Effective fortifications require support structures in which to store and maintain the supplies, accessories, and tools that enable a successful defense in times of military crisis. The colonial-era government of South Carolina funded several magazines for the storage of gunpowder, for example, and that story is admirably interpreted at the venerable 1713 Powder Magazine on Cumberland Street. Our colonial lawmakers also knew, however, that it was unwise to store metallic objects like guns and bayonets, which might produce sparks when moved, in close proximity to gunpowder. So where were the publicly-owned muskets, cutlasses, and cannon of early Charleston stored? The answer is two-fold: “small arms” were stored in an armory, while cannon and carriages were stored in an arsenal. So where were those buildings in colonial Charleston?

In the early years of South Carolina, the government owned a relatively small number of small arms and cannon, and the storage and maintenance of these weapons was not well regulated. Armaments were supposed to be stored in public facilities, but since such structures were few in number, the government struggled to keep track of its weapons. As the inventory of muskets, cutlasses, cannon, and mortars grew in the early eighteenth century, the situation finally came to a head.

In the late 1720s, the government “fitted up” a large attic apartment with dormer windows above the Council Chamber in the Half-Moon Battery at the east end of Broad Street. Owing to the proximity of this makeshift armory to the harbor and sea breezes, however, the weapons quickly rusted and corroded. By 1735, the colony’s publicly-owned small arms were entrusted to two local gunsmiths who were paid to house and maintain them—at their private residences. With the outbreak of a fresh war with Spain in 1739, the so-called War of Jenkins’ Ear, the South Carolina legislature finally committed funds to build a proper armory for the provincial weapons. After various construction delays, not the least of which was the great fire of 18 November 1740 that crippled the town, the new armory finally opened in early 1743.

An 1889 plat of the building believed to be the 1743 armory. Image from the collections of the Charleston Archive at CCPL.

A detail from an 1889 plat showing the 1743 armory. From the collections of the Charleston Archive at CCPL.

The armory was a one story brick warehouse of sorts, measuring approximately 21 feet wide and approximately 84 feet deep, located (after much debate) on the west side of Meeting Street, approximately 135 feet south of Broad Street. For nearly twenty years this building housed several thousand muskets, bayonets, cartridge boxes, cutlasses, and related accessories purchased with public funds. By 1762, however, due to the new war with France and Spain (the French and Indian, or Seven Years’ War), the armory was deemed insufficient to store and maintain South Carolina’s expanding inventory of of public arms. An auxiliary “shed” was built behind the armory for the accommodation of new cannon and their carriages. In 1765, the attic space of South Carolina’s new State House, at the northwest corner of Meeting and Broad Street, was “fitted up” to receive the public’s small arms, and that site effectively became the state armory. By the late 1760s, the 1743 brick warehouse facing Meeting Street was known as “the old armory,” or, more commonly, “the arsenal” and “arsenal yard.”

Between 1768 and 1886, the main Guard House(s) of the city’s police department stood at the southwest corner of Meeting and Broad Street, in front of the old armory/arsenal buildings, which continued to operate as an official state “laboratory” for artillery storage and maintenance. The destructive earthquake of 1886 shattered the Guard House, however, and the site was cleared for the erection of the present Federal Post Office (completed in the 1890s). A plat of the public property at this site, made in April 1889 and shown above, indicates the outline of the proposed Federal building, surrounded by ancient auxiliary buildings that were also slated for demolition.

As you can see, the plat includes a long, narrow brick building facing Meeting Street that is very likely the 1743 armory/arsenal building. This historic structure was demolished and cleared in the early 1890s, and the site is now occupied by the courtyard of the Hollings Judicial Center at 83 Meeting Street.

To my knowledge, the history of the 1743 armory/arsenal building seems to have slipped through the cracks of Charleston’s collective memory. That’s unfortunate, because the surviving public records of early South Carolina contain ample evidence of its construction, transformation, and long use. In fact, it’s been a struggle to digest the copious data about this structure that I’ve collected over the years. If you’d like to learn more about this important building that, historically speaking, is hiding in plain sight, please join me for a program titled:

The 1743 Armory: Charleston’s Colonial Arsenal

Wednesday, 22 April 2015 at 6 p.m.

Charleston County Public Library auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Butler at butlern[at]ccpl.org or 843–805–6968.

Originally posted on The Charleston Time Machine:

If you’d like to learn more about the recent, brief archaeological dig at Charleston’s South Battery Street, you’ll have two opportunities this month to hear a recap of the project. On Saturday, March 21st, and Wednesday, March 25th, I’ll present an illustrated overview of the target of our search, what we found, and why it’s significant for understanding the history of Charleston.

The brick seawall stood five feet above ground, on top of a Bermuda stone foundation, and was faced with split palmetto logs. Drawing by Nic Butler The brick seawall stood five feet above ground, on top of a Bermuda stone foundation, and was faced with split palmetto logs. Drawing by Nic Butler.

In case you missed the local headlines in late January 2015, the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force undertook a two-day dig on the south side of South Battery Street in White Point Garden. We sought and found physical evidence of a brick and Bermuda stone wall that was constructed in 1768-1769. That wall represented the first steps toward enclosing the expansive beach at White Point…

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A 1757 illustration of Lyttelton's Bastion by its designer, William De Brahm

A 1757 illustration of Lyttelton’s Bastion by its designer, William De Brahm

Lyttelton’s Bastion was perhaps the most sophisticated and expensive of all the fortifications built in colonial Charleston. Completed in 1757 and named for newly-arrived Royal Governor William Henry Lyttelton, this work was designed as a “middle bastion” on White Point between Granville’s Bastion and Broughton’s Battery. Its construction employed earth, wood, brick, and tabby, and included a pair of flanking moats and floodgates to harness the tidal waters. More importantly, it featured two levels of cannon platforms to maximize the firepower of its compact, geometric shape. In the end, however, these impressive elements caused William De Brahm’s ambitious fortification designs for Charleston to be both over budget and behind schedule, and De Brahm was sacked before the bastion was completed. It was then finished, and perhaps simplified, by his successor, the young engineer Emmanuel Hess.

If you’ve never heard of Lyttelton’s Bastion, perhaps you’ve encountered descriptions of it under another name. During the American Revolution, some of the older fortifications at Charleston’s White Point were renamed in honor of the commanders who were stationed there in the late 1770s and early 1780s. Lyttelton’s Bastion, for example, appears in maps of that era under the name “Darrell’s” or “Dorrill’s Fort,” because Capt. Edward Darrell was commandant of  the bastion and lived in or next to it. Like the rest of Charleston’s colonial fortifications, Lyttelton’s Bastion was dismantled, subdivided, and sold at auction in 1784–1785. The site was re-used in 1794 for the construction of Fort Mechanic, a smaller, simpler fortification that stood until 1818.

As impressive as the design and construction of Lyttelton’s Bastion sounds, it’s still very much a mystery. We are fortunate to have several good quality illustrations of it, drawn by British agents in the 1770s and 1780s, and we are very fortunate to have descriptions of its construction in the lone surviving manuscript Journal of the Commissioners of Fortifications. Unfortunately, however, Mr. De Brahm’s own written descriptions of the bastion’s dimensions and construction methods are rather muddled. It seems that his mastery of the English language was not as keen as his mastery of the art of military architecture. For that reason, it is difficult to reconcile the surviving illustrations of Lyttleton’s Bastion with the textual descriptions.

As always, I’ve been brainstorming about what this bastion looked like, or, more precisely, how its several parts and pieces functioned. If you’d like to learn more about De Brahm’s “middle bastion,” please join me for an illustrated lecture titled:

“A Brief History of Lyttelton’s Bastion, 1757–1785″

Wednesday, February 25th at 6 p.m.

2nd Floor Classroom, Charleston County Public Library, 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Butler at butlern[at]ccpl.org or 843–805–6968.

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Today’s archaeology at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets focused on one specific feature that is visible at the surface of the ground: the point at which the composition of the sea wall under investigation transitions from brick to stone. We dug on both sides of the wall in search of clues that might help us determine the vintage of the materials and the sequence of construction. Based on what we’ve seen over these two days, it appears that most of our target, the 1769 sea wall, was rebuilt during multiple repair episodes in the first half of the 19th century, and the original construction materials (brick and Bermuda stone) were deconstructed and recycled as fill behind the rebuilt wall.

In response to Robert Behre’s article in today’s edition of the Post and Courier, a number of local residents and tourists stopped by the dig site to peer into the past and ask questions. As always, it was a pleasure to share our discoveries, theories, and enthusiasm for urban archaeology.

The point at which the brick  wall transitions into a stone wall.

The point at which the brick wall transitions into a stone wall.

We commenced digging approximately 40 feet east of King Street, on the south side (water side) of the sea wall. As we learned yesterday, there is a large concrete utility chase in this area running parallel to our wall, so we knew we would only be able to excavate to a depth of two or three feet. Approximately two feet below the surface, we encountered the concrete chase and began to clean the wall for a better view. As you can see in the photo,  some masons in the past took a certain amount of care to fit and mortar irregularly shaped stones into the jagged edge of the brick work. Both of these elements, however, appear to represent nineteenth century repairs. The appearance and size of the bricks, combined with the color and composition of the mortar, suggest that these materials replaced the eighteenth-century bricks and mortar that originally composed the wall. As mentioned in yesterday’s posting, we also know that repairs to this wall were done with stone after 1811. But which came first—the brick repairs seen here, or the stone repairs? That’s a question that will require further digging through the surviving newspapers and other documentary records.

A view of the south side of the wall at the brick-stone interface.

A view of the south side of the wall at the brick-stone interface.

A view of the north side of the wall adjacent to the brick-stone interface.

A view of the north side of the wall adjacent to the brick-stone interface.

 

Unable to dig deeper on the south side of the wall, we turned our attention to its north side to see if there might be other clues to help decipher the brick-stone intersection. Behind (north 0f) the wall we found the same mix of fill materials as yesterday; that is, ballast stone, eighteenth-century brick bats, and a large quantity of fragmented Bermuda stone. We remain in awe of the prevalence of Bermuda stone concentrated in this small area. Whether or not the wall we’re investigating represents work completed in 1769 or extensive repairs in the 1830s, the profusion of otherwise-rare Bermuda stone at this location confirms that we’re in the right place and, at the very least, seeing the city’s attempts to maintain a very useful piece of colonial waterfront infrastructure. Like yesterday’s work, today’s study of the back fill area yielded a number of ceramic fragments that continue to indicate that this site was heavily disturbed during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Looking east at the backfill behind the sea wall (at right), showing the loose and consolidated sections of rubble materials.

Looking east at the back fill behind the sea wall (at right), showing the loose and consolidated sections of rubble materials.

In today’s case, however, we observed a difference in the nature of the fill behind the wall. Careful hand-troweling through the rubble revealed that a reasonably discrete portion of the fill was slathered in mortar, as if in an attempt to create a unified body. The extent and purpose of this mortar-bound fill is unclear, but we have a theory. The consolidated section in question is perpendicular to the wall, and perhaps was intended to act as a buttress or “counterfort” to stabilize the wall against the opposing force of the tides.

Speaking of the tides, today’s downward digging once again found water just a few feet below the surface, and it’s hard to forget that the Ashley River is just a stone’s throw away from our site. And so, hemmed in by modern utilities, streetscapes, and seeping tidal waters, we closed up our units and now begin the work of analyzing the data.

The Mayor’s Walled City Task Force extends its collective thanks to the City of Charleston (especially the Stormwater Services and Parks Departments), Clemson University, the Charleston Museum, the College of Charleston, the Charleston County Public Library, the Post and Courier, and every one who visited the site, for helping to make this brief but very productive collaborative venture a success. Our goal is to pursue and to share knowledge in an effort to increase public understanding and appreciation of Charleston’s history, and I think we’re right on target.

The dig site at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets in Charleston.

The dig site at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets in Charleston.

This morning the Walled City Task Force began a brief exploratory dig at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets, and we found some interesting materials. Did we find physical evidence to confirm the existence of the 1769 sea wall built of Bermuda stone and brick? Well, maybe. It’s a long story, and it’s going to take us a while to sort out the evidence and draw conclusions.

Part of the exposed brickwork at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets.

Part of the exposed brickwork at the southeast corner of King and South Battery Streets.

If you recall the earlier posting about this topic, we’re seeking to identify the line of bricks and stones that is visible along much of the northern edge of White Point Garden (see the photo below). This line doesn’t seem to be related to either the boundary of the park or the curb of South Battery Street, and so we suspect it is a vestige of a wall constructed in the summer of 1769 as a sea wall to protect the extensive and expensive fortifications that once stood at White Point. There is no documentary evidence to suggest that this wall was ever dismantled, and thus it would have stood as a visible, useful barrier for the neighborhood until a new wall was built around the western extension of White Point Garden ca. 1850.

Most of the early records of the City of Charleston were lost or destroyed during the chaos of the spring of 1865, however, so there is a big blind spot in our historical understanding of this site.  We know from newspaper advertisements that there was some sort of repair or refashioning of this 1769 sea wall during the early years of the nineteenth century, but the extent of that work is unclear. In October of 1811, for example, the city advertised that it needed large “building stone” for construction of the East Battery sea wall (still standing today), and also “building stone of a smaller size from fifty to two hundred weight for South-Bay-street.” In October 1812, and again as late as April 1831, the city advertised its desire to contract with someone to repair “the stone wall on South Bay.” Based on what we found today, it appears that much (but perhaps not all) of the 1769 brick sea wall was rebuilt with granite stones in the early 1800s.

The first hole revealed a bonanza of rubble fill material, including large fragments of Bermuda stone.

The first hole revealed a bonanza of rubble fill material, including large fragments of Bermuda stone.

Using a small backhoe and shovels, we dug (and later re-filled) three holes today. The first hole was on the north side (the land side) of the wall in question, approximately 100 feet east of King Street. Just a few inches below the surface, we encountered a bonanza of ballast stone, brick bats, and large chunks of Bermuda stone. The wall appears to be constructed solely of stones, and back-filled with dense rubble containing almost no artifacts. That description doesn’t match what we’re looking for, but the presence of the Bermuda stone fragments was a pleasant surprise. Charleston’s senior archaeologist, Martha Zierden of the Charleston Museum, says its very unusual to find such a concentration of Bermuda stone, even fragments of it, in Charleston. If this section of the 1769 wall was rebuilt with quarried stone ca. 1811, it would make sense that workers would excavate the surviving Bermuda stone and brick and recycle it as fill material.

The second hole, on the south side of the wall, showing nineteenth-century stone repairs and a late 20th century utility obstruction.

The second hole, on the south side of the wall, showing nineteenth-century stone repairs and a late 20th century utility obstruction.

The second hole was dug on the south side (the water side) of the wall, approximately fifteen feet west of the first hole. Here we found the relatively clean face of a granite stone wall with a slight batter or slope from top to bottom. The soil in front of the wall was completely sterile and new, because sometime in the late twentieth century the power utility company built an extensive concrete chase that runs nearly the width of the park, parallel to the wall we’re investigating. After digging down approximately three feet, that utility line prevented us from exploring this side of the wall any further. As you can see in my photograph, it appears that this section of the 1769 sea wall was also rebuilt with stone in 1811.

Martha Zierden places a photographic scale on the brick wall exposed in our third hole of the day.

Martha Zierden places a photographic scale on the brick wall exposed in our third hole of the day.

The third and final hole of the day was located just a few feet east of the corner of King and South Battery, next to the clearly exposed line of brick. After just a few seconds of breaking the surface on the north side (land side) of the wall, we began seeing fragments of ceramics and glass. Martha Zierden dated them to the first half of the nineteenth-century. We were able to remove enough fill to expose fifteen courses of brick before water began to seep into the hole (remember the Ashley River is just a stone’s throw away). Although we were pleased to finally see some intact, old brickwork, the appearance of the brick was not quite what we were expecting. We found many fragments of colonial-era brick in the fill behind the wall, but as you can see in the photo below, the bond or pattern of the layout of the brick is more reminiscent of post-colonial-era work.

The brickwork of uncertain vintage, exposed in the day's third hole.

The brickwork of uncertain vintage, exposed in the day’s third hole.

Could it be that this section of the 1769 brick sea wall was also rebuilt ca. 1811, but with brick rather than stone? The determining factor in this question might be the presence or absence of Bermuda stone at the base of the brick work. Since the bottom course of bricks was actually below the water level, we couldn’t see what was there. A tactile investigation (that is, reaching into the mud) found only coarse silt and vague fragments, which might actually represent the remnants of degraded Bermuda stone (which is soft when under water and hardens only when exposed to dry air). In short, we’re not sure of the date of this construction.

Looking west toward the intersection of King and South Battery Streets.

Looking west toward the intersection of King and South Battery Streets.

All in all, it wasn’t a bad day of archaeology, despite the high temperature of only 48. We’ll return to the scene tomorrow and try to find further evidence to help us understand the construction history of this mysterious wall. Thursday should be a warmer day, so please drop by and have a look if you’re in the neighborhood. Remember, also, that there will be a public program in late March including recap the history of the 1768-1769 sea wall and a summary of the findings from this dig.

 

A small fragment of Bermuda stone excavated today.

A small fragment of Bermuda stone excavated today.

Oh–and of course I have to include a photo of a Bermuda stone fragment recovered from this morning first dig. This material would have been sawed into a rectangular block originally, but as you can see now it’s quite degraded.

 

Everyone is familiar with Charleston’s famous Battery, the stone and concrete sea wall and promenade that wraps around White Point at the southern tip of the peninsula. In fact, the Battery is our city’s most popular tourist destination, drawing several million visitors every year. Few people know, however, that this picturesque landmark was not the first wall the protect White Point from the daily inundation of the tides. Beginning in the spring of 1768 and concluding the autumn of 1769, the General Assembly of South Carolina funded the construction of a half-mile long wall around this same location, using Bermuda stone, bricks, and palmetto logs. Although it has been almost entirely forgotten, significant portions of this late-colonial-era wall may still exist under White Point Garden. In the coming weeks, the Mayor’s Walled City Task Force will endeavor to raise awareness of the this forgotten wall by way of blog posts, public programs, and even a brief archaeological dig.

The sea wall in question, which didn’t really have a proper name, commenced in 1768 at Granville’s Bastion (now under the Missroon House at 40 East Bay Street) and extended southward past Lyttelton Bastion, turned westwardly around Broughton’s Battery, and ended at Lamboll’s Bridge (a large wharf just west of the south end of King Street). Its primary purpose was to protect the above-mentioned fortifications from the “violence of the seas,” and it replaced the earthen ramparts constructed (at great expense) for that purpose in the late 1750s under engineer William De Brahm. According to the design specifications, which survive in the manuscript “Journal of the Commissioners of Fortifications, 1755-1770″ at SCDAH, the brick wall stood at least five feet above ground on a foundation of Bermuda stones. Split palmetto logs were affixed to the outer face of the wall as a sacrificial buffer against tidal forces. The contract for the brickwork was won by the firm of Timothy Crosby and Anthony Toomer, while Hercules Hall was the lowest bidder for the carpentry contract.

The red line indicates the path of the 1768-1769 sea wall around Charleston's White Point

The red line indicates the path of the 1768-1769 sea wall around Charleston’s White Point

As discussed in previous postings on this blog, the various colonial-era fortifications situated around White Point were dismantled shortly after the American Revolution, and the waterfront property on which they had stood was subdivided and sold at auction. When the City of Charleston began planning the southward extension of East Bay Street in 1785, the proposed route extended from Granville’s Bastion toward the former site of Broughton’s Battery, but passing in front (eastward) of the “old” brick sea wall. In the course of the private development along this site, in conjunction with the city’s creation of what is now called “East Battery Street,” the northeastern half of the our late-colonial sea wall was probably obliterated. In contrast to this loss, however, the southwestern half of the old wall appears on several post-Revolutionary plats of White Point and South Battery, and, despite private development in this area in the late 1700s, significant portions of this wall may survive under the grass of White Point Garden, the seven-acre park developed between the late 1830s and the early 1850s.

In the coming weeks there will be several opportunities to learn more about this long-forgotten sea wall, so stay tuned to this blog for updates. For the moment, however, I encourage you to mark your calendar for an upcoming free public lecture, titled:

“Charleston’s First Battery Sea Wall, 1768-1769″

Tuesday, January 27th at 6 p.m.

Charleston Public Library Auditorium, 68 Calhoun Street, 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Butler at butlern[at]ccpl.org or 843–805–6968.

 

In the one hundred years between the settlement of Charles Town on Oyster Point in 1680 and the American surrender of Charleston to the British Army in 1780, South Carolina’s provincial legislature directed massive amounts of money, resources, and labor toward the erection of defensive fortifications for the protection of the colony’s capital and main port. During that long era, South Carolinians carefully watched the movements of our Spanish and French neighbors in St. Augustine, Havana, Biloxi, Mobile, and New Orleans, ever mindful of the treat of foreign invasion. The Treaty of Paris in 1763, signed by Britain, France, and Spain, marked the beginning of an era of unprecedented peace and prosperity in the American colonies. For the first time in our colonial history, South Carolinians no longer worried about the threat of foreign invasion, and the commerce of our ports expanded rapidly.

The rift between the colonists and Britain in 1775 brought a sudden end to what had been a very prosperous decade, however, and induced South Carolinians to make rapid preparations for an imminent engagement with a new enemy. After refurbishing and expanding our fortifications, Charleston was eventually overwhelmed by the might of the British Army and capitulated on 12 May 1780. Between that time and the British evacuation of Charleston on 14 December 1782, the occupying forces maintained and even expanded some of the town’s urban fortifications as a precaution against an American counterattack. But the dawning of the year 1783 brought a fresh outlook to South Carolina. All of our enemies had retreated, and, for the first time since the founding of the colony, South Carolina’s sovereignty stood unchallenged on the world stage. At that moment our legislators, military leaders, and private citizens asked themselves, what should become of the long-standing urban fortifications crowding our principal port and capital town?

1784 newspaper notice for sale of fortifications in Charleston

1784 newspaper notice for sale of fortifications in Charleston

In retrospect, we look back at the year 1783 as the official beginning of the happy sovereignty of the United States of America, but at that time not everyone was so sanguine about our future. Following legislative debates and petitions from the merchant community, South Carolina’s General Assembly voted in March 1783 to preserve, maintain, and even expand Charleston’s urban fortifications. In the meantime, peace negotiations were proceeding in Paris between American and British diplomats, and the news of their progress was amply reported in our local newspapers.  When the City of Charleston was finally incorporated on 13 August 1783, local conversations began about who had jurisdiction over the urban defenses, and how long they might remain. Finally, at the end of its spring session in late March 1784, the South Carolina legislature voted to divest the state’s interest in Charleston’s urban fortifications. The state appointed three commissioners to manage the process of surveying, subdividing, and selling “the public lands whereon the forts and fortifications were erected, and low-water lots in Charleston,” as well as a few other non-military sites. Commencing in April 1784 and continuing to August 1789, these commissioners superintended the relatively rapid removal of the urban fortifications that had preoccupied South Carolina’s public treasury for more than a century.

The significance of this process of fortification removal, or demilitarization, for the City of Charleston cannot be overstated. The Charleston that has garnered so much devotion and praise from its denizens and tourists alike is the product of generations of civilian activity, a marriage of private enterprise and public appropriations. But the present landscape of Charleston—its infrastructure and its built environment—was shaped in part by the dominating presence of our early fortifications and by their removal in the 1780s. Understanding the physical evolution of Charleston thus requires an understanding of the physical growth of the now-absent fortifications. Fortunately for us, the five-year process of dismantling the fortifications generated a paper trail that provides important information about the location, dimensions, materials, and construction of the old works. Such information, combined with documentary evidence from colonial-era records, helps us understand how and where the fortifications were built, but it doesn’t answer all the lingering questions. The absence of many crucial documents has been a constant source of frustration in our efforts to research this topic. It is somewhat comforting, though, to see that in the 1780s some of the best legal minds in South Carolina were as confused about the legal title to some lands fortified in the colonial era as I am today.

The story of the removal of Charleston’s urban defenses forms the final installment of our 2014 lecture series on Charleston’s colonial fortifications. Please join me for a program titled

“The Demilitarization of Urban Charleston, 1784–1789″

Wednesday, December 17th at 6 p.m.

2nd Floor Classroom, Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun St., 29401.

For more information, please contact Dr. Butler at butlern[at]ccpl.org or 843–805–6968.

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