Bonnie Huskins reviews Stephen Davidson’s Birchtown and the Black Loyalist Experience From 1775 to the Present

Stephen Davidson. Birchtown and the Black Loyalist Experience From 1775 to the Present (Halifax: Formac Publishing Company Limited, 2019).

By Bonnie Huskins

This book is a fitting tribute to two groups of African-Nova Scotians: the black loyalists who established, in Birchtown, the largest free black settlement in British North America, and their descendants in Nova Scotia and elsewhere, who have fought hard to keep the memory of their ancestors alive. Although not a descendent himself, Stephen Davidson is an educator and author well known to historians of the loyalists and loyalist era. He has published hundreds of stories and articles on the loyalists and many of his works appear in Loyalist Trails (a United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada publication), some of which document the stories of black loyalists (https://teachingafricancanadianhistory.weebly.com). As someone who is committed to making history accessible, Davidson’s writing is lively and engaging, and will capture the interest of the general reader. The text is also enriched by photographs taken by professional photographer Peter Zwicker, who is based in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. Part One of the book details the decades-long struggle to save the Birchtown site. This is a story worth sharing in an era that privileges development at any cost over heritage preservation. The story also serves as an inspiration for historians and members of local history societies who tirelessly campaign to preserve elements of their past.

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Stephen Davidson. Birchtown and the Black Loyalist Experience From 1775 to the Present (Halifax: Formac Publishing Company Limited, 2019).

Located on the northwest arm of Shelburne Harbour, Birchtown was identified in 1783 by Governor John Parr as the site of a separate community for the free black loyalists who arrived with the loyalist fleets in 1783. By 1784, Birchtown boasted upwards of 1530 people, making it the “largest free Black settlement outside of Africa” (58). The first documented reference to the name “Birchtown” was in the journal of deputy surveyor Benjamin Marston, who recorded on 7 September 1783 that he had sent his assistants to “Birch-Town today out for Blacks” (58). The town is named after Brigadier General Samuel Birch, who signed freedom certificates for many of the black loyalists in New York City before they sailed to Nova Scotia. The settlement eventually declined in numbers, due to a general exodus from the area, as well as the migration of many Birchtown residents to Sierra Leone in 1792. Continue reading

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New issue of the Journal of New Brunswick Studies

The editorial board of the Journal of New Brunswick Studies/Revue d’études sur le Nouveau-Brunswick (JNBS/RÉNB) is pleased to announce the release of its latest issue.

The new issue can be accessed at https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/JNBS/index.
JNBS/RÉNB is an online, multi-disciplinary journal that publishes peer-reviewed research about the province in English and French. The only journal of ideas in New Brunswick, it publishes thoughtful writing that engages a wide readership in ongoing conversations about the province.

PLEASE NOTE: If you have bookmarked or tabbed JNBS/RÉNB for easy access, we have had to change our url address as a result of moving to a new host server. The journal’s new address is https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/JNBS/index. Please update your bookmark or tab with the new address.

For more information about the journal, contact editor.jnbs@stu.ca.


Le comité éditorial de la Journal of New Brunswick Studies/Revue d’études sur le Nouveau-Brunswick (JNBS/RÉNB) est heureux de vous annoncer que son dernier numéro est maintenant en ligne.

Vous pouvez y accéder en vous rendant à : https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/JNBS/index. Journal of New Brunswick Studies / La Revue d’études sur le Nouveau-Brunswick (JNBS/RÉNB) est une revue pluridisciplinaire dans laquelle sont publiés des articles évalués par les pairs, portant sur la province et ce, en anglais ou en français. Unique en son genre dans la province, RÉNB/JNBS vise à publier des articles réfléchis qui intéresseront un vaste lectorat dans le but d’alimenter les débats sur le Nouveau-Brunswick.

Nota bene : Si vous avez mis en signet ou en onglet JNBS/RÉNB pour un accès plus rapide, nous vous avisons d’un changement concernant l’adresse url du journal, rendu nécessaire par des mises à jour liées à notre serveur d’hébergement. Voici la nouvelle adresse du journal : https://journals.lib.unb.ca/index.php/JNBS/index. Veuiller réviser votre signet ou votre onglet en fonction de cette nouvelle adresse.

Pour de plus amples renseignements, écrivez à : editor.jnbs@stu.ca.

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Enslaved in Nova Scotia: The Case of Rose Welch

By Robyn Brown

There once was a young woman gave birth to a baby while living in a small outport of Nova Scotia. Unmarried, she delivered alone in a bedroom of the house where she lived; no one in the household knew she was pregnant. Her child was stillborn and she wrapped the body of the baby in a cloth before placing it in the river which flowed close to her home. Her story is one which could be placed in any time period; while not common, the situation of this young woman was by no means unheard of. What complicates this story, at least within the context of Nova Scotia, is that the child’s mother, Rose Welch, was the enslaved property of a wealthy merchant. Rose was charged with murdering her child but thanks to local magistrate Simeon Perkins interceding on her behalf, she was able to give evidence in her defense and was ultimately found not guilty of the charges brought against her. The trial of Rose Welch brings to light the experiences of an enslaved woman and her words, something unique in the discussion of slavery, and adds to the complicated history of enslaved people in Nova Scotia.

The date and location of Rose Welch’s birth is unknown. She is described as being a “black girl”, called either Rose or Pol. and was either a slave or a servant in the household of Benajah Collins, a wealthy Liverpool merchant; the courts were either unwilling or unable to ascertain her legal status. There is no mention of Rose having a family, something which was quite common in the context of slavery in Nova Scotia.[1] It is unclear as to when Rose came into the Collins household but given the time period, she likely worked as a domestic and lived in Collins’ house, as was the custom of the day.[2] When Perkins began recording his interactions with Rose Welch, she was already in jail, arrested for the suspected murder of her newborn child. There are no details on how she became a suspect or how long she had been incarcerated. Perkins notes that,

…she confessed  that  She  was the  mother of the  Child found that she  was delivered alone, in her  Chamber, about Sunset, & that  the Same night she laid the Child in the Tide’s way; that she did not do  anything to kill it, nor did she ever perceive any life in it; that she  had the Child Near a fortnight before she was taken up and that when she was examined before, she was  afraid, & ashamed to Own it, but Now she was Neither afraid, Nor ashamed to Own the truth.[3]

While this is a second hand account of her testimony, Perkins was, as a rule, meticulous in how he recorded legal proceedings in his diary. His diary represents the only record of certain judicial proceedings in Liverpool and Perkins took his role as legal records keeper quite seriously; there is no reason to believe that this is not an accurate record of her words. It is after this statement that things begin to change for Rose Welch, though it is unclear if she knew it. Continue reading

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Remembering Michael S. Cross

By Peter L. Twohig

When I heard that Michael died, I just wanted to hear his voice again. So I listened to a lecture he gave at Memorial University in 1983. The lecture series on Canadian and Working Class history took place at Memorial University, organized by Gregory Kealey, another eminent historian. I smiled when it was noted that Michael was actively working on his biography on Robert Baldwin. He would finish that book – but not until 2012! But like much of Michael’s work, it was done to a very high standard. It won the Osgoode Society’s John T. Saywell Prize in constitutional history and the Canadian Authors Association Lela Common Award for Canadian History.

There are dozens of historians more capable than me who could assess Michael’s impact on the discipline of history, and I am not up to that task. I can see books on my shelves that bear his name and countless others that were shaped by his editorial skill and trenchant criticism. In the acknowledgements of my second book, Labour in the Laboratory, I wrote that Michael’s “dedication to his students, the stuff of urban legend at Dalhousie and beyond, proved accurate and I benefitted from his criticism and support. He is a powerful role model, personally and professionally, and it was my privilege to be his student.” I stand by that assessment. Let me tell you why. Continue reading

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CFP: Atlantic Canada Studies Conference 2020 in Maine

2020 Atlantic Canada Studies Conference:
Crossing Borders, Bridging Boundaries
Call for Papers

The Canadian-American Center and the Department of History at the University of Maine invite proposals for the 2020 Atlantic Canada Studies Conference to be held at the University of Maine’s Hutchinson Center in Belfast, Maine, USA on May 14-16, 2020. The theme of the conference is “Crossing Borders, Bridging Boundaries.” With most participants crossing the international border between Canada and the United States to attend the conference, we especially seek proposals that in some way attempt to bridge boundaries, be they physical, disciplinary, metaphorical, or otherwise. Among the many options available, proposals may engage with a borderlands framework, or could incorporate an interdisciplinary approach. As in previous ACS conferences, we will consider proposals that deal with any topic or theme focused on the study of the Atlantic Region.

The deadline for submission of proposals is 2 December 2019 . Proposal abstracts should be fewer than 250 words, and the author should include a brief biography and one-page c.v. Proposals for panels are welcome; they should include a brief abstract for the panel as a whole, as well as abstracts for each individual presenter.

Proposals will be submitted via online forms (see below). While the selection of papers is rigorous, the ACS conference has an impressive history of bringing together internationally-recognized academics, junior scholars, and independent researchers in productive and provocative sessions.

Those submitting proposals should expect to hear back from conference organizers by the end of January 2020.

A conference website, with online registration and accommodation and other information, will be launched about the same time.

To submit proposals, please visit: smarturl.it/ACS2020proposal

For more information, please contact:
Mark J. McLaughlin
Assistant Professor of History and Canadian Studies
University of Maine
mark.j.mclaughlin@maine.edu
(207) 581-2028

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Nova Scotia Readers and Boston Booksellers in the Early Nineteenth Century

By Keith Grant

In the early decades of the nineteenth century, the circulation of books was a highly localized activity.[1] Although advances in steam, stereotyping, and stamps were taking place, before about 1840 in most places outside the metropole the book trade remained regional. To be sure, an extension of print culture was taking place, and books were available in the 1820s and 30s on a scale unimaginable only a few decades earlier. But this “reading revolution” was as much about hustle as technology, as publishers working with fairly traditional presses found new ways to get books into the hands of readers.

In locales like Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, it took creative effort to participate in the burgeoning world of print. Edward Manning (1766-1851) of Nova Scotia, provides an example of how, motivated by a religiously-informed sense of urgency, some people living in rural communities took the circulation of books and ideas into their own hands, inserting themselves into and extending the reach of the book trade of the Northeast. In the early decades of the nineteenth century, Manning developed a network throughout the Northeast of authors, publishers, booksellers, shippers, and readers. Colonial Nova Scotians were cosmopolitan in their reading, but to cultivate a local culture of ideas and debate they had to acquire their books by creating personal networks.

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Edward Manning Portrait, Acadia University

It is possible to reconstruct some of Manning’s book trade connections primarily through his extant correspondence (about 800 letters) and a daily journal, kept from about 1810-1846, a period that coincides with the explosion of religious print. These sources give us glimpses of commercial and religious transactions with authors in New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, Boston and PEI publishers, and magazine editors on both sides of the border. As a largely self-educated dissenting preacher in a small rural community, Manning was a bit reluctant to describe himself as “a man of abilities, and great reading,” but still he continued to cultivate his bookish network, considering it a “singular mercy to have so many valuable correspondents, and some of high standing in the literary and religious world.”[2] This post will trace the movement of books between Manning and one node in his network.

For most of two decades, to the early 1830s, Manning was a kind of part-time colporteur for the Boston publisher and bookseller, Lincoln and Edmands, a commercial relationship that extended the reach of the urban firm into an under-served rural market and that provided Manning with a reliable source of the kind of religious books he wanted to circulate in his region.

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Lincoln and Edmands trade card, ca. 1815-1820. American Antiquarian Society.

Located in Boston’s Cornhill book trades district from 1805 to 1833, Lincoln and Edmands specialized in religious books and tracts, children’s literature, and school textbooks.[3] They were in many ways typical of the localized book trade in the early decades of the nineteenth century: creatively serving niche markets in a competitive urban environment, with limited reach into the rural areas. Not until mid-century would publishing be centralized and distribution extended on a national scale. Acting as a kind of middleman, Manning was willing to take the distribution of Lincoln and Edmands titles into his own hands to ensure that evangelical books circulated in his locale, even if Nova Scotia was outside the firm’s normal orbit.[4] In 1816 the booksellers began sending multiple copies of religious titles for Manning to sell in Nova Scotia.[5] He was billed retail prices for the books, on the assumption that he had latitude to charge his buyers a small premium to cover shipping costs and his commission (though he often distributed the books at cost).[6] For the next twenty years, Manning’s diary, correspondence, and memorandum book are sprinkled with references to his book circulation on their behalf. To be sure, as a sometime colporteur, Manning’s commission bookselling was not nearly as extensive as that of the well-known Reverend Mason Weems, whom James Green described as a “one-man peripatetic distribution system.”[7] Yet for Manning, book distribution was integral to his ministry, as he attempted to create a local culture of reading.

The relationship between Manning and Lincoln and Edmands also illustrates how the distribution of free religious tracts was accomplished before the consolidation of such efforts under the umbrella of the American Tract Society.[8] In this period, the distribution of tracts was accomplished through a collaboration between booksellers and printers, voluntary societies, and individuals motivated by evangelical fervour and optimism about the power of print

Lincoln and Edmands played a significant role in the circulation of tracts in the Northeast. As early as 1811, partner Ensign Lincoln was a founding officer of Boston’s Evangelical Tract Society, annual reports of which describe tens of thousands of tracts circulating through its efforts.[9] As a firm, Lincoln and Edmands was soon putting its own presses into the cause; their catalogue for 1812 features a section headed “Boston Series of Cheap Religious Tracts,” with more than 80 titles in the series, priced cheaply and by the dozen.[10] Lincoln and Edmands sent Manning “a small assortment of Tracts for charitable distribution.”[11] In words that echoed Manning’s own sentiments on the religious significance of the distribution of print, Lincoln predicted that efforts like this would “usher in this long desired period” when “the knowledge of the Lord shall fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.”[12] Though Manning’s book distribution for Lincoln and Edmands was certainly a commercial exchange, it was not irreducibly so.

Especially in these early decades of the nineteenth century, the “reading revolution” from scarcity to abundance was not an automatic process. Indeed, book historians have noted that many of the expansions of the book business in the Anglo-American world were due to new entrepreneurial hustle, rather than the technological changes that were more widespread in application after 1840. If there was a reading revolution in places or among people for whom books remained scarce at the beginning of the nineteenth century, it was often due to the agency of people like Edward Manning, who became nodes in wider networks, taking distribution into their own hands because of what such circulation meant for them—whether a chance to participate in transatlantic debates, or to create a local reading culture, or to hasten the “general illumination” of a coming millennium, or all of the above.


Keith Grant is an Assistant Professor of History at Crandall University, and a Co-Editor of Borealia: Early Canadian History.


Notes:

[1] A version of this essay was presented at a joint session of the Canadian Historical Association and the Bibliographical Society of Canada in Vancouver, June 2019.

[2] Edward Manning Journal, June 5, 1823, Esther Clark Wright Archives, Acadia University.

[3] On Lincoln and Edmands, see Martha Bartter, “Lincoln and Edmands,” in American Literary Publishing Houses, 1638-1899, ed. Peter  Dzwonkoski, Dictionary of Literary Biography (Detroit: Gale Research, 1986), 259.

[4] On publishers in cities like Boston, New York, and Philadelphia relying on “middlemen” to extend the scope of their distribution before the rise of the “mass market,” see James N. Green, “The Rise of Book Publishing,” in An Extensive Republic: Print, Culture, and Society in the New Nation, 1790-1840, ed. Robert A. Gross and Mary Kelley, History of the Book in America, vol. 2 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press / American Antiquarian Society, 2010), 127.

[5] Lincoln and Edmands, Boston, Letters to Edward Manning, Sept. 22, 1814 and April 13, 1816, Esther Clark Wright Archives, Acadia University.

[6] See David Benedict, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, Letter to Edward Manning, [1816?]. Esther Clark Wright Archives, Acadia University.

[7] Green, “Rise of Book Publishing,” 87; see 86-88.

[8] The story of tract societies in America is masterfully told in David Paul Nord, Faith in Reading: Religious Publishing and the Birth of Mass Media in America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[9] “Articles of the Evangelical Tract Society, Organized in Boston, Nov. 13, 1811,” Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Magazine, vol 3, No. 4 (Dec 1811), 128.

[10] Lincoln & Edmands Catalogue of Books for sale at No. 53, Cornhill, Boston (Boston: Lincoln and Edmands, 1812), 11-13. I am grateful for the American Antiquarian Society for providing a copy of this catalogue.

[11] Lincoln & Edmands, Boston, Letter to Edward Manning, November 5, 1817, Esther Clark Wright Archives, Acadia University.

[12] Ensign Lincoln, “Evangelical Tract Society” [Annual Report], Massachusetts Baptist Missionary Magazine 4.8 (December 1815), 251.

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CFP: Critical Perspectives on Cannabis in Canada

CALL FOR PAPERS

Special Issue of Journal of Canadian Studies
“Critical Perspectives on Cannabis in Canada”
Guest Editors: Michael Boudreau and Sarah Hamill
Deadline: December 1, 2019

For much of the twentieth century, recreational drugs, notably cannabis, have been seen as a serious social, legal, and moral problem. However, the negative connotations associated with cannabis have subsided, culminating in the introduction in 2018 of government-regulated sales of legal cannabis. Canada is the latest country to legalize cannabis use and it joins a growing list of jurisdictions that have done so. In 2013, Uruguay became the first country to enact legislation to legalize and regulate cannabis for non-medical purposes. To date, over twenty countries, and multiple U.S. states, have implemented some form of decriminalization.

In Canada, cannabis is the second most used recreational drug after alcohol. An estimated 2.3 million Canadians consume cannabis in various forms, including “edibles”, which will be legally available in December 2019. Cannabis is becoming more socially acceptable and support for its legalization continues to grow. It is important to note that support for legalization comes in part from non-users. Their support is predicated on the belief that cannabis was a problem only because it was illegal and thus unregulated. Besides lifting many of the criminal sanctions against the use of cannabis, legalization may result in the removal of the moral stigma surrounding marijuana. And it signals the end of one phase of Canada’s beleaguered war on drugs.

This special issue of the Journal of Canadian Studies is intended to examine cannabis from a variety of disciplinary and critical perspectives; notably historical, sociological, socio-legal, cultural, and criminological. Moreover, this issue especially welcomes contributions from scholars who can offer a comparative analysis of how cannabis is viewed and regulated in multiple jurisdictions. Continue reading

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“Be … In this Place”: Conceptions of Atlantic Canadian Citizenship

By Sarah King

The Atlantic Canadian perspective is often glaringly absent from national narratives on politics and history – including CBC documentaries like 2000’s Canada: A People’s History (for a thorough discussion of this, see Margaret Conrad’s (2001b) article in Social History, “My Canada Includes the Atlantic Provinces”). Apparently, CBC producers did not consult this source and 2017’s Canada: The Story of Us repeats many of the errors of its predecessor. What is not absent, however, is Atlantic Canadians’ vocal and vociferous dissent at these conspicuous omissions. These contrasting themes of omission and opposition are central to a discussion of Atlantic Canada’s place in national conversation.

The exclusion of the Atlantic Canadian region from national narratives perpetuates unfair stereotypes of the region as backwards and unimportant, and lead to constructions of the region’s citizens as lazy, backwards, and apathetic. These misunderstandings often lead to the dismissive attitudes of politicians like Underhill, and even Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau who, when challenged by Atlantic Canadians about rising unemployment rates in the region remarked “why don’t you just get off your asses” (in Corbett, 2007, p. 14). In response, Savoie (2006) argues that historical “accidents” like these, and events perpetuated by “national political and administrative institutions” can be blamed for the region’s underdevelopment (p. 14).

While focusing on the ways in which the Atlantic Canadian region is unlike the rest of the country, scholars continue to perpetuate negative understandings of the region and its peoples, instead of a more appreciative understanding of the region’s uniqueness (White & King, 2017). Continue reading

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Christo Aivalis reviews Cecil Foster. They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada (Windsor, Ontario: Biblioasis, 2019).

By Christo Aivalis

Cecil Foster in They Call Me George offers readers an excellent piece of accessible writing and analysis that skillfully melds together the multifaceted histories of labour, diplomacy, politics, gender, race, empire, and culture. In so doing, Foster puts forward—and convincingly defends—the thesis that Black train porters transformed the nature of Canadian society, especially in how it related to questions of race and immigration. Foster gives much of the credit to the porters, who not only fought for their own liberation and amelioration, but did so for all Black Canadians, and indeed all racialized people, against a white-supremacist understanding of Canada.  Ultimately, “the train porters battled to make normal what is now socially routine, and even taken for granted” (12).

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Cecil Foster. They Call Me George: The Untold Story of Black Train Porters and the Birth of Modern Canada

This book is at its very best when it draws the meaningful connection between the realities of the porters’ working experiences and their indispensable role in perpetuating black culture and fighting against white supremacy. As Foster notes, the Black porters, despite being marginalized relative to white workers on the railways, were nonetheless respected within the Black community, often because their long-distance travels helped to link disparate and small Black communities strewn across a vast nation. It was they who inspired trends in Black fashion, who patronized Black-owned businesses, who helped to spread vital news and literature, who built crucial personal relationships with travelling political figures, and who helped to build a shared-political consciousness aiming to win genuine equality and opportunity within and beyond the workplace. In more ways than one, Foster suggests that the generations of activism by Blacks in Canada culminated in the efforts of the porters. Continue reading

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A “backwoods tragedy”: The Bannister Brothers and Capital Punishment in New Brunswick, 1936

By Michael Boudreau

In September of 1936 Arthur and Daniel Bannister were executed, standing back-to-back, for the “callous” murders of Philip Lake, his wife Bertha, and one of their children (Jackie) in Pacific Junction, Westmorland County. The Halifax Herald called this crime one of the “most brutal mass slayings in [New Brunswick’s] history”.[1]  This was the first double execution in Canada since 1924.  The hangman reported that the Bannisters died “bravely”, thus providing society with some form of closure, if not justification, for the use of capital punishment in this case.[2]

This “backwoods tragedy” raised concerns about executing the young, especially two “half-witted boys” such as the Bannister brothers.  At the time of the murders, Arthur was 17 and Daniel was 20.  An undercurrent of this case was the role that Arthur and Daniel’s mother, May Bannister, played.  It was alleged that May Bannister was the “arch conspirator” behind the crime. She wanted her sons to kidnap the Lake’s “baby-in-arms” (five-month old Betty) so that she could blackmail a prominent businessman in nearby Moncton.  As one reporter asserted, May Bannister had turned her sons into kidnappers and triple murderers. Public opinion in Westmorland County, and throughout much of the province, was decidedly against May Bannister, to the point where some had called for her sons to be spared and for May Bannister to be executed. For her role in the crime, May Bannister was sentenced to three and a half years in the Kingston Prison for Women.[3]

Halifax Herald January 7A glimmer of hope appeared for Daniel Bannister when he was awarded a new trial after it was determined by the New Brunswick Court of Appeal that the trial judge had erred in his address to the jury.  In essence, rather than letting the jury decide if Daniel Bannister “knew or ought to have known that murder was a possible consequence of any design which may have existed…with reference to the Lake baby”, the judge had inferred to the jury that Daniel did in fact know that murder would be the likely outcome of his actions that fateful night.[4] Continue reading

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