, 672.

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9 Am. Arch., IV, V, 1414.


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