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Westervelt Massacre in Kentucky in 1780 By Ronald Clay Belcher

posted Feb 7, 2017, 3:58 PM by Pam Ellingson   [ updated Mar 12, 2017, 4:44 PM ]
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Permission received from Bluegrass Roots for the Dutch Cousins. 

Westervelt Massacre in Kentucky in 1780
By Ronald Clay Belcher
(Mr. Belcher requested and received permission from Bluegrass Roots via Fran Salyers for us to reprint this article just for the Dutch Cousins. The article is quite lengthy and will be issued in several installments. You may wish to print and save, which is permitted.)

[Please see the Spring 2011 Bluegrass Roots for Mr. Belcher’s article “Samuel Westervelt (Westerfield) in the
Kentucky Territory in 1779”]

Frontier settler Jacobus Westervelt arrived in Kentucky early in the spring of 1780.(footnote 1)

By mid-April, Jacobus and his fellow brethren from the Dutch Reformation Congregation settled at Beargrass Creek, where the Louisville suburb of St. Matthews is now located. There they built a settlement at Beargrass Creek called Low Dutch Station. In the summer of 1780, Jacobus Westervelt hired John Thixton to guide the family from Low Dutch Station to Harrod’s Town. Thirty settlers joined the Westervelt family, forming a caravan of about forty-one people. At the end of their first day of travel, the travelers set camp for the night a few miles below Low Dutch Station. Twenty men, women and children were killed during the night when Native Indians attacked the sleeping settlers. This tragic event became known as the “Westervelt Massacre”.

The historical collection of Lyman Copeland Draper (f.2) includes testimonials by H. R. Stafford (f.3), Mrs. Strong (f.4) and Mrs. Campbell (f.5) accounts of the massacre. John Ryker’s testimonials at the Indiana court during 1834 and 1835 (f.6) are pertinent to the timing for the Westervelt Massacre. Also helpful is a partial history of the Westervelt family in America, maintained by Westerfield descendants (f.7).

In his testimonial, Stafford described the route traveled by the Westervelt caravan to a trail that connected Low Dutch Station with Harrod’s Town, following Beargrass Creek. Stafford’s description matches exactly a popular and well-known buffalo trail, called Harrod’s Trace, found on the 1784 Filson Map of Kentucky. (f.8) Stafford recalled that the Westervelt caravan traveled about twelve miles before setting camp for the night.

The juncture of Broad Run and Floyd’s Fork is about 12 miles from Low Dutch Station, located at the frontier trail leading to Harrod’s Town. Landmarks of Thixton and Thixton Lane are situated in the vicinity of Floyd’s Fork and Broad Run. Both landmarks are co-incidental to the location and circumstance of the Westervelt massacre. Guide John Thixton escaped the massacre, his probable starting point a community called Thixton today.

John Thixton navigated a wilderness terrain and reached safety at Clear’s Station, his likely route a modern county road called Thixton Lane.

A narrow region of land lying east of Floyd’s Fork bounded by Broad Run on the south and Pope’s Lick on the north was described by early frontier explorer Thomas McCarty as “notorious” during 1779. The Westervelt Massacre in 1780 was a factor contributing to that notoriety. The frontier region described by McCarty was also the tragic site for Floyd's Defeat and the Long Run Massacre, both in 1781.(f.10)

The Westervelt caravan departed Low Dutch Station and traveled Beargrass Creek to its end. They then followed Chenoweth Run to Floyd’s Fork and continued along Floyd’s Fork to the mouth of Broad Run. The site guide, John Thixton, chose to set camp for the night in an area that McCarty described as a “great buffalo trace crisscrossed at Broad Run”.

The vicinity at Floyd’s Fork and Broad Run is the likely site for the Westervelt massacre when examining details found in the separate escape scenario recalled by Samuel Westervelt (f.11) and John Thixton (f.12) and the partial accounts of Maria Westervelt (f.13).

Samuel Westervelt arrived in Kentucky one year prior to the 1780 arrival of his parents and siblings. Samuel Westervelt entered Kentucky by way of Cumberland Gap and apparently wintered at the vicinity of Ft. Boonesborough and White Oak Station.(f.14)

Following the 1780 Westervelt massacre, Samuel along with his sister, whose given name was not specified, reached safety at Bullitt Lick.

Given Samuel’s previous experience and knowledge of the frontier, their journey of fifteen miles was readily managed.

The escape scenario for John Thixton noted that he departed from the massacre at 3:00 a.m. Thixton apparently reached safety about four hours later, having run for most of his ten-mile journey. Thixton’s journey neared its end when the sound of early morning rooster crowing was heard, around 6:00 a.m.Thixton oriented his route and found safety at Clear’s Station. Thixton’s
rapid pace eliminated any chance of pursuit by the Indians. His early arrival allowed couriers to be dispatched to warn nearby settlements.

Westerfield Massacre, part 2, Bluegrass Roots Journal

Maria Westervelt’s account recalled secluding herself and three of her children in a sinkhole. Later that day, Maria left without her children and with some difficult gained entrance to a fortification, resulting in an alarm being raised. Most likely, Maria found safety at Brashear’s Station, a fortification within walking distance, about eight miles, reachable given her delayed start time. Brashear’s Station was in distance about four miles from Clear’s Station, from which a courier was apparently dispatched following Thixton’s news of the massacre.

In the absence of a valid citation for the site of the Westervelt massacre, fact, historical observations, testimonials and landmarks must suffice. The massacre most likely occurred where Floyd’s Fork joins Broad Run, a location of ‘notorious’ reputation situated about two miles above the border with Bullitt County and about 12 miles below Low Dutch Station. Survivors
of the massacre reached safety at Clear’s Station, Brashear’s Station and Bullitt Lick, or Shanklin’s Outpost.

About the first of July of 1780, British Colonel Byrd, accompanied by 700 Indian allies, invaded the Kentucky Territory and captured Ruddle’s Fort and Martin’s Fort. Byrd’s exact whereabouts and plans were unknown, heightening concern amongst settlers and causing alarm throughout Kentucky. The magnitude
of that event curtailed any semblance of normal life for settlers between July and the month of September.

After receiving the news, Colonel George Rogers Clark levied frontier settlers to serve as attachments to his military force. Clark conducted a military campaign on Indian encampments and villages situated in Kentucky and into southern Ohio. Settlers were recruited for military duty. Settlements were left undermanned requiring defenses to be strengthened prior to departure. Frontier militiamen undertook their own preparations for the military campaign. Fearful of Clark’s plans, many Native Indians returned to their villages and encampments to protect their own families. About 470 men, women and children were taken captive by the invading force. (footnonte15).

The Ryker family and the Westervelt family were fellow brethren of the Dutch Reformed Congregation at Low Dutch Station. John Ryker provided court testimony at the Indiana court later in his life. In 1834 Ryker recalled his 1780 military service against the Indians included the months of July, August and early September. Several Dutch settlers at Low Dutch Station, including men from the Banta family, served with Clark’s militia, many of whom served for the three months.(f.16)

Byrd’s invasion and Clark’s retaliatory campaign, attested by the Ryker testimonial and others at Low Dutch Station, significantly narrows the timing for the Westervelt’s intended removal from Low Dutch Station to Harrod’s Town. Due to the threat, July, August, and September are effectively eliminated as possible dates for that relocation.

Forty-one settlers, most of whom were women and children, were unlikely to undertake the risk of such a move and were further hampered due to men being unavailable. The frontiersmen returning from Clark’s campaign in early and late September faced numerous tasks and demands, given their ex- tended absence. Crops, repairs, family needs and winter preparations were of immediate priority. It is extremely unlikely that the Westervelt summer relocation occurred between 1 July 1780 and end of summer.

The Westervelts probably tried to relocate in early summer, according to historical circumstances. Low Dutch Station proved to be at a dangerous locale, encouraging the Westervelts to seek removal. The immediate area east of Low Dutch Station was controlled by hostile bands of Native Indians. On 21 June 1780, the first day of summer, Jacobus Westervelt registered ownership of 400 acres of land along Silver Creek, situated two day’s journey beyond Harrod’s Town.(f.17)

Jacobus’ land registration likely prompted the Westervelt relocation to Harrod’s Town. Squire Boone and Colonel John Harrod traveled Harrod’s Trace to settlements along Beargrass Creek in the spring of 1780. Boone successfully recruited thirteen families to relocate to Squire Boone Station. Harrod encouraged settlers to relocate to Harrod’s Town, where Jacobus Westervelt elected to go. Relocation to Harrod’s Town was the first segment of the move. The Westervelts likely planned their second relocation to Silver Creek during the spring of 1781.

A removal to Harrod’s Town in early summer allowed time to plant crops, and harvest and preserve food for winter. Kentucky experienced a near famine in 1780 (f.18), one so severe that one bushel of corn cost the equivalent of 400 acres of
land. This famine is evidenced by the household items (f.19)
listed in the 1781 probate proceedings for massacre victim, Jan Westervelt.

The relocation from Low Dutch Station necessitated additional trips, each roundtrip consuming about ten days. An early summer removal allowed the Westervelts to complete additional trips prior to the onset of winter.

Westerfield Massacre, part 3, Bluegrass Roots Journal

James Swan relocated his family to Beargrass Creek on a Sunday evening in preparation for departing with the Westervelt caravan, apparently on Monday morning.(20)  In Mrs. Strong’s testimonial, she recalled the massacre occurred on a Monday, meaning the group was attacked on Monday night. The massacre occurred at 3:00 a.m., pushing the event into early Tuesday morning. In early summer, prior to 1 July 1780, the most likely time for the Westervelt relocation to Harrod’s Town, only one suitable Tuesday is found on the calendar from that year, occurring on 27 June. The actual date for the Westervelt massacre is not found in any historical citation.

Circumstantial information, combined with known historical facts and testimonials, adds credence for the Westervelt massacre to have occurred at 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday, 27 June 1780.

A likely roster for those traveling with the Westervelt caravan is shown below. Details from the Draper collection state the Westervelt caravan consisted of ten families, interpreted to mean male heads-of-household. The Westervelt family was joined by thirty additional settlers, increasing the size of the group
to about 41 settlers. Eight heads-of-households are authenticated.

The two heads-of-household lacking citation may be John Van Leeve and John Dorland, brethrens of the Dutch Reformed Congregation at Low Dutch Station.

John Van Leeve and John Dorland are believed killed by Indians in 1780. Their wives, Margareta Van Leeve and Catherina Dorland, survived the Indian attack as did Maria Westervelt. Van Leeve and Dorland, similar to the Westervelts, were temporary residents at Low Dutch Station, intending to relocate in 1780 or spring of 1781. The Dorland and Van Leeve families may have planned to remain at Squire Boone Station for the second day of travel.

Squire Boone’s wife, Jane Van Cleaf, was a cousin of Margareta Van Leeve and Catherina (Van Leeve) Dorland. The widows Van Leeve and Dorland received 400-acre land grants in 1781 pursuant to frontier hardships they endured in 1780. On that same occasion, land grants were also given to massacre survivors Maria Westervelt, Mary McGlaughlin, Barbara (P) lyburn and John Thixton. (f. 21)

Westerfield Massacre, part 4, Bluegrass Roots Journal

The roster below is assembled from my research.

Individuals or events without a definitive citation are shown in an italicized font.
 
Reconstructed Roster of the Westervelt Caravan - Summer of 1780
  1. Jacobus Westervelt, husband/ father (f. 22 )                                        killed
a.Maria Westervelt, wife/mother escaped
b.unknown Westervelt, daughterkilled 
c.Lea Westervelt, daughterkilled 
d.Samuel Westervelt, adult son escaped
e.Leah Westervelt, daughter escaped
f.Isaac Westervelt, son escaped
g.William Westervelt, son escaped
h.Rebecca Westervelt, daughter escaped
i.Catrina Westervelt, daughter escaped
j.Deborah Westervelt, daughter captive
Notes: Catrina, Rebecca, Deborah and Leah are accounted for after 1780. This identifies Lea Westervelt
and a sister of unknown given name as the two Westervelt daughters killed.
  1. Jan Westervelt, husband/father   (cousin of Jacobus) (f.23)  killed
    1. Anaetje Westervelt, wife/mother                      killed
    2. Gerritt Westervelt, son                                     killed
  1. Leah Westervelt, daughter                              killed
  2. Marya “Polly” Westervelt, daughter       captive
  1. unknown Westervelt, child, b. abt. 1774          killed
  2. unknown Westervelt, child, b. abt. 1776          killed
  3. g.   captive Antie Westervelt, infant dau.        killed
Notes: Gerritt, Leah and Marya are born at or before 1771; Antie born at 1779. An eight year period with no children born is possible, although unlikely. Two Westervelt children of unknown given name are included in the list above, shown as (e) and (f). Jan Westervelt’s probate of his estate is recorded at Jefferson County in 1781, apparently the result of no known surviving descendants. Jacobus Westervelt’s estate was not probated, apparently due to surviving descendants.
  1. James Swan, husband / father (f.24)         killed
a.    unknown Swan, wife / mother    killed
b.   Betsy Swan, daughter (Westervelt cousin)      killed
c.   James Swan (Jr.), son         escaped
Notes: Mrs. Swan is not afterward encountered in records at Kentucky, likely killed. Circumstantial evidence for James (Jr.?) after 1780 has caused his name to be added.
  1. James McGlaughlin, husband /father (f. 25)    killed
  2. a. Mary McGlaughlin, wife / mother escaped b. James (Jr.) McGlaughlin, son      escaped
Notes: Mary resided at Beargrass Creek after the massacre. An entry dated 20 January 1783 in the diary kept by Colonel. William Fleming recalled teenager James McGalalan, likely McGlaughlin, was wounded by Indians while hunting near Beargrass Creek on 19 January 1783.
  1. Thomas Plyburn/Pyburn, husband / father (f.26)  killed
  2.  a. Barbara Plyburn/Pyburn, wife escaped
Note: Barbara resided at Beargrass Creek after the massacre.
  1. John Thixton, frontier guide (f.27)      escaped
  2. Note: Suffered minor wound to back of neck during the massacre.
  3. William Thixton, frontier guide (cousin of John Thixton) (f.28)       escaped
  4. Note: Suffered minor wound to back of hand during the massacre.
  5. Thomas Pearce, frontier guide (f.29)   escaped
  6. Note: Suffered a painful wound during the massacre.
  1. John Dorland, husband, killed
  2. a. Catherine (Van Leeve) Dorland, wife, escaped
  3. John Van Leeve, husband, killed
  4. a. Margareta Van Leeve, wife, escaped
 
Roster Summary Notes: Listed above are 35 of the 41 settlers; 17 killed, 2 taken captive and 16 escaped. Six others settlers remain unaccounted for, three of whom were stated as killed; three others apparently escaped. More research is needed; however, my own opinion is that most of those unaccounted settlers are likely children of surname Dorland; children of surname Swan or McGlaughlin are secondary choices to complete the list.

Westerfield Massacre, part 5, Bluegrass Roots Journal

Account of the Massacre in the Draper Collection

The following summary of the massacre is derived from details extracted from the Westerfield family account and testimonials found in the Draper Collection:

Around 3:00 a.m. on a Tuesday morning in the summer of 1780, the Westervelt settlers were attacked by Native Indians. Darkness, surprise and strength in numbers favored the attacking foe. Survivors from the attack recounted hearing hacking sounds, chop- ping, “crackling of skulls, plundering and scream- ing”, joined by the sound of volleys discharged from muskets. In moments, about half the members of the Westervelt group were slaughtered despite valiant attempts by the men to protect the women and children. Fewer than half of the approximately forty settlers managed to escape.

Jacobus Westervelt, said to weigh 333 pounds, died from a gun shot wound. Apparently, a projectile first struck the flintlock on Westervelt’s rifle, and then the ricochet lodged in his brain. The lead guide, John Thixton, awakened by the noise and commo- tion, wrestled free his rifle and struck his assailant. Thixton’s blanket was peppered through with shot. Thixton suffered a wound to his neck while escaping into the darkness, after stumbling over an unseen log.

A few hours later John Thixton gained safety at Clear’s Station in Bullitt County. Guide William Thixton es- caped into the darkness with wounds to the back of his hand. Guide Thomas Pearce also escaped although he suffered a painful wound and was said to “holler most dreadfully when his wounds were dressed”. Six men are believed to have been killed while protecting the women and children.

In the aftermath of the fighting, three Indians donned the oversized great coat belonging to Jacobus Westervelt and danced jubilantly in celebration.
The escape scenarios for Samuel Westervelt, Leah Westervelt, Maria Westervelt and three children who accompanied Maria are mentioned above.

Maria Westervelt and Samuel Westervelt re- turned to the site of the massacre on Wednesday. They dug a large hole and buried 20 companions, the majority of which were family members. A daughter of Jacobus and Maria Westervelt and a daughter of Jan and Anaetje Westervelt were taken captive by the attacking foe.

At first, the youngster Gerritt Westervelt survived the massacre. The horrific tragedy of the massacre witnessed by young Gerritt led the lad to become hysterical, causing the Indians to become distraught.

They subsequently killed and scalped the wailing boy in the aftermath of the massacre. Betsy Swan suffered a severe wound to her shoulder during the massacre. Betsy’s wound made her unsuitable for the rigors of travel. Betsy was soon killed and scalped. British authorities paid a bounty of £5 to the Indians for each scalp taken. Each of the twenty settlers killed by the Indians was scalped.

Settlers taken captive by the Indians were either kept at camps or taken to Ft. Detroit where they were frequently sold as slaves or prisoners, a typical sum being £5. Captives were made to carry plundered items to Ft. Detroit for the Indians to sell or trade. Likely, captives Deb and Polly Westervelt were kept at an Indian village in southern Ohio until the spring of 1781. They were likely taken to Ft. Detroit in April  At Ft. Detroit, Deb and Polly were sold as slaves to a French house, badly abused.

News of Deb and Polly’s arrival at Ft. Detroit reached Low Dutch Station, likely in the late summer of 1781.

Maria Westervelt, a 46-year-old widow who survived the Westervelt Massacre, gathered together provisions, a saddle, and on horseback sought rescue. From Low Dutch Station, Maria journeyed the buffalo trail, her likely route past the site of the Westervelt Massacre, continued past Squire Boone’s cabin before joining the Alanant-o-wamiowee Trail leading to Licking Creek. Maria Westervelt crossed the Ohio River likely following Byrd’s “War Trail”, covering more than 400 miles of hostile wilderness territory controlled by Indian allies of the British mili- tary. Maria arrived as the fall season came to an end and received the unwanted news that Deb and Polly Westervelt had since been transported to Montreal.

Harsh weather forced Maria to remain throughout the winter at Ft. Detroit. Maria returned to Kentucky the following spring or summer, the year of 1782. On her return to Low Dutch Station, Maria was pursued by Indians and the horse upon which Maria was mounted was shot out from underneath her. Collecting her saddle and necessities, Maria fled and outmaneuvered her attackers for a distance of four miles where she reached safety.

If not daring enough, Maria mounted a horse stolen from the Indians and made good her getaway. Maria’s journey on horseback traversed a rugged and hostile terrain whose distance exceeded 800 miles, her circumstance unknown to family and friends at Low Dutch Station. Although unsuccessful in her rescue of Deb and Polly Westervelt, Maria proved to be a frontier woman of strenuous determination and capable to the extreme. Her actions are legendary by their very nature.

On 4 October 1782, the Indian captors transported Debra and Polly Westervelt to Niagara. (f.31) At war’s conclusion, the Legislature of Virginia ransomed freedom for two hundred surviving Kentucky men, women and children held captive at war’s end. By the time of the Legislature’s final approval in December of 1782, those captives were well on their way homeward. Most likely, Debra and Polly arrived at Low Dutch Station during December of 1782, possibly early spring of 1783.

Their homeward route from Niagara to Kentucky is believed to have passed through Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Debra and Polly reunited with surviving family members in Kentucky, having endured the most horrid of experiences.

Westerfield Massacre, part 6, Bluegrass Roots Journal

A timeline for events and people associated with the Westervelt(s) at 1780 follows:

1780 – Widow Pyburn/Plyburn returned to Floyd’s Station on Beargrass Creek
1780 – Widow McGlaughlin returned to Floyd’s Station on Beargrass Creek
1781 – Maria Westervelt departed for Ft. Detroit
1781 – Samuel Westervelt served as executor for the estate of Jan Westervelt
1781 – William Brashear, founder of Brashear’s Station, was killed in an Indian attack 1781 – Squire Boone Station attacked, Squire badly wounded by gunshot
1781 – Massacre at Long Run and Floyd’s Defeat, slightly north and east of the Westervelt Massacre
1781 – Land Grants of 400 acres given to massacre survivors - widows Westervelt, McGlaughlin, Dorland, Van Leeve and Pyburn; also, guide John Thixton
1781 – Westervelt caravan’s guide, Thomas Pearce, recorded a land survey at Jefferson County Court32 1782 – Maria Westervelt returned from Ft. Detroit
1782 – Samuel Westervelt married Catherine Monfort 1783 – Leah Westervelt married William Stafford
1783 – Col. Floyd who owned the property at Low Dutch Station was killed in an Indian ambush in Bullitt County
1783 –James McGlaughlin (Jr.), believed to be a Westervelt Massacre survivor, was badly wounded by Indians while hunting near Floyd’s Station
1784 – Captive Deb Westervelt married James Baxter
1785 – 10th child of Jacobus and Maria Westervelt who was not at the massacre is James Westervelt/ Westerfield. James led a wagon train from Berkeley County, Virginia, to the vicinity of Ft. Pitt where he then led a flatboat flotilla to Limestone, Kentucky; the group was attacked at night by Indians near Ruddle’s Station33
1786 – Squire and Jane Boone sold 5,945 acres to the Dutch settlers who established Low Dutch Station34 1786 – Likely Westervelt massacre survivor and widow, Catherine Dorland, remarried
1792 – Westervelt massacre survivor, Isaac Westervelt, married Polly Smock 1793 – Westervelt massacre survivor, Catrina Westervelt, married John Brazleton
1796 – Westervelt massacre survivor, Rebecca Westervelt, married William Brazleton; Rebecca later in life served as Mother Superior at Shakertown, Kentucky
1795-1800 – Maria Westervelt helped found the Old Mud Meeting House near Harrodsburg 1807 – Westervelt caravan’s guide, John Thixton, died at Bullitt County

Jacobus Westervelt and Maria Demarest are my 5th great grandparents. This Westervelt lineage emigrated in 1662 from Holland and arrived by ship at New Amsterdam, now Long Island and Manhattan, New York. (f.35)

Generations of the Westervelt lineage is shown below:
- Lubbert Westervelt b 1660 in Holland

…… +Hilletje Pouluse
………2. Jan Westervelt b 1686 in NJ
………… +Dirckje Hubbertse Blauvelt
………………3. Gerrit Westervelt b 1724 in NJ
………………… +Marytje Brouwer
……………………4. Jan Westervelt b 1744 in NJ
……………………… + Anaetje Dey
………………3. Jacobus Westervelt b 1712 in NJ
………………… + Debora Van Schyven
……………………4. Jacobus Westervelt b 1737 in NJ
……………………… + Maria Demarest
…………………………5. Jacobus (James) Westervelt b 1755 in NJ
…………………………… + Phoebe Cozine
………………………………6. James Cozine Westerfield b 1783 in VA
………………………………… + Catherine Sotore
……………………………………7. David Cozine Westerfield b 1825 in KY
……………………………………… + Ann Coovert
…………………………………………8. John Anderson Westerfield b 1866 in KY
…………………………………………… + Lottie Lear Strevels
………………………………………………9. Lillie Florence Westerfield b 1911 in KY
………………………………………………… + Roy Belcher
……………………………………………………10. Cecil Lee Belcher b 1929 in KY
……………………………………………………… + Margaret Lucille Girtley
…………………………………………………………11. Ronald Clay Belcher b 1948

Over two and a quarter centuries have passed since the Westervelt Massacre. Important massacre details have not been documented. Likely, the massacre occurred on 27 June 1780 at the juncture of Floyd’s Fork and Broad Run and involved about forty one frontier settlers. The Westervelt story, most tragic in circumstance, was not an isolated event for early pioneers in Kentucky.

My birth occurred in 1948 at Campbellsville, KY. I soon moved to Bullitt County and afterward graduated from Murray State University. I first read the Westerfield family account sometime around 1962 (f.36).

My research into the event of the massacre began seven years ago and included excursions to Bullitt Lick, Clear’s Station, Brashear’s Station, Chenoweth Run, Low Dutch Station, Broad Run, Floyd’s Fork, Brooks’ Stations, Shanklin’s Outpost, Thixton and Thixton Lane.

The reader is encouraged to independently research the massacre event prior to making reliance on my research.

(to be continued)

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