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Slavery and the Making of America

Episode 1: "The Downward Spiral"

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: They were from Africa and Europe. Some were enslaved. Some were indentured servants. All of them were poor and exploited. Their status as workers was confusing and complex. Their lives were controlled by the Dutch West India Company. Day after day, they struggled to survive the harsh world of Dutch New Amsterdam in the 1620s. Evening after evening they gathered in taverns.

Jim Horton: Taverns were places where you gathered to talk about your problems. And slaves would complain about their masters and indentured servants would complain about their masters and you had a lot of interracial bonding in these taverns.

Leslie Harris: You also have people who indenture themselves. They promise their labor to a wealthy person for seven years in order to pay off the price of coming to the New World.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: The Dutch West India Company had established a fur trading post in 1624 on a hilly island called Manahattes. The area would become New York City. Less than 200 people lived in the settlement. Most were men from Northern Europe who worked for the Company. To make larger profits the Dutch West India Company wanted free labor.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Free Africans had come to the new world with European explorers in the 1530's. English settlers in Jamestown, Virginia purchased twenty Africans from Dutch traders in 1619. Seven years later the first enslaved Africans arrived in Dutch New Amsterdam. Their bondage began approximately two hundred years of slavery in what would become America's Northern states.

Leslie Harris: The first 11 enslaved people, all male, who came to New Amsterdam, were brought by the Dutch West Indian Company. They were owned by the company, not by individuals. So they're company slaves. And they're bought by the company for the purpose of building the colony.

Graham Russell Hodges: It was quite common for the Dutch and for the English to raid the wealthier Spanish and the Portuguese shipping to get people and to get property. So these people are really prisoners of war.

Ira Berlin: These people come out of a larger Atlantic world. In the 14th and 15th century as Africa and Europe and the Americas meet for the first time. We call them Atlantic Creoles.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Atlantic Creoles had cultural roots in both Africa and Europe. Some were the offspring of European men and African women. Some traveled the seas with Europeans. Some may have been literate. Many spoke multiple languages.

Leslie Harris: The names of the first 11 indicate some of that mixture. The name Simon Congo or Anthony Portuguese or John D'angola -- these names are European names. Simon, Anthony, John -- they're Christian names. And then the last name's Portuguese indicating a connection with Portugal perhaps with a Portuguese explorer or Congo indicating this is a Christian African who came from the Congo.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: The enslaved did not know if or when freedom would come. In the settlements of Virginia, Massachusetts and New Amsterdam slavery was undefined. There were no laws, no rules, no regulations.

Jim Horton: It was a difficult, harsh life. They are expected to work regardless of the weather, regardless of the temperature because their work is what was valuable not their person.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Work began at sunrise. The company forced the first eleven to clear land, construct roads and unload ships. They were both manual and skilled workers. Their labor helped build the Dutch New Amsterdam economy.

Leslie Harris: The first 11 slaves were there really to provide the infrastructure. So they were really the backbone of this early colony and really were integral to the survival of Europeans.

Graham Russell Hodges: Because the Dutch did fear racial mixture, they were not interested in marriages between Creoles and Dutch women or Belgian women. Therefore by the late 1620s they brought in Creole or African women into the colony.

Jennifer Morgan: The women are ostensibly brought -- as the company says -- for the comfort of our Negro men. They will need to perform at least two jobs -- which is to be sexual partners for the men but to be hard workers as well. The men are going to be very important then in helping these women navigate since the men have been there for slightly longer than the women and understand the terrain.

Leslie Harris: Slaves in New Amsterdam during this time have rights that we think of as unusual for enslaved people. They have the right to earn wages. They have the right to keep those wages. Europeans are dependent on enslaved people and so they need to in a sense appease them.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Because slavery had no legal structure, the Atlantic Creoles were able to negotiate for greater autonomy. In 1635, several of them petitioned the Dutch West India Company for wages they believed the company owed them. Anthony Portuguese sued a white merchant in 1638. A year later Pedro Negretto and Manuel D. Rues successfully sued Europeans for wages due. Court records indicate that Atlantic Creoles made the system work for them when they could.

Leslie Harris: In some African slavery there is a greater sense of the rights of the enslaved people. There is a greater sense of obligation on the part of the community. And I think that these enslaved people bring that idea of slavery with them.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: In 1641, Anthony Van Angola, one of the first eleven, married Lucie D'Angola. It was the first recorded marriage between black people in Dutch New Amsterdam.

Jennifer Morgan: The enslaved understand legitimating a marriage is a way to claim ground. They are sophisticated interpreters of the landscape.

Leslie Harris: In Europeans' religious beliefs you were not supposed to enslave another Christian and African people knew this and attempted to convert to Christianity. So, Christianity was this space that Africans tried to build onto a space of negotiations for greater freedom. Now in reality many enslaved people were Christian and the fact that they were baptized and were practicing Christians meant nothing in terms of their status as a free people.

Graham Russell Hodges: The Dutch West India company has a very problematic relationship with the area Native Americans. By 1639 relations had deteriorated into war. At that point a number of the Creoles are put into the military force against the Indians.

Leslie Harris: There is a fear among Europeans during this time that African Americans may join with Native Americans. And the first eleven in fact use this fear to negotiate.

Graham Russell Hodges: They had been part of the reform church. They had served in the military. They had built the fort. They had done all of the critical labor that was necessary to make New Amsterdam into a viable town. Now it was their time to be free.

Leslie Harris: The company responded with what has become known as half freedom these men and their wives could live on what became known as the free negro lots. They could farm their own land and they paid a kind of tribute in return to the company. The company also had the right to call them up if they needed their labor.

Jim Horton: Don't get the idea that these were just nice people and wanted to allow these Africans an opportunity. They calculated they could make more money with half freedom and therefore they used that system. But even under those conditions work in the Dutch colony for a slave was slavery.

Jennifer Morgan: The members of this community of half free people had to be very profoundly struck with the tentative and tenuous nature of their freedom. The evidence of that is that their children who are not half free who remain enslaved. And therefore in a very profound way speak to the fact that the community itself is, is vulnerable.

Leslie Harris: Half free blacks don't separate themselves from enslaved blacks. In fact they work... um at times try to negotiate freedom for other enslaved people. Over the years these 11 men and their wives continue to bargain, petition for freedom for their children.

Peter Wood: New Amsterdam is now becoming a good-sized town. At least 20 percent of the people are black. Some of them are slaves, some are half free some are free but wherever you are in that spectrum you can see the possibilities.

Leslie Harris: Half freedom is this moment where a group of slaves is moved to a new status. And there's probably a belief among the slave community that they too can achieve a new status. Not perfect -- not full freedom but something better, more autonomous than what had existed before.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Freedom was also the goal of black and white indentured servants in Chesapeake tobacco country. Since the early 1600s Black people had trickled into the area. Most were enslaved, others indentured servants. A few were free. John Punch was a black indentured servant. James Gregory a Scotsman and Victor from the Netherlands served with him on a small tobacco farm.

Peter Wood: In the New World, every European colony needed to provide a profit. In the Chesapeake Bay, Virginia, Maryland, the more tobacco you could plant the more profits you could reap. The more pleased the investors back in England would be. And there is tremendous pressure for labor.

Jim Horton: They hoped to use Native Americans that they found in Virginia as a labor supply. They were disappointed because Native Americans in Virginia were powerful enough to frustrate the attempts to use them as forced laborers. It was at that point that the British turned to British laborers under the indentured servitude system.

Marvin Dulaney: The status of indentured white servants and indentured Africans was very similar. They were both of course hired for a period of time. And, and both could become free. And let's also say that both were treated real bad. To be an indentured servant in this country meant that you literally didn't have any rights.

Ira Berlin: In this world there's not much practical difference in terms of the oppression that they face. In some measure that equality is an equality because these people can't be treated worse.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: By 1640 indentured servants were essential to the profits of Virginia tobacco farmers. Their labor made tobacco the colony's most profitable export.

Norrece Jones: Three men on the same farm, doing the same labor, being harassed and oppressed on a comparable level to the point that these three men chose to flee their owner.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: John Punch, Victor, and James Gregory crossed the Virginia border into Southern Maryland. Days later they were captured and returned. In the colony's highest court it was said that Hugh Gwyn's servants caused him considerable "loss and prejudice."

Norrece Jones: The two white men are sentenced to simply a number of years added to their indentures. For John Punch -- the one black among these three men -- his fate is infinitely worse, it's servitude for life.

Marvin Dulaney: Now there's no law that says that John Punch had to have been enslaved for life but it was clear that 1640 is sort of the turning point. The beginning of the point where Africans are gonna be treated differently as opposed to whites who are indentured servants.

Norrece Jones: Rather than distinguishing people because they are un-free people are being distinguished now because they're black or white. And that whiteness is privileging in ever increasing and beneficial ways.

Douglas Deal: Emanuel Driggus first appears in the records of the eastern shore of Virginia in about 1645 as the slave of Captain Francis Pott. Emanuel Driggus fits nicely into the category of people that we are coming to call Atlantic Creoles. He had this European name -- Portuguese really. Driggus is just an anglicization, a shortened form of Rodridges.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: As part of Emanuel's servitude Captain Pott provided him with a cow and a calf. When Emmanuel began his service, his wife, Frances, and daughters, ages eight and one, were bound to Captain Pott as well. Captain Pott informed the court: "[I have] taken to service two daughters of my Negro, Emanuel Driggus to serve and be with me." The terms of Emanuel's enslavement guaranteed that these children would attain their freedom after a specified number of years. However, no such provision was made for their brothers and sisters.

Douglas Deal: Captain Pott ran into some financial difficulties. He instructed his nephew to try to arrange things to get him out of debt and told him particularly that he would rather part with anything other than his Negroes.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Yet, in 1657, after twelve years of service, Emanuel's family became Captain Pott's way to "arrange things."

Jennifer Morgan: Their family is completely disrupted, um in fact destroyed by Potts's economic insecurities. So that when Pott accrues debt their younger child is sold and later their oldest daughter Ann is sold for about 5,000 pounds of tobacco.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: When Captain Pott died his widow inherited a farm, farm animals, and Emanuel. However, by 1661 court records show that Emanuel had attained his freedom, leased 145 acres and expanded his livestock holdings.

Jim Horton: Even if you get your freedom as a black person your life is not going to be like that of a free white person. Emanuel Driggus gets his freedom. He leases land he's got to pay many times what a white person would have paid to lease that land. He is not treated like your average free person. Race is really by now a factor and becoming a more and more significant factor.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: By 1665 Maryland and New York had legalized slavery. Three years earlier Virginia law makers decreed, "all children born in Virginia shall be held bond or free according to the condition of the mother."

Deborah Gray White : Even children of say a white master and a slave woman it makes those children not free it makes them a slave. It makes them chattel, it makes them valuable, it makes the white father a slave owner of his own children.

Norrece Jones: Black men and black women raised thousands of mulatto children as families. That love of children transcended the pain and the horror of how that child was created. Unlike some Europeans who created these children and saw their lives so meaningless and insignificant that they sold them no differently than any other slave.

Douglas Deal: Emanuel Driggus continued to see to the needs of his enslaved children. He transferred title to livestock to them -- ah -- later on hoping against hope that the livestock might be a source for some route to freedom for them.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: The court records of September 29, 1673 state "I Emanuel ..grant unto my said two daughters one bay mare." The same day he granted another mare to his free children. Despite his efforts, Emanuel could not free Thomas and Anne, the son and daughter sold by Captain Pott. However, because Thomas married a free black woman, his children were born free.

Douglas Deal: One of those children was named Frances, born in about 1677. Though she was free, she was bound out to serve a local blacksmith planter named John Brewer.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Frances entered the service of the blacksmith in 1694. Later that year she found herself in court charged by John Brewer with the sin of fornication. No partner was named. Seventeen-year-old Frances was sentenced to thirty lashes. In addition her servitude to Brewer was extended for two years. Months later Frances was back in court this time charged with having a child out of wedlock.

Jim Horton: It becomes increasingly difficult for free blacks to make their case before a court of law. Frances Driggus accuses her master of fathering her child. Now the court won't hear of this. They will not take the word of a black woman against that of a white man and especially a white man who is a planter.

Douglas Deal: This throws the court into an uproar. The justices decide to send the case on to a higher level. However, they do sentence her to yet another whipping.

Douglas Deal: Her master, John Brewer, decides he's had enough of Frances and assigns her to another man. Frances brings a court case against this move.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Judges were still unlikely to accept the testimony of a black woman against a white man. Un-deterred, Frances argued that Brewer was conspiring to place her in a community where her status as a free woman would not be recognized. The letter binding Frances to Brewer was ruled invalid.

Jennifer Morgan: Frances actually wins her suit and she's released from the terms of her indenture. Frances is really extraordinary because there are very few black women who are able to use the courts in the way that she does. Unfortunately her father has died. Her mother is sick and by 1700 Frances is improvised and destitute. She reappears in the courts because, um, in a desperate act she steals food to try to ah feed herself and her child.

Douglas Deal: She decides that ah she'd better link up to another household, again become a servant, have some steady kind of support. So she binds over herself and her child to Isaac and Bridgett Foxcroft. She promises to serve them for 10 years and any children that she has are to serve for 25 years.

Deborah Gray White : Now if you were a free black woman what are you going to do? There were very few means of making money for any woman in the colony. To be free ironically meant that you were going to be impoverished. And in fact you could find yourself worse off than someone who was enslaved.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: Isaac Foxcroft had promised Frances freedom upon his death. However, when he died his widow assigned Frances and her children to another master. Again, Frances sought justice. Without a document and only her word for evidence, the court ruled against her. After 1704 she disappeared from the public record.

Douglas Deal: In Virginia and a number of other colonies the Atlantic Creoles knew how to negotiate their way through this system and, and win gains and advantages for themselves. Limited gains sometimes but gains nonetheless. It had gone from a situation where they could do that to a situation where there was no space left to do that.

Peter Wood: A small group of elite Virginia planters have committed to the use of race slavery to expand their tobacco holdings. In 1691 they forbid free blacks from living in certain counties. If you're African-American you cannot have an educatio, ah, you cannot move about freely. You cannot hold property. All of these constraints are falling in on one generation.

Deborah Gray White : It's a link in a chain of slavery whereby people cannot become free. Before this there were ways of becoming free.

Jim Horton: Slavery is replacing indentured servitude as the labor system of choice. And by the beginning of the 18th century it is clear that through law in the Chesapeake slavery is being made a racially based institution and people are being considered property.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: New Amsterdam was renamed New York in 1664 after the British took over the colony. New York and other British colonies including Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maryland, were societies with slaves. Of the original thirteen colonies Carolina was the first in which slavery was the center of economic production, making it the first slave society. Racial slavery was sanctioned by Carolinas' 1669 constitution.

Peter Wood: The Carolina colony, which was originally South Carolina and North Carolina -- founded in about 1670. It's one of these gifts from Charles the second to his friend. Here's a place to exploit fellows -- go to it.

Edward Ball: Many South Carolinian whites came initially from Barbados where the British had established a giant sugar economy with some 50 thousand Afro-Caribbean slaves. The plantation system was merely transplanted like a kind of virus from the Caribbean to the American coast.

Marvin Dulaney: The more slaves that you brought gave you more land. You got 50 acres of land for every person that you brought into the Carolina colony. And so slavery was encouraged, ah, from the outset here. And of course the key was to find ah the, the type of work that slaves could do to make the colony profitable.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: As the enslaved cleared land the planters searched for a way to exploit the Carolina low country. They tried growing cotton and indigo and raising livestock. The more they tried the more they failed to find a lucrative cash crop. The enslaved were growing something they called oryza (or rice) for themselves. They had grown it for hundreds of years in West Africa.

Peter Wood: Now it's not knowledge that they hold to themselves. Once they have shown other people how to plant this crop they've lost control of the knowledge. And an entire economy based on exploitation of Africans is in place within a generation. And the shipment of Africans to South Carolina skyrockets.

John K. Thornton: So many of the Africans who were enslaved during the 17th and 18th century were ex-soldiers some of them would be captured through wars or civil wars. And these victors would sell the captives off to the Europeans. This had the advantage from their point of view of reducing their numerical strength, especially the solider population, of the opponents.

Jim Horton: They're marched to the coast. Many of them had not been to the coast before -- they had not seen the ocean. They see white people for the first time. Who are these people? There was this folklore about cannibalism. Lots of slaves who were brought to the coast really were so afraid that these people were gonna eat them.

Peter Wood: Some of the people owning South Carolina are also invested in the Royal Africa Company, in the slave trade themselves. They're getting a profit at both ends out of this.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: The major profit came from the "human cargo" of enslaved Africans. Slave trading had become the basis of an international economy.

Ira Berlin: There are a variety of auxiliary industries, that is -- ship building, insuring, ah, those ships, ah making sails for those ships. So the expansion of slavery is an essential part of the expansion of capitalism.

Edward Ball: As the ships came from West Africa and people were dying, their bodies would be thrown overboard usually in the middle of the Atlantic. But once in a while the captains would wait until they arrived Charleston Harbor. So one of these captains threw several dozen over board and their bodies including children began to wash ashore. So the governor became very upset. And it wasn't because this was a crime against humanity. It was because the smell was irritating to the white population.

Norrece Jones: In many African communities there's this reverence for the ancestors and this reverence for those who are now in the spirit world -- a belief that they're watching over. And I think that that is what sustained so many people at their, their weakest and their lowest moment.

Peter: On Sullivan's Island the English established a pest house where they could quarantine people off of incoming ships.

Jim Horton: These people were thought of as goods, as cargo. And in the language of the slave trader this was a place where goods were held until they could reach full market value. This is the perfect example of the inhumanity of the slave system.

Edward Ball: The most valuable workers were men younger than 20. And the second most valuable were women younger than 20. Children were young and inexpensive and they would grow up and live a long time and produce a lot of rice.

Jim Horton: For a person just arriving, you know, you've been aboard this ship for a long time but you probably don't know exactly how long. You don't know where you have gone. Of course the number one thing on your mind is how do I get out of here? How do I get myself free?

Edward Ball: Those who died were probably buried in mass graves. The people who had died en route were probably one quarter to one third of those who had actually boarded the ship. Those who finally survived were taken to Charleston where they were waxed down with oil, fed a good meal, and put on the auction block.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: For the enslaved, survival took many forms. Some pretended to be ignorant or represented their masters' interests. However, many refused to conform. They maintained their dignity by drawing strength from their spirituality and culture.

Norrece Jones: Even though people may not have spoken the same language and even though people may have been rivals traditionally in their homelands there would've been a certain spiritual bonding that took place -- that people came together and fused themselves together in this new world.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: By the 1720s enslaved black people outnumbered whites by more than two to one in the Carolina low country.

Edward Ball: Slavery was probably unique in every region where it flourished -- in Massachusetts, New York, Virginia and Barbados. But in South Carolina, it was probably the most industrial form of slavery. Because the scale was so, so great. The task system was something that was unique to South Carolina whereby enslaved people had a given assignment on each day. So they usually went to work in the morning at sunrise and a day's task in the field would be to hoe a quarter of an acre, which was 105 feet square. And people spent most of the year up to their knees in mud bent over tilling away at the soil under the sun. Rice was a very demanding master.

Deborah Gray White : In South Carolina slaves are worked almost to death. And then they go back to Africa and they go get some more and they're continually replenished.

John K. Thornton: In Central Africa, men generally don't do agricultural work. There's even a proverb: if you want to humiliate another man you say, "you're no man take up a hoe." Um, indicating that only women would do this kind of work and yet here in South Carolina men were being forced to work, right along side of women.

Peter Wood: In West Africa, the mother would pound a little bit of rice everyday to prepare the evening meal. It was a -- it was an art form -- it was a skill you could be proud of it. You then found yourself doing the same thing. You're growing rice, but now it's completely different.

Daniel C. Littlefield: The sound of the pounding of rice in Africa was the sound of domesticity. Ah -- but the sound of pounding rice in South Carolina was the sound of exploitation.

Edward Ball: Well the more money that the white elites made, the more it was in their interests to make the slave system a kind of invincible fortress that would perpetuate the -- ah -- comforts of the few. And so the incentive was for those who ran the society to set up extensive policing systems.

Jim Horton: A slave, a slave especially under these circumstances wants to survive, wants to be free. And it also doesn't take much imagination to understand the anger of being enslaved of being held against your will of seeing your loved ones subjected to treatment that no human begins ought to experience.

Edward Ball: The first time your punishment was whipping. If you ran away a second time there would be an "R" branded on your right cheek. The third time one of your ears would be severed and another "R" would be burned onto your left cheek for runaway. And if you ran away a fourth time -- if you were a man the punishment was castration.

Peter Wood: Gruesome punishments that had been familiar in England were exaggerated in the slave society. The planter had to calculate that I can punish this person even if they die I can import new people from West Africa. And I'm making so much money in this process that I can afford to do it.

Marvin Dulaney: The inhumane treatment says a lot -- that indeed they're resisting their enslavement. That -- like any other human being whose rights and opportunities are being taken away that they are going to resist and fight back.

Peter Wood: Burning down barns was something that occurred regularly and increased during harvest time when the workload was heaviest. Poisoning could not be caught readily. And it was often something that was feared by whites even when it didn't exist.

Edward Ball: One symptom of their fear was that there was a law that white men had to carry guns when they went to church. Sunday was the only day off for enslaved people. And so people the white folks feared that the uprising, if it ever came, would happen on Sunday when all the whites were gathered in church. Therefore the white men were required to carry their guns to church.

Peter Wood: It was on a Saturday night September 1739. It was a work crew. Many of them are Angolans, including a man named Jemmy who becomes the leader.

Edward Ball: The fated Sunday finally came on the Stono River southwest of Charleston. And they got to a store and broke in and they killed a Mr. Hutchinson. Decapitated him and put his head on a pole and cleared out his store of guns.

Peter Wood: It happens at harvest time, which is the time when blacks are being worked the hardest. It also happens in malaria time and there is an epidemic going on in Charleston which has virtually shut down the town.

John K. Thornton: They must have realized that they couldn't possibly take over the area and drive out the, the Europeans, but they did recognize the possibility that if they took common action as soldiers they might be able to escape.

Marvin Dulaney: The government of Florida had already issued a decree that any African who was a slave who made it to Florida would be free. And there was indeed a colony there of ex-slaves.

Jim Horton: There is this African manned fortification. And when the Stono rebellion breaks out it becomes clear that what these people are trying to do is to reach Fort Mose.

Peter Wood: People begin to join them. They burn successive plantations. Kill some of the white people living there. Draw some of the blacks with them. Others are afraid to join in and refuse to go. But unfortunately for them they meet the lieutenant governor riding north.

Marvin Dulaney: They gave chase to him but he was able to sound the alarm. And then of course sort of a -- a posse is formed and they set out after this group of Africans.

Peter Wood: It's an amazing moment. If they had been able to take him hostage who knows what the dynamics would have been. These people are pursued south for a day or two. If they had been able to go another 24 or 48 hours so -- that more people could have joined them their strength would have been greater and who knows what the prospects would have been.

Edward Ball: And the whites came on them, they surrounded these men and they fired on them. A lot of them were scattered, many of them were killed.

Marvin Dulaney: Some of them escape into the swamp, but those that they did capture they chopped their heads off. Put their heads on poles leading out, down what is today US 17 out of Charleston -- to send a message to the other Africans this is what will happen to you if you rebel.

Morgan Freeman, Narrator: After the Stono Rebellion, all of the separate laws governing slavery were consolidated into a single code. This "black code" restricted the movement of black people and regulated almost every aspect of the lives of the enslaved.

Peter Wood: The crushing of the Stono Rebellion was a tragedy. To me, these people were freedom fighters. Someone like Jemmy, newly arrived from Angola, is able to show others around him that this is not the only way to live, this can change -- it may not change this time but it will change in the future.

Jim Horton: Under the most inhumane conditions that you can possibly imagine, people were able to maintain their human dignity. It gives you some insight into the resilience of the human spirit. That it is possible for human beings to make the decision: I will not be defeated.

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