History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Life and Times of
Sir William Johnson, Bart.,
by William L. Stone
Albany: J. Munsell, 78 State Street, 1865.
On the twentieth of June, Lord Loudoun, with six thousand regulars, sailed from New York to Halifax, preparatory to investing Louisburg. Before he embarked--as if he had made it his special study how he might best render himself still more odious to the colonists--he laid an embargo upon all the seaports from Virginia to Massachusetts; and finished by impressing four hundred men from the city of New York alone. General Webb, now second in command, was left with six thousand men to garrison Fort William Henry, Fort Edward, and the forts along the Mohawk valley; General Stanwix with two thousand men was assigned to the West, and Colonel Bouquet was directed to guard the borders from the Carolinas, from the incursions of the Southern Indians.
Loudoun arrived in Halifax on the last day of June. Here he was joined, on the ninth of July, by Admiral Holburn with sixteen ships of the line, and by George Viscount Howe with six thousand disciplined troops--thus increasing his land force to eleven thousand well appointed and effective men. Everything now augured well for the expedition. The troops were in high spirits; the balmy air of summer told of success; and the sails, flapping idly in the favoring breezes, urged to immediate departure. But to the sluggish mind of Loudoun, this was altogether too hasty a proceeding. A vegetable garden must first be planted for the use of the army, and a fine parade ground laid out, on which his regulars could attain yet greater discipline. Thus while the troops were winning golden opinions from the commander-in-chief for their proficiency in fighting mock battles, and storming sham fortresses, the beautiful July was frittered away. Roused at length by the murmuring of both officers and men, Loudoun gave orders to embark for Louisburg. Scarcely, however, was the first anchor weighed, when learning that Louisburg had received an additional reinforcement, and that the French fleet outnumbered by one vessel his own, he reversed his orders, and with his troops sailed for New York; having accomplished nothing, save the intercepting of a small vessel bearing dispatches from the governor of Louisiana, of a peace recently concluded by the latter with the Cherokees.1
General Montcalm was not an indifferent spectator to these occurrences. With an eagle eye he had followed the movements of the English commander; and while the latter was watching the growth of his cabbages under a July sun, he rightly judged that the time had come for a descent upon fort William Henry.
While the fate of that fortress was already determined upon by the French general, the partisans of the latter were not inactive. On the twenty-third of July, Lieutenant Marin, a Canadian officer and the same who had destroyed the Lydius mills in 1745, appeared before Fort Edward at the head of two hundred men, and after a brisk skirmish, returned with thirty-two scalps and one prisoner taken from under the very guns of the fort.2 Desirous of emulating this exploit, Lieutenant Corbiere, also a Canadian officer, lay in ambush with some Ottawas among the islands of Lake George all the day and night of the twenty-sixth. At sunrise of the twenty-seventh, twenty-two bateaux were seen on the lake in charge of Colonel Palmer. Rising with terrific yells from their concealment, the Indians attacked the English with such ferocity that only two of the barges escaped. Twenty of the boats were either captured or sunk; and keeping time with their
1 Manuscript letter; Loudoun to Johnson 1st July 1757.
2 Montcalm to Vaudreuil, 27th July, 1757.
paddles to the chant of the war song, the Indians returned down the lake, having their canoes decorated with the scalps of one hundred and sixty Englishmen.
Montcalm was a true soldier. Disdaining the effeminate accompaniments of civilization, he strove to inure his men to hardship, himself setting the example. "In such an expedition," said he to his officers, who were disposed to grumble, "a blanket and a bearskin are the bed of a warrior. Imitate me. A soldier's allowance ought to suffice us."2 Still, with the thoughtfulness which ever characterized him, he did not forbid a matrass when age or infirmity rendered one necessary. Inspirited by his example, hundreds of the red men, from the shores of the great lakes to the forests of Acadia and Maine, flocked to his standard. "Father,", said they, "we are come to do your will:" and the close of July found him at the foot of Lake George, with ten thousand men-two thousand of whom were Indians.3
The savages yelled with delight as they pushed off their bark canoes from the shore. Montcalm followed with the bulk of his army in two hundred and fifty boats; while De Levi, with the remainder, marched through the forest on the western shore, guided by some of the Iroquois from the Sault St. Louis. On the first of August, a council of war was held in their boats in the north-west bay; and on the second, Montcalm disembarked with his troops and artillery in a cove about two miles from Fort William Henry, where he was entirely sheltered from its cannon. DeLevi encamped with his regulars directly in the rear of the fort, while the Canadians and Indians under La Corn, took a position on the road to Fort Edward, thus cutting off all communication with that garrison. Montcalm, with the main body of the army, occupied a wood about three-quarters of a mile from the fort north of a small creek, and
1 Montcalm to Vaudreuil 27th July, 1757.
2 Montcalm's circular to the commandants of battalions, 25th July, 1757.
3 Doreil to Paulmy 31st July, 1757.
near the present site of the courthouse in the village of Caldwell. To resist these formidable preparations, Lieutenant Colonel Monro had but four hundred and forty-nine men within the fort, and only seventeen hundred men in a fortified camp on the rocky eminence, now the site of Fort George.
The French commander, having sent on the fourth of August a summons to Monro to surrender, and having received a point blanc refusal, opened upon the fort a battery of nine cannon and two mortars. Two days afterward, two more batteries, having been placed in position, played on the English camp with telling effect. Meanwhile, the brave Monro, confident of reinforcements from Webb, to whom he had dispatched an express informing him of his situation, plied his guns with spirit, throwing vast quantities of shot and shell into the enemy's camp. The men in the entrenchments also worked hard, pouring a galling fire into the French by day,: and each night by the light of the fires, toiling to repair the breaches made in their defences.
Colonel Monro's hope of reinforcements was vain. With four thousand men, Webb lay at Fort Edward, listening in abject terror to the distant roar of the artillery. For this conduct there is not the slightest palliation. The approach of Montcalm had not taken him by surprise. Sir William Johnson had written him to be on his guard; that the French were short of provisions, and that, if they came, they would come in large numbers, and would "make a bold push." He had also received intelligence that Montcalm was moving up Lake Champlain with an army "numerous as the leaves of the trees." Beyond,
1 Manuscript letter: Johnson to Webb. The correctness of this information given by Johnson, is verified, by a letter from Doreil to Paulmy under date of 14th August, 1767, in which the writer says :-"In the article of subsistence we are in the greatest distress since winter ; and each person in Quebec has been for more than a month reduced to four ounces of bread. It is but too evident that a long time will elapse before we shall be more at our ease."
however, sending to the lieutenant governor and the Baronet to hurry up the militia, he did nothing for the relief of the beleaguered garrison, although express after express arrived from its gallant commander, imploring aid.
The Baronet was at Fort Johnson holding an important council with the Cherokees in reference to their late treaty with the Louisiana governor, when news arrived on the first of August from Webb, of the approach of Montcalm. Notwithstanding he had his "hands and headfull"1 yet he abruptly broke up the conference, and hastily collecting what militia and Indians he could muster, started for the relief of Webb, and arrived at the great carrying-place two days after the investment of fort William Henry. Seeing at once the position of affairs, he begged, that he might he Bent to the aid of Monro. After repeated solicitations, his request was granted; but scarcely was he fairly on his way with Putnam's rangers and some Provincials who had volunteered to share the danger, when Webb ordered him and his detachment back, and sent in their place a letter to Monro full of exaggerations, and advising him to surrender. This letter was intercepted by Montcalm, who immediately sent it in to Monro, with the request that he would follow Webb's advice and thus save any farther effusion of blood. That gallant officer thanked him for his courtesy, and renewed his firing. At length ten of his cannon having burst, his ammunition being nearly exhausted, and all hope of assistance from his commanding officer being at an end, Colonel Monro, on the ninth, hoisted the white flag.
The terms given by Montcalm to the garrison -were fair. They were to march out with all the honors of war, taking with them their baggage and small arms, and also one cannon out of respect for the gallant defence they had made.2 In return they were to pledge themselves that they would not bear arms against the French for eighteen
1 Manuscript letter: Jolmson to Webb, 1st August, 1767.
2 Journal of the expedition against Fort William Henry.
months; and were to deliver up at Ticonderoga, within four months, all the French and Indian prisoners which they had taken since the commencement of the war, Montcalm, on his part, pledged himself to furnish them with an escort of at least five hundred men, to accompany them seven miles on the road to Fort Edward.
Late in the afternoon of the same day, Montcalm took formal possession of the fort, the garrison of which joined their comrades in their entrenchments. The French general, knowing well the Indian character, warned the English against giving the savages anything that might intoxicate them; Well would it have been had this timely and judicious caution been followed. But the Indians, unable to obtain any rum from the French, begged it of the English, who, disregarding Montcalm's advice, and hoping in this manner to win the good will of the Indians, freely Supplied them with that drink during the entire night. At sunrise, the Indians gathered around the entrenchments;
and as the English began their march, the savages, maddened by their night's debauch, hovered around them brandishing their tomahawks and uttering horrid yells. Still, even at this time, had the English stood their ground, or manifested any firmness, it is probable that the scenes which followed would never have occurred; but losing all presence of mind, they fled down the road in the wildest confusion, throwing down their baggage, arms, and even their clothes.2 This only increased the rage and violence of the savages, who now boldly attacked them, plundering some, scalping others, and taking many prisoners. Montcalm was in his tent when the news of the behavior of his savage allies was brought to him. "With all speed he hastened to the spot, and with De Levi and other officers, rushed into the melee, exposing himself to death; using prayers, threats and caresses; begging the interposition of the chief's and interpreters; and in short applying every means in his
1 Vaudreuil to Moras, Sept. 1757.
power to stop the horrid carnage. The French soldiers, also, aided their general, receiving in many instances serious wounds-one of them indeed being killed.1 Finally, after thirty of the Provincials had been massacred,2 those of the soldiers who had not succeeded in reaching Fort Edward were rescued from the Indians, and sent into the fort; receiving new clothes and every attention that humanity could suggest. The next day the unfortunates, numbering four hundred, were sent under a strong guard to Fort Edward,-two chiefs of each nation being detailed with the party as an additional protection against any farther assaults from their warriors. Two hundred of the garrison were carried by the savages to Montreal; but they, together with those taken from the bateaux under Colonel Palmer, were immediately ransomed by De Vandreuil, and sent by an armed vessel to Halifax.3
Dreadful as was this example of Punic faith, on the part of the savages, Montcalm himself must be exonerated from being instrumental in it, either by accident or design. His conduct the previous year at Oswego, in arresting the contemplated massacre by shooting six Indians on the spot, allows us reasonably to infer, that if he had known of this affair before it was fairly under way, he would have adopted the same summary means, and thus prevented the bloody scene. While therefore our sympathies must ever flow out towards the unfortunate garrison, we should never allow them to prejudice us against one who ever proved himself as humane as he was brave. Rather let our indignation fall upon him, who, with ample means at his command, and within fourteen miles of the fort, allowed its brave defenders to become the victims of such barbarity.
By the orders of Montcalm, the walls of the fort were leveled with the ground and everything of a combustible
1 Journal of the expedition.
2 The New Hampshire regiment who were in the rear, felt the chief fury of the enemy.-Belknap.
3 Vaudreuil to Moras, Sept. 1757.
nature consumed. The destruction being complete, the French, having with them large stores taken from the English, returned to Ticonderoga, leaving behind them only blackened and smoldering ruins. Instead of the evening gun now arose the cry of the wolf, preying on the mangled bodies of the slain; and the waters of the lake reposing peacefully among the hills, told not of the bloody struggle, or of the roar and din of arms.
Upon the fall of Fort William Henry; Webb seemed paralyzed with terror. He sent his personal effects to Albany, and was on the point of falling back upon the Highlands, when Lord Howe, who had arrived on the seventh with reinforcements, calmed his fears by assuring him that there was no prospect of an immediate attack; and soon after, having ascertained to a certainty that the enemy were on their retreat to Ticonderoga, he dismissed to their homes twenty thousand of the militia, who had arrived a few days after the surrender.
But the morale, of the army was completely destroyed. Sir William Johnson returned in disgust to Albany. Among the powers in authority, mutual recriminations followed. Webb accused De Lancey of not sending on the reinforcements in time; and the latter with far more truth, insisted that Webb was strong enough to have marched to the relief of the besieged long before they surrendered.l The militia, willing to fight, but weary of being led to slaughter by incompetent leaders, deserted by scores; and in one instance, out of a company of forty men, stationed at Fort Edward, ten only were left.2 The royal rulers refused to find a true solution for this conduct of the militia; and while the lieutenant governor, shutting his eyes to what was obvious to every one, was writing to the Baronet, to ascertain "what were the motives of the great and scandalous desertion of the militia,"3 Loudoun
2 Manuscript -memoanda of Johnson of the desertions in Capt. Viele's company.
3 Manuscript letter: De Lancey to Johnson, 18th Aug., 1757.
talked nonsense, and proposed to "encamp on Long Island for the defence of the continent."
The news of the capitulation reached Mr. De Lancey at Albany, where he had arrived on the eighth of August, to expedite the forwarding of the reinforcements to Fort Edward. As the conduct of Webb was sustained by the regular troops, the lieutenant governor feared that reports might be circulated unfriendly to his interest at court. This was the more to be dreaded, inasmuch as Ex-Governor Shirley, who attributed his recall to the efforts of the lieutenant governor, was using all his influence against him, supported by a recent publication entitled "A Review of Military Operations in North America," supposed at the time to be from the pen of Mr. Alexander. The lieutenant governor therefore hurried to New York with the intention of vindicating his conduct to the assembly, in order that the official letter to the agent might present his conduct in a favorable light to the ministry. The tone of his message to his legislature, which he convened by circular letters on the second of September, sufficiently shows his fears. Having alluded to the departure of Sir Charles Hardy, and of his having consequently assumed the government by virtue of his commission as lieutenant governor, he thus proceeds:
"Soon after which, apprehending a visit from the enemy on our northern frontiers, I thought it necessary to take all the measures in my powder to strengthen General Webb; and for this purpose I sent out my orders to the colonels of the militia of Albany, Dutchess, Ulster, and that part of Orange county above the mountains, to march with their regiments to the assistance of General Webb, upon his requisition, and to obey his orders, of which I gave him notice by letter. In the night of the third August last, I received a letter from General Webb of the thirtieth
1 So inveterate and unreasonable is the prejudice of regulars against volunteers-a prejudice which neither the French wars nor the American revolution, nor yet the present great rebellion (1864) has yet eradicated.
July, advising me that the enemy were within twelve miles of Fort William Henry; that he should immediately call in the troops at the different posts on Hudson's river; that he had given orders for the militia of the counties to march, and that he desired my presence at Albany to forward them. I set out for that place on the fifth, which was as soon, as I possibly could, and arrived there on the eighth. On the tenth, I had ad vice of the surrender of Fort William Henry, and as it was reasonable to think the enemy, with so formidable an army and such a train of artillery as they were said to have, would endeavor to penetrate farther into this country, I sent orders for a detachment of five hundred men from the city of New York and Westchester, who showed a very becoming spirit on this occasion."
This message was received by the assembly with an ominous silence; and without having either approved or disapproved of his conduct, it adjourned the next day, to the second of November.
The truth is, that the province of New York as well as New England, was thoroughly disgusted with the manner in which the whole campaign had been conducted. "While this general, and that general, were each endeavoring to shift the responsibility from one to another, the people only saw that with plenty of men and money, they still lay exposed to the enemy, having met with nothing but a succession of mortifying defeats. This feeling is evident from the following letter of the speaker to the agent, under date of September twelfth, only ten days after Mr. De Lancey's vindicatory message:
"As to our military operations, we are still on the losing side, Fort William Henry, on the back of Lake George, being taken and demolished by the enemy, after a siege of eight days, with no great loss of men on either side. It surrendered on capitulation, by which the French became masters of the fort, artillery and all the stores. Here were lodged all our cannon and stores intended against Crown Point, My Lord Loudoun arrived from Halifax, without any attempt on that side. It is said the enemy were superior to us both in land and sea forces. Thus, this campaign is like to end as did the last, with loss to poor America. It seems very strange to us that the French can send such large supplies to America and always before us, notwithstanding the great superiority of the British navy. Surely there must be a great failure somewhere, which if not timely remedied, may probably end in the entire loss of English America. However, we still live in hopes that the next year's succors will be stronger and arrive earlier. Our provincial forces were ready in April, so that no blame can be at our doors. I wish my next may give you better tidings."
The speaker was not to have his wish; for before his next letter to the agent, the most cruel and sanguinary transaction of the entire war occurred, in the desolating of the beautiful fields along the Mohawk, and the burning of the dwellings on the German Flats, the settlers of which were subjected to all the horrors of the tomahawk and scalping knife ;-a deed, also, which was the more humiliating, as it was the result of sheer neglect on the part of Abercrombie.
Rumors that a large force of French and Indians were preparing to march upon the settlements, reached the Baronet and the Palatines, soon after Montcalm's descent upon Fort William Henry, although its precise destination was not known. The Palatines themselves, moreover, became very uneasy, and feeling that the forts in their vicinity afforded no protection against the marauding bands of the enemy, were several times during the early fall, on the point of deserting their dwellings, and moving to the lower settlements for greater security. Sir William, also knowing that their solicitude was well grounded, wrote, in September, a very plain letter to Abercrombie, in which he told him that the regulars stationed in the forts were not only very arrogant and self-sufficient, but that they were of no use whatever in protecting the Germans. "What was necessary, he wrote, was to have men qualified to act as rangers, stationed at the Flats, who might be continually employed in scouring the country in search of if scalping parties. At the same time, it would be advisable to have the garrisons increased, that effectual resistance might be made in case the enemy should appear in force. These precautions, he urged, should be immediately taken.1 To these timely and judicious suggestions, Abercrombie gave no heed; and while the latter was yet loitering in Albany, the blow had been struck, and the enemy had made good their retreat.
At three o'clock in the morning of the twelfth of November, the Palatine village, consisting of sixty dwellings and five blockhouses, was roused from its slumber by the terrible war-whoop. This was the signal for the assault, and at that instant a force of three hundred Canadians and Indians, under Bellettre, advanced successively upon each blockhouse. The enemy were received a the first, with repeated volleys of musketry, but the French advancing boldly, the mayor of the village in command, unbarred the door and asked for quarter. The remaining blockhouses thereupon surrendered at discretion, and were immediately burned. "While the destruction of these little fortifications was going on, the savages, having fired the dwellings, stationed themselves at the doors of each house, and tomahwked the wretched inmates, as they rushed out to avoid the flames-only to meet death in scarcely a less horrible form. In this expedition forty of the Germans were massacred, and one hundred and fifty carried into captivity. Having completed the devastation, the enemy retired, taking with them vast quantities of grain and money, besides three thousand horned cattle and the same number of sheep.2
1 Manuscript letter: Johnson to Abercrombie, 16th September, 1757.
2 Summary of M. De Belletre's campaign, 28 Nov., 1757: also manuscript letter from Philip Townsend (Capt. 22d Foot) to Johnson, 13 Nov., 1757. Capt. Townsend was stationed at this time at Fort Herkimer.
The excitement, caused by this affair, was universal. The whole of the Mohawk valley was thrown into the wildest panic, which the pitiable sight of the women and children who had escaped the massacre, only served to intensify. The inhabitants of Stone Arabia and Cherry Valley hastened to send to Albany and Schenectady their effects and valuables, preparatory to following them themselves; so that at one time it seemed as if those settlements would be entirely depopulated.1
At the time that this massacre occurred, Sir William was confined to his room, having been so ill for some weeks previous as to have been unable to turn himself in his bed. He, however, immediately dispatched his deputy, George Croghan, to the scene of the massacre, with orders to call the Tuscaroras and Oneidas to account for not having given the Palatines timely notice of the danger. But those castles were not to blame. Fifteen days before the massacre, the Oneidas, having learned from some Swegatchie Indians of the design of the French upon the flats, sent a message to the Germans, warning them of their danger and desiring them to be on their guard. Six days afterward, having received additional intelligence of the enemy's movements, the chief Oneida sachem came down to the Palatine village, and in a meeting with the inhabitants told what he had heard, and advised them to collect all their women and children in the largest blockhouse, and make the best defence they could; at the same time suggesting the importance of acquainting the Baronet with the news as quickly as possible. The Germans, however, not only never sent word to Sir William, but manifested the utmost indifference to this timely warning-laughing in the face of the sachem, and, in the latter's language, "slapping their hands on their buttocks, saying they did not value the enemy."2 It is difficult to reconcile the previous solicitude
1 Manuscript letter; Johnson to Abercrombie.
2 Speech of Conaghquies, or the chief Oneida sachem, to George Croghan. Manuscript private Journal of Johnson. This statement of the sachem was confirmed in every particular by the Germans themselves. Manuscript journal of Johnson.
of the Palatines, with their singular apathy on this occasion. History, however, furnishes numerous similar instances of individuals, and even communities, who from an habitual watchfulness, have suddenly become careless and indifferent.
Upon the return of Mr. Croghan and learning the true facts of the case, the Baronet, justly incensed, wrote another letter to Abercrombie, asking him without any circumlocution, "whether or not he intended to come and protect their settlements," and telling him plainly that they were too weak to resist, as the garrisons were little, if any protection to the settlers; the enemy having destroyed the flats under the very walls of the fort.1 "Pardon my freedom," he concluded, " as the poor people have nobody else to whom they dare apply."2 There was just cause for the Baronet's indignation. Had his advice to Abercrombie, the previous September, been taken, and the forts properly garrisoned, the massacre never would have occurred. Fort Herkimer was situated on the opposite bank of the Mohawk almost within sight of the flats, and the commander of that post had received notice of the enemy's approach only the day previous, from two Oneidas, who had come in haste from their castle to apprise him of his danger.3 Owing, however, to the smallness of his garrison he had been unable to oppose the enemy, who,
1 Fort Herkimer.
2 Manuscript letter; Johnson to Aberorombie,
10 Dec., 1757.
3 Manuscript letter; Philip Townsend to Johnson, 11 Nov., 1767. The Indians who brought this information, and who, by the way, were sent by the same Oneida sachem who had given the previous warnings, "finding the Germans still incredulous, the next morning just before the attack began, laid hold on the German minister, and in a manner forced him over to the other side of the river ; by which means he and some -who followed him escaped the fate of their brethren."-George Croghan's account. N. Y. Doc. His.
as Sir William observes in the letter just quoted, had committed the outrage before the very eyes of the garrison.1
Loudoun was in Albany when the news of the massacre arrived. Instead, however, of attributing the disaster to the true cause-that of having failed to keep the enemy upon the defensive by a vigorous campaign, the proceeding summer-he now attributed it to the Confederates and the mismanagement of Indian affairs; and, with his usual hasty temper, was for declaring war immediately against those nations.2 This purpose of his lordship-so suicidal to the interests of the English-excited great alarm among judicious people. "I should be greatly alarmed," wrote Banyar, De Lancey's deputy secretary, to Johnson, "with the apprehensions of our approaching war with these people, more to be dreaded in my opinion than the war we sustain already against five times their number, if I did not hope his lordship's resentment would abate before he proceeded to action." The Baronet, however, understood the viceroy perfectly; and by judicious management, finally prevailed on him to give up his rash purpose.
Had Loudoun persisted in his mad design, it is impossible, perhaps, to estimate the consequences which would have resulted. The Six Nations once having taken up the tomahawk against the English, the influence of Sir William, himself, would have been powerless to have arrested the storm, which, with the violence of the tornado, would have swept through the province. No friendly Indian runner would have warned of the approaching foe. Albany and Schenectady laid in ashes-rich farms desolated- the border settlements exposed to the scalping knife
2 Manuscript correspondence between Banyar and Johnson.
and fire-brand,-would have been only a few of the scenes witnessed.. Nor would the province of New York have been the only sufferer. The barriers, which the Six Nations had always presented against incursions from Canada, once broken, those nations, together with countless hordes of Indians from the great lakes to Acadia, would have penetrated into Pennsylvania and Virginia to be joined by the Delawares, Cherokees and other Southern tribes, leaving in their bloody track horrors which the pen shrinks from depicting. In time the English might, perhaps, have been successful, but not until the red men had been entirely exterminated; and long years added to the contest. The arresting of these calamities from the country, due entirely -as I think I am justified in saying, from the collection of documents to which I have had access-to the influence and persuasions of Sir William Johnson, is not the least important of the services rendered by the latter to the cause of public humanity.
Of a far different character, was the confidence reposed in Sir William Johnson, by Governor Denny of Pennsylvania. "It gives me a great deal of satisfaction," wrote the latter to the Baronet, "that you are pleased to approve of my conduct at the late treaty.1 I shall always be attentive to follow your advice in all Indian affairs, that you shall think proper to recommend to my care in this province."2
1 Referring to a treaty at Easton recently concluded with some of the Delawares by the governor.
2 Manuscript letter; William Denny to Johnson, 10 Nov., 1757.
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