The Tuscarora War


1711 to 1715

The Tuscarora War was the most terrible Indian war that ever took place in North Carolina.

The Indians struck in the autumn of 1711, and they could hardly have chosen a more advantageous time. The colonists were divided by political disagreement. Edward Hyde had come over from England the previous year to administer the colony as Deputy Governor. His right to the post was disputed by Thomas Cary who had previously held the office. In the dispute that followed, known as Cary's Rebellion, Hyde and Cary both attracted supporters who actually took up arms against each other. The colony was in the midst of and undeclared civil war.

The Cary Rebellion ended in the summer of 1711, but there was already evidence of serious unrest among the Indians. At the beginning of the year, the Meherrin tribe had been reported as becoming more and more insolent. By mid-summer this attitude had spread to other tribes. At the same time, it was said that Cary supporters had offered rich rewards to the Tuscarora to attack the followers of Hyde. It was also said that the young men of the tribe had agreed to the offer but had been overruled by the older men. This latter report seems to have lulled the settlers into a false sense of security.

According to one prominent colonist, the increasing hostile attitude of the natives was because the whites "cheated these Indians in trading, and would not allow them to hunt near their plantations, and under that pretense took away from them their game, arms and ammunition." A more immediate cause might have been the founding of the town of New Bern, in 1710, by Baron Christoph von Graffenried, the leader of a group of Swiss and German Palatines settling the area.

New Bern was established on the site of a Neusioc Indian town called Chattooka, or Cartouca. The natives who occupied the land were paid for it and they moved away, but apparently they were not satisfied. As Surveyor General of the colony, John Lawson, surveyed the site. According to von Graffenried, the site had also been chosen for him by Lawson who claimed it to be uninhabited. When it was found to be occupied by Indians, he charged the Surveyor General with recommending they be driven off without payment. These accusations were not in keeping with Lawson's otherwise sympathetic attitude towards the natives, but, if true, they might explain the terrible fate he met soon thereafter.

In mid-September of 1711, Lawson invited von Graffenried to go with him on a trip up the Neuse River. The purpose of the trip was to examine the river and to seek a better route to Virginia. Lawson assured von Graffenried that there would be no danger from the Indians, but the prospect of such a route through, or near, their hunting grounds could have been a matter of great concern to the Indians. In any event, several days after their departure, both men were seized by the natives and taken to Catechna, the Tuscarora town of King Hancock, on Contentea Creek.

After questioning the prisoners, the Indians decided to set them free. Before they were to leave the following day, the captives were questioned again. The King of Cartouca, the chosen New Bern site, reproached Lawson who answered in anger. A general quarrel followed in which von Graffenried did not take part, but both he and Lawson were again confined. At another council meeting, the Indians decided to execute Lawson and to free von Graffenried who had promised presents for his freedom.

Von Graffenried did not see it and the natives were very secretive about the manner of Lawson's death. Some said he was hanged and others said his throat was slit with a razor he carried with him. It is generally believed the Indians "stuck him full of fine small splinters of touchwood, like hogs' bristles, and so set him gradually on fire."

The day after Lawson's execution, the Indians told von Graffenried that he would not be released for some time, because they had decided to make war on the people of North Carolina and especially those on the Pamlico, Neuse and Trent Rivers, and on Core Sound. He would have to remain with them until their work had been completed.

King Hancock was the leader of the conspiracy and he had persuaded the lower Tuscarora towns to join him. The northern, or upper Tuscarora towns, about equal in number to the lower towns, refused to take part in the conflict. King Tom Blount, the chief of one of the upper towns, was friendly with the colonists and exercised some influence over the chiefs of the other nearby towns. King Hancock, however, was supported by the several small tribes in the Neuse-Pamlico area. These included the Coree, Matchapunga, Pamlico, Bear River and Neusioc Indians. The Coree and Neusioc had recently moved inland from their old towns to be nearer the Tuscarora, and the other tribes had probably done the same. Five hundred warriors of these various tribes gathered at Catechna, or Hancock's Town, for the attack.

At sunrise on the morning of September 22, 1711, the blow fell. Divided into small war parties, the Indians swept down the Neuse and along the south shore of the Pamlico. Two hours later, 130 colonists lay dead, about the same number on each stream. Some were tortured horribly, others were desecrated after death. Many were left wounded. The less fortunate were taken captive. The rest of the people fled for their lives, leaving the bodies of their loved ones to be eaten by wolves and vultures. In their violence, the Indians had no regard for age or sex. After several days of slaughter and destruction, the enemy drew back into Hancock's Town to rest before further violence would resume. With them, they took plunder and captives, including women and children.

On that tragic September morning, the people of North Carolina found themselves in the midst of a war they were not prepared to fight. In spite of past danger signals, they had made no preparations for possible hostilities. Nowhere in the whole colony was there a fortified place to which the people might flee to safety. There were few men with military training. Neither war supplies nor food had been stored for emergency use.

The Indians seemed better supplied with ammunition than the colonists, and a bad drought combined with neglect of the fields during Cary's Rebellion had resulted in a serious shortage of food. The trade of the colony had almost ceased and there was little money or credit with which to import clothing and other necessities which were scarce and badly needed. Worst of all, political differences still divided the people, making it impossible for the government to act with necessary speed and responsibility.

With the first attack of the enemy, the colonists gathered together in certain plantation homes to gain strength from unity. A number of these dwellings were fortified as were the towns of Bath and New Bern. Within a month there were eleven such fortified garrisons in the colony. They were manned by untrained civilians. With the majority of the whites confined in their shelters, Indian warriors ravaged the countryside. Homes were plundered and burned. Livestock was slaughtered. Fences and the fields they enclosed were destroyed. And wherever they could be found, whites were killed. Destruction was widespread and sometimes came within sight of the garrisons. On occasions, even the garrisons were attacked.

To the terrified colonists, the cause seemed hopeless. The men, however courageous, were untrained and inexperienced in Indian fighting. Trapped as they were in scattered garrisons, a body large enough to strike back at the enemy with effectiveness could not be raised. And it was not wise for the few men in the individual garrisons to venture out among several hundred hostile Indians. The men of one detachment did go out and attempted to fight the enemy in open battle. The result was one dead and the majority wounded before the surviving whites could return to safety.

On another occasion, a detachment went out from Brice's garrison on the Trent River to engage a nearby group of hostiles. While it was out, other Indians attacked the weakened garrison. Fortunately, they were repelled without serious loss. Because they knew the peculiar techniques of native warfare, Indians were better qualified than whites to fight Indians. The great need of the people of North Carolina was native allies to help them in their struggle. But there were none.

Of the various North Carolina tribes, only the upper Tuscarora were numerous enough to be helpful and they were not to be trusted. Though they had taken no active part in the conflict, they were suspected of knowing of the conspiracy and consenting to it. They might eventually serve as useful allies, but, first, they would have to prove themselves trustworthy.

In the meantime, it was feared the success of the hostiles might encourage them to join in the war against the whites. Equally disturbing was the news that numerous warriors of the Five Nations were coming south to live with the hostile Tuscarora and aid them in their war. As owners of the colony, the Lords Proprietors were responsible for its defense, but they did nothing. Unable to defend itself, North Carolina turned to its neighbors, Virginia and South Carolina, for help.

Upon hearing of the calamity that had befallen North Carolina, Governor Alexander Spotswood of Virginia stopped all trade from that colony with the Indians and sent members of the militia to the Virginia frontier to prevent the Virginia Indians from joining the enemy. He then persuaded the Virginia legislature to appropriate funds for aid to North Carolina. Spotswood also used the prestige of his colony and the Indian hope for the resumption of its trade in an effort to persuade the upper Tuscarora to fight the enemy, or to remain neutral.

The plea that went to the government of South Carolina was for Indian allies. In making this request, North Carolina's Governor Hyde was following an established policy of all European nations in America - the use of Indians against Indians. There were several advantages to this policy. Not only were Indians more effective than whites in fighting Indians, but, in doing so, they relieved the whites of the hazardous task. At times, too, the practice served to divert native hostility that otherwise might have been directed against the whites. To gain the cooperation of the Indians, the colonists played on the strong spirit of rivalry among the natives. Divided into numerous groups, the great weakness of the Indians was their inability to unite and remain united.

The whites also played on the increasing desire of the natives for English trade goods. They purchased captured Indian enemies as slaves and also paid for scalps in order to encourage their allies to kill as well as capture. In this way, scalps became a form of money as well as marks of glory. The prospect of Tuscarora slaves and scalps was the lure that the Governor of North Carolina held out to the Indians of South Carolina.

The Barnwell Expedition 1711- 1712

Within a month of the first attack, an agent from North Carolina, Major Christopher Gale, was in Charles Town with the appeal for aid. The South Carolina legislature responded by appropriating a substantial sum of money. It also agreed to raise an army of friendly Indians, with white officers, to send to North Carolina. Major Gale promised to meet the expedition on the Neuse River with an army of white North Carolinians. He also promised that food would be supplied.

Soon afterwards, Governor Robert Gibbes ordered the South Carolina army to move northward under the command of Colonel John Barnwell. On the long overland march through the interior, many of Barnwell's Indians deserted, but others joined him. Some had no weapons other than bows and arrows.

When he reached the Neuse River in late January of 1712, his force consisted of 30 white men and nearly 500 Indians. His own Yamassee Company of more than 150 men contained 87 Yamassee from the Savannah River area as well as warriors of several other small Muskhogean tribes to the south of Charles Town. The other companies, containing almost 300 men, were made up of warriors of the various Siouan tribes to the north of Charles Town. Among the tribes represented were the Catawba, Cheraw, Wateree, Winyaw, and Cape Fear.

When Barnwell arrived at the agreed meeting place, the men promised by Gale were not there to meet him. Only a short time before, the colony's legislature, divided by continued political differences, had refused to provide either men or supplies for the expedition. In fact, it had failed to take any steps to defend the colony.

Disappointed and without guides familiar with the country, Barnwell pushed on towards the Tuscarora town of Narhantes, hoping to take it by surprise. Described by him as the most warlike town of the Tuscarora, Narhantes was an open village with farms scattered over an area of several miles. About the town were nine small palisaded forts. Some newly built and others under construction, these forts stood about a mile apart.

He attacked the strongest of the enclosures and after breaking through the outer walls found two houses therein that were stronger than the walls. Among the most desperate of the defenders were a number of native women who fought with bows and arrows. Within half an hour the fort had fallen. Of the fifty-two enemy killed, at least ten were women. Thirty were taken captive and the remainder abandoned the town and its forts, leaving behind much plunder that had been taken from the colonists.

Barnwell's casualties were seven killed and thirty-two wounded. A more serious loss was the desertion of many of his Indians who took the captives and plunder, then quietly slipped away. Before leaving Narhantes several days later, Barnwell destroyed it along with its forts and five nearby towns as well.

From Narhantes, Barnwell marched through the Tuscarora country to Bath Town on the Pamlico River where he arrived on February 10th. On the way, he passed through a number of enemy towns and did considerable damage. He also took a number of enemy scalps. Property seized along the line of march proved to be a costly prize. Loaded with more plunder, many more of his Indians slipped away.

Late in February, Barnwell was finally joined by 67 North Carolinians. Their arrival increased his strength to 94 whites and 148 Indians. Most of the Indians were of Barnwell's own Yamassee Company. The new arrivals also created a problem, because they came without food and the scarcity of food was already a matter of grave concern to Col. Barnwell.

The following day, Col. Barnwell set out for Hancock's Town, hoping to take it along with any food that might be there. His horses and heavy baggage were left behind near Bath Town. On March 1st, he arrived at Hancock's Town only to find it deserted. On the opposite bank of Contentea Creek, however, the enemy had constructed a strong palisaded fort. Within the enclosure were 130 warriors and a call had gone out for other hostiles to join them. Their families and white captives were hidden in a nearby swamp.

On March 5th, Col. Barnwell attacked Hancock's Fort, confident of taking it. Instead, he found himself forced to agree to a truce. Prior to the attack, the Indians had brought at least some of their white captives into the fort. During the attack these prisoners were subjected to torture. To the attackers, only a few yards away, the "Cryes and lamentations" of the victims were heart-rending sounds.

To Col. Barnwell's shouted demands for the release of the captives, the Indians sent an answer by an English mother with five children in the fort. The attack must be abandoned or the defenders would die fighting and take their prisoners with them. After consultation with his officers, Col. Barnwell accepted this demand on certain conditions. Twelve prisoners were to be delivered to him immediately, and twenty-two more were to be delivered twelve days later at Bachelors Creek, near New Bern. The headmen of the enemy were also to come to Bachelors Creek at the same time to discuss peace.

The day after the truce, Col. Barnwell left Hancock's Fort and four days later arrived in New Bern. On March 19th, the day appointed for the meeting with the enemy, he was sick and sent another in his stead. The enemy did not appear. Angered, Col. Barnwell prepared to strike again. On the Neuse River, near the mouth of Contentea Creek, he built Fort Barnwell on the site of the abandoned Indian village of Core Town. This was the base from which he planned to march once more against Hancock's Fort, only a few miles away. Orders were sent out to the South Carolina Indians who were roaming through the countryside in search of food to come into the fort. Similar orders went to the men of the various garrisons along the Neuse.

On April 1, a message was received from Governor Hyde that men and food were on the way. Hyde added that "a new Turn was given to affairs," and that Col. Barnwell would have no cause to complain in the future. Sometime previously, Col. Barnwell had protested to the North Carolina legislature for its failure to support him. Perhaps stung by this criticism, the legislature took action to defend the colony. A law was passed imposing a fine of five pounds on every man between sixteen and sixty years of age who refused military service. In addition, 4,000 pounds was appropriated for war purposes. A request had also gone to Virginia for 200 men. Governor Hyde's message to Col. Barnwell followed.

Without waiting for the arrival of the relief then being raised by the North Carolina and Virginia governments, Col. Barnwell, in the dark of night of April 7, moved his troops against Hancock's Fort. His Indians were reduced to 128 warriors, but his whites had increased to 154 by the various garrison detachments. By daylight, his men had surrounded the fort and the second siege had begun. For ten days it continued, and Col. Barnwell was only a few feet from apparent success when, on April 17, he unaccountably agreed to a conditional surrender of the enemy.

In the more important terms of the peace treaty, the hostiles agreed to give up all captives in the fort immediately and all others within ten days. The same promise was made as to horses, skins, and plunder. In the future, they agreed to confine themselves to the area near the fort, and not to hunt or fish in the region between Neuse and the Cape Fear which was to be left to the South Carolina Indians.

They also agreed to surrender King Hancock and three other enemy leaders to be named later, but since King Hancock had already fled to Virginia, he could not be delivered. In addition, the enemy Indians promised to come in each year in March and pay tribute to the governor of North Carolina. By the payment of this tribute they would acknowledge their continued submission to the government and would become tributary Indians as distinguished from free, or unconquered, Indians.

Col. Barnwell's peace was made without the knowledge or approval of Governor Hyde. His casualties were light and "extreme famine" was the only excuse he gave for not fighting on to complete victory. He said at the time if North Carolina had furnished him with provisions for only four more days he would have "made a glorious end of the war."

Governor Hyde, however, felt that hunger hardly justified the failure to pursue a victory that was only a few hours away. Governor Hyde was particularly critical of Col. Barnwell for not waiting for the relief North Carolina had on the way. However justified he might have been, Col. Barnwell was the subject of bitter and widespread criticism in the colony he had done so much to help earlier, and the honors he expected were denied him.

The unpopular peace of Col. Barnwell was not long lasting. Hungry, and disappointed at the few scalps and slaves they had taken, the South Carolina Indians were soon ravaging through the enemy country. According to von Graffenried, Col. Barnwell and his Indians enticed a number of the local natives into Fort Barnwell under pretense of peace. They were then seized and taken to South Carolina to be sold as slaves. This so embittered the rest of the hostiles they "no longer trusted the Christians." Their later behavior seems to bear out the truth of this observation.

The Moore Expedition 1712 -1715

Soon after Col. John Barnwell and his men returned to South Carolina the horror of Indian war once again swept through the Neuse and Pamlico regions. The hostiles, hungry and seeking food, roamed the country taking what they wanted and destroying all else. Many of the inhabitants who ventured back to their plantations were killed. Others went to bed each night with little confidence they would live to see the dawn.

The wiser people returned to the security and confinement of fortified garrisons, but even they were not free from attack. Only the generosity of the people of Albemarle County relieved a serious shortage of food in the stricken areas. Under these conditions, inhabitants began to leave the colony. Efforts were made to protect those that remained, but the efforts were not enough.

Col. Barnwell left behind twenty of his Yamassee warriors to patrol the area of recent conflict, and a small armed company was stationed on both the Pamlico and Neuse rivers. A marine company was organized to watch over the waters of Pamlico and Core Sounds. These, however, were only defensive measures that did nothing to end the war.

The attempt of the North Carolina officials to encourage military enlistment by imposing a fine was a failure as few men offered their services. The government was not able to raise enough men to rid the colony of the enemy. The troops requested from Virginia never came. With its own frontier also endangered by the same enemy, Virginia was willing to send the men provided North Carolina furnished them with food. North Carolina was too distressed to do so.

Later, Virginia sent badly needed clothing for North Carolinians in service, and again offered to send troops provided they were fed. Again, the offer was declined. In the meantime, North Carolina had once more turned to South Carolina for help and received it.

In June of 1712, an agent left North Carolina for Charles Town to request South Carolina to send 1,000 Indians with few whites and a commander other than Col. John Barnwell. In early October, the agent returned with news that the troops were on the way, under the command of Colonel James Moore.

Anticipating his aid, North Carolina had already gathered a company of some 140 men on the Neuse River to join the South Carolina troops when they should arrive. This action proved unwise. Moore did not arrive for many weeks and the North Carolinians, too few to attack alone, waited in idleness. Finally, in November, they disbanded and returned to their homes. Their only contribution had been to eat the food that had been sent to the Neuse for the coming expedition.

As a result, when the South Carolina army arrived in December, North Carolina was again unprepared. In addition to 33 white men, Moore's army consisted of some 850 Indians. Among these were over 300 Cherokee and 50 Yamassee. The balance included warriors of the various Siouan tribes of the Carolinas. Among the officers was Colonel James Moore's brother, Captain Maurice Moore, with the Yamassee Company. To feed such a large body of men was no small problem. Because food was more plentiful in Albemarle County, the men marched there until adequate supplies could be shipped around to the Neuse River area.

There was also another reason for diverting Moore's forces to Albemarle County. Fear persisted that the Five Nations and the upper Tuscarora would join the enemy. Enemy captives had told Col. Barnwell that the beginning of the war had resulted from the prodding of visiting warriors of the Five Nations. They had taunted the Tuscarora over their failure to avenge the mistreatment of a drunken Indian by the whites.

In the summer of 1712, information was received from the governor of New York that the French in Canada had persuaded the Five Nations to send warriors south to aid the hostile Tuscarora in their war against the English. This concern subsided the following autumn with receipt of information that the New York government had persuaded the Five Nations not to go south. They went to war against the French Indians instead.

The status of the upper Tuscarora, however, remained uncertain. They had not joined the hostiles but neither had they come to the aid of the whites. The government had attempted to persuade them to end the conflict by going to war against the enemy Indians, but they had not done so. King Blount came into the settlements from time to time to declare his continued friendship for the whites, and he alone of the chiefs of the upper towns was trusted. But he could speak for his town only.

The government, nevertheless, sought to use his influence with the chiefs of the other towns to persuade them to cooperate with the whites. It was hoped that their desire for the resumption of trade would be sufficient to win them over. The government, however. hesitated to force the issue for fear of driving them to join the hostiles while the colony was in such a weakened condition.

The coming of Col. James Moore and his army to North Carolina gave its officials the confidence they needed. On a visit to Thomas Pollock, Acting Governor of North Carolina after the death of Governor Edward Hyde in early September of 1712, Chief Blount expressed his desire for the resumption of trade with his people. He was told that this would be done if they would bring in King Hancock and the scalps of the other hostiles.

The offer was accepted after consultation with the headmen of the other neutral towns and King Hancock was delivered and executed. Chief Blount and his people were given until January 1st to bring in the enemy scalps. This allotment of time for the fulfillment of Chief Blount's agreement was permitted by the diversion of Col. Moore's troops to Albemarle County. If Chief Blount succeeded, peace would have been won for the whites. If he failed, Col. Moore could then move out to accomplish the same goal.

If the stay of Col. Moore's forces in Albemarle County solved one problem, it created another. At first his Indians were confined to a designated area where they consumed what food they could find. Then the hungry horde began to spread out over the surrounding country, killing cattle and taking corn. The people of Albemarle County became so disturbed that many of them seemed "more ready to Fall upon the South Carolina Indians, than march against the enemy." They were not only angry but worried also.

The danger of using Indians for purposes of war was clearly apparent. The little control that could be exercised over the Indians came from the authority of a single individual, their leader. Some of the more thoughtful people began to consider the possible consequences of the death of this single individual, Col. James Moore. Without a leader, and made up of various tribes and language groups, his Indians would be unrestrained. Such a disorderly band could be as destructive as the enemy it came to fight.

January 1st came and Chief Blount had not brought in the scalps of the enemy. Col. Moore then made ready to march against the hostiles. By the middle of the month food had been shipped around to Fort Barnwell, the supply base on the Neuse River. On January 17, Col. Moore's army, enlarged by the addition of some eighty-five North Carolinians, left Albemarle County to the great relief of its inhabitants.

After crossing over Albemarle Sound, Col. Moore headed into the country of the lower Tuscarora where the hostile Indians had already fled to the protection of their forts. Reports indicated the largest concentration of warriors was gathered in Fort Neoheroka, located on a branch of Contentea Creek, a few miles above Hancock's Fort. Accordingly, Neoheroka was the destination of Col. Moore's expedition as it pushed forward through the harsh cold of winter. Progress was slow because of supply difficulties combined with bad weather and deep snow.

Fort Neoheroka was an irregularly shaped enclosure of one and one-half acres contained within a palisaded wall. Along this wall, at strategically located points, were bastions and blockhouses. Within the enclosure were houses and caves. An enclosed passageway, or "waterway," led to the nearby branch of Contentea Creek.

When Col. James Moore arrived before this impressive fortification, he began careful preparations to destroy it. Three batteries were constructed nearby and from the Yamassee Battery facing the fort, a zig-zag trench was dug to within a few yards of the front wall. This trench provided protective cover for men to approach and build a blockhouse and battery near the fort. Both of these structures were higher than the walls of the fort so that the enemy within might be subjected to direct fire.

A tunnel also extended from the trench to the front wall so that it might be undermined with explosives. On the morning of March 20th, every man was at his post when a trumpet sounded the signal for the attack. Three days later Fort Neoheroka lay a smoldering ruin and the enemy acknowledged defeat. The enemy loss was 950, about half killed and the balance taken into slavery. Col. Moore's loss was 57 killed and 82 wounded. With this one crushing blow, the power of the Tuscarora nation was broken.

Following their defeat, most of the enemy Tuscarora who escaped fled north to live among the Five Nations Confederation which afterwards became the Six Nations. Some thought was given to ridding the colony of all members of the tribe, but this was quickly abandoned. For one thing, there was not sufficient food available to maintain the troops in service. Too, it was felt that some friendly natives on the frontier would protect the settlements against hostiles.

For these reasons, a treaty of peace was finally concluded with Chief Blount and the upper Tuscarora. By the terms of this treaty, Blount was acknowledged Chief of all the Tuscarora and of all other Indians south of the Pamlico River. All who accepted Chief Blount's leadership became tributary Indians under the protection of the government of North Carolina and were assigned a reservation on the Pamlico River. All who rejected him were considered enemies of the government. These included only a small number of the hostile Tuscarora who remained in the colony and a few Coree and Matchapunga, or Mattamuskeet.

At first there were only about fifty of the hostiles, but they proved to be an elusive enemy. A few lurked about Core Sound, but the balance hid out in the Great Alligator Swamp, a vast and almost impenetrable region of lakes and cane swamps lying between the Matchapunga River and Roanoke Island. From this hiding place, they raided the outlying settlements.

In the spring of 1713, twenty settlers on the Alligator River were killed. A short while later, twenty-five more met the same fate on Roanoke Island. Many others were killed in frequent and less dramatic raids involving no more than two or three families. After their attacks, the Indians retreated back into their swamp world where it was almost impossible to follow them.

Col. James Moore, with more than a hundred of his Indians, remained in North Carolina for some time in a futile effort to seize them. Chief Blount and his Tuscarora finally came to the aid of the colonists and were more successful.

By the autumn of 1713, they had brought in about thirty hostile scalps. However, other warriors joined the enemy from time to time. This nagging problem had dragged on for almost two years when the government finally turned from a policy of extermination of the hostiles to one of peaceful agreement.

On February 11, 1715, a treaty of peace was made with the surviving hostiles and they were assigned a reservation on Lake Mattamuskeet in Hyde County. This was the final act of the Tuscarora War.


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