Modern history


image The Fate of the Participants

It seemed as if the war not only required but created talents.”

—David Ramsay, 1793

THE COST turned out to be very high—higher perhaps than our generation would be willing to pay. On both sides, many of the men who fought at Lexington and Concord died in the long and bitter war that followed. In the British infantry, few of the anonymous “other ranks” who marched to Concord survived the conflict unscathed. Many would be dead within two months.

At the battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, General Gage again used his ten senior companies of grenadiers and light infantry as a corps d’elite. They suffered grievously. The grenadier company of the Royal Welch Fusiliers went into that action with three officers, five noncoms, and thirty other ranks. It came out with one corporal and eleven privates. The light infantry company of the same regiment also lost most of its men—so many that it was said, “the Fusiliers had hardly men enough left to saddle their goat.”1

Other regiments suffered even more severely. The grenadier company of the King’s Own counted forty-three officers and men present before the battle of Lexington and Concord. Only twelve of that number were still listed as “effective” after Bunker Hill. Most of the flank companies in General Gage’s army also experienced heavy losses. 2

Altogether, seventy-four British officers had marched to Lexington and Concord. Of that number, at least thirty-three were killed or severely wounded between April and June in the lighting around Boston. Others suffered minor wounds that were not thought to be disabling.

Major John Pitcairn, the commander at Lexington, died of wounds received at Bunker Hill. As he rallied his Marines for a third assault on the American redoubt, he was shot in the head by another veteran of April 19, an African-American militiaman named Salem Prince. Major Pitcairn was carried off the field by his own son, an officer in the same battalion, and died in Boston. His death was mourned even by his enemies, who called him “a good man in a bad cause.” After the war his family asked that his remains should be returned for burial in London. According to an old Boston tradition, the wrong body was sent by mistake, and Major Pitcairn may still lie in the blue clay of Boston, or perhaps in a vault beneath the Old North Church. 3

Also at Bunker Hill was Lieutenant Jesse Adair, the hard-charging young Irish Marine who had volunteered to lead the British vanguard to Lexington, and sent it headlong into Parker’s militia. At Bunker Hill he volunteered again to lead the assault, though he was not supposed to be there at all, and miraculously survived. On the day the British army left Boston he volunteered once more to command its rear guard. His orders were to slow the American advance by scattering in its path a thick carpet of caltrops, or crow’s feet, small iron devices shaped like a child’s jack, with needle-sharp spines that could cripple a man or horse. Lieutenant Adair behaved in his usual style, brave and brainless as ever. An English officer remembered that “being an Irishman, he began scattering the crow-feet about from the gate towards the enemy, and of course had to walk over them on his return, which detained him so long that he was nearly taken prisoner.” Adair was later promoted to captain, and rose to command Number 45 Company of the Royal Marines, in the Plymouth Division. He served throughout the American war, but was not the sort of officer who flourished in peace. In 1785 Captain Adair was “reduced,” and disappeared from the Marine List. 4

Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Smith, who several junior British officers held personally responsible for their troubles at Lexington and Concord, was highly praised in dispatches by General Gage. Afterward he was promoted to brigadier. At the siege of Boston, Francis Smith’s men brought him early notice of the American occupation of Dorchester Heights. He is reported to have done nothing, not even bothering to notify his commander of an event that made Boston untenable for the British garrison and forced them to evacuate the town. In the next campaign, at New York City, Smith commanded a brigade. At a critical moment Lieutenant Mackenzie, the able adjutant of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, showed him a way to cut off Washington’s retreat. Mackenzie later wrote that the brigadier was not only “slow,” but also seemed “more intent on looking out for quarters for himself than preventing the retreat.” Afterwards he was promoted again, to the rank of major-general. Historian Allen French observes, perhaps a little harshly, that Francis Smith deserves more credit than he commonly receives, for singlehandedly “losing the American War.” 5

Lord Hugh Percy also fought at New York, with the same skill and courage that he had shown on the retreat from Lexington. He was instrumental in the capture of Fort Washington, the largest surrender of American troops up to that moment, and was promoted to Lieutenant General. But he grew so disgusted with the conduct of the war that he resigned his command and returned to Britain in 1777. Later he inherited the title of Duke of Northumberland. In his mature years he became one of the richest men in England, and also (it was said) one of the most irascible. His ill-temper was attributed to gout; perhaps his experiences in America also played a role. Percy died on July 10, 1817.

Several junior British officers who served at Concord survived the war and rose to high command. In 1775, George Harris was captain of grenadiers at Lexington and Concord. He was severely wounded in the head at Bunker Hill as he led the final assult on the American redoubt. Four of his grenadiers tried to carry him to safety, and three were shot. Harris cried out, “For God’s sake let me die in peace.” His men succeeded in rescuing him, and he was taken to Boston where a surgeon trepanned his skull while Harris stoically observed the operation by way of a mirror. He survived, returned to duty by 1776, fought in every major battle except Germantown, was severely wounded yet again, saw heavy campaigning in the West Indies, survived a major action at sea, was captured by a French privateer, and shipwrecked on his way to Ireland in 1780. When offered another command in America, he resigned his commission. Later he was persuaded to accept a command in India, where he played so large a part that he was raised to the peerage as Baron Harris of Seringapatam, Mysore, and Belmont in Kent. He died in 1829.

Captain Harris’s able subaltern in the grenadiers of the 5th Foot, Lord Francis Rawdon, survived Bunker Hill with two bullets through his cap. In later actions he rose rapidly to high command, with a record of brilliance and cruelty in the southern campaigns of the American War. In 1783 he was raised to the peerage, promoted to major-general ten years later, and succeeded his father as second Earl of Moira. In 1812 he became British commander in chief in India and governor-general of Bengal.

Another survivor was Ensign Martin Hunter of the 52 nd Foot. He served with honor through the American war, commanded his regiment in India, rose to high rank in the Napoleonic wars, married a Scottish heiress, retired as General Sir Martin Hunter, and died full of honors in 1846, probably the last living British officer who had served at Lexington and Concord. 6

In the Royal Navy, Admiral Samuel Graves continued to rage against the Americans with such undiscriminating fury that after the battles of Lexington and Concord he even had a fistfight with a Loyalist in the streets of Boston. Graves ordered his captains to burn every seaport north of Boston, and the town of Falmouth in Maine was actually destroyed in that way. The burning of Falmouth caused high outrage in America and Britain. Graves was relieved of command in January 1776 and ordered home. He was offered a face-saving assignment ashore, but refused it and died in retirement in 1787.

Several young officers who served under Admiral Graves at Boston went on to distinguished careers in the Royal Navy. Midshipman Cuthbert Collingwood, a “snotty” in Graves’s flagship HMS Preston, served as a boat commander in the actions around Boston and was promoted for gallantry at Bunker Hill. He went on to become one of Nelson’s “band of brothers,” assumed command of the British fleet after the battle of Trafalgar, and was raised to the peerage as Lord Collingwood. He died in 1810.

HMS Somerset, the mighty warship that blocked Paul Revere’s passage across the Charles River, came to a sad end. She was wrecked on the shoals of Cape Cod, and lost with many of her crew. From time to time, even today, the shifting sands of the Cape expose her shattered timbers of English oak, and then decently cover them again. Her heavy guns were salvaged and repaired by Paul Revere. 7

On the American side, Dr. Joseph Warren was elected president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, and appointed general of Massachusetts troops. Shortly before his commission was to take effect, the battle of Bunker Hill occurred. Warren insisted on joining the fight as a private soldier. As on the day of Lexington and Concord, he deliberately sought the place of greatest danger, and during the final assault was killed in the American redoubt. He was buried by Captain Walter Laurie, the British commander at Concord’s North Bridge, who later said that he “stuffed the scoundrel with another rebel into one hole, and there he and his seditious principles may remain.” Many months later, two of Warren’s brothers and the ubiquitous Paul Revere rowed over to Charlestown in search of his remains. They exhumed the body, and identified it by the artifical teeth that Revere had wired into Doctor Warren’s jaw. His death was mourned as a national calamity. Paul Revere named his next-born son Joseph Warren Revere.


The bones of HMS Somerset lie beneath the shifting sands of Cape Cod, where she was wrecked in a nor’easter on November 2, 1778. In a final irony, her guns were salvaged and repaired by Paul Revere, by then colonel of Massachusetts Artillery. In 1973, her timbers were briefly exposed by another storm, and photographed by Professor Nathaniel Champlin, who has kindly allowed this picture to be used here.

Captain John Parker, the able commander of Lexington’s militia, was so gravely ill of consumption that he was unable to join his men at Bunker Hill. He died on September 17, 1775, at the age of forty-six. His musket passed to his grandson Theodore Parker, and is now an icon of American freedom in the Massachusetts State House.

Many of Parker’s company of Lexington militia also died in the war. The Camp Fever took a heavy toll during the siege of Boston. Others died in combat. At the battle of Monmouth, Edmund Munroe and George Munroe were both killed by the same cannon ball, which also took off the leg of Joseph Cox of Lexington. Sergeant William Munroe, who met Revere at the end of the midnight ride, fought in the Saratoga campaign with many other Lexington men, and was present at the surrender of Bur-goyne’s army. Munroe rose from sergeant to the rank of colonel, then returned to his tavern, where he entertained George Washington at dinner in 1789. He held many high offices in Lexington and died in 1829.

Benjamin Wellington, the Lexington militiaman who was captured by the Regulars on the road to Lexington before the battle, also served at Saratoga. After the war he came home to his farm, and was twice elected selectman of Lexington, where he died in 1812. Lexington’s African militiaman, Prince Estabrook, fought as a slave and was wounded on the Common. He won his freedom by his military service.

The last survivor of the Lexington company was the boy fifer Jonathan Harrington, who died in 1854 at the age of ninety-six. More American troops marched in his funeral than had fought at Lexington and Concord. 8

Jonas Clarke returned to his pulpit and continued to serve his town as minister until his death in 1805. Five of his young daughters married ministers, and raised more ministers in their turn.

Dolly Quincy married John Hancock despite her misgivings, and her husband became president of the Continental Congress and governor of Massachusetts. He died in 1793 at the age of fifty-six, never having realized the promise of his early career. Two children were born of this union, an infant daughter who died in 1776 while John Hancock was presiding at the Congress, and a son named John George Washington Hancock, who was killed in an ice-skating accident at the age of eight. Dolly remarried, to James Scott, a ship’s captain who had worked for her husband. She lived to a ripe age, became a great lady in Boston, and dined out on the story of Paul Revere and the salmon for half a century. She died in 1830 at the age of eighty-three.

In Concord, the Reverend William Emerson joined an expedition to Ticonderoga as chaplain to New England troops. He caught a “fever” and died at Rutland, Vermont, on October 20, 1776, at the age of thirty-three. Many years later, his grandson Ralph Waldo Emerson went searching for his grave but found no trace of it. A brick tomb was built for him in Concord, not far from the Old Manse and the North Bridge. It still lies empty today. 9

Doctor Samuel Prescott, who carried Revere’s message to Concord, became a surgeon in the Continental Army, and later joined the crew of a New England privateer. He was captured by the Royal Navy, and held prisoner in Halifax, where he died miserably in 1777, as did many thousands of American prisoners in British hands. His fiancee Lydia Mulliken had no word of him, and waited faithfully until peace came in 1783. Later she married another man, and raised a family in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Lydia’s house, where Dr. Prescott had courted her on the night of April 18, was burned by retreating British soldiers. Her brother, Nathaniel Mulliken, joined the army besieging Boston, and in 1776 died of the dreaded Camp Fever that took off many more Yankee militia than British muskets ever did. 10

Concord’s young Doctor Abel Prescott Jr. who carried the alarm to Sudbury and Framingham, lived only a few months after the battle. As he rode home from Sudbury he ran into the British guard at Concord’s South Bridge and was shot. The wound did not heal properly and he died in August 1775, of dysentery it was said. 11

Ammi White, the Concord minuteman who disgraced his nation’s cause by murdering a wounded British soldier at the North Bridge, survived the war and married Mary Minot in 1788. They lived in one end of her family’s house, which is now the Concord Inn. Later he moved to Westmoreland, New Hampshire, where he died in 1820 at the age of sixty-six. 12

William Dawes returned to the abandoned farmhouse where he had fallen off his horse, and found his missing watch. He appears to have taken no further part in the events at Lexington and Concord, but joined the army in the siege of Boston, fought at Bunker Hill, and won a commission as Commissary to the Continental Army. At the same time he went into the provisions business, and did well out of the war. But like many veterans he was never in good health after his military service and died at the age of fifty-three, on February 25, 1799. His body lies at King’s Chapel in Boston.

Of the men who helped to display the lanterns at Old North Church, John Pulling was closely pursued by British soldiers but escaped by hiding in a wine cask at his mother’s home, according to Boston folklore. Later Pulling fled the town disguised as a seaman.

Robert Newman was arrested by British troops at a funeral and imprisoned for a time. He had many troubles after the war, and died by his own hand in 1804. 13

Doctor Benjamin Church, the spy who worked for both sides, was appointed director of the first American military hospital. He continued his espionage for General Gage until the summer of 1775 when one of his letters was intercepted. He was sentenced to imprisonment in Connecticut, but was permitted to leave America on condition that he should never return to his native land. He sailed for the West Indies on a ship that disappeared at sea. Doctor Church was never seen again. His death was as mysterious as his life. 14

Four of the Americans who were at Lexington and Concord on April 19 went on to become governors of Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Elbridge Gerry, and John Brooks. Gerry, who was nearly caught by the British troops the night before the battle at the Black Horse Tavern in Menotomy, later became an Anti-Federalist and Jeffersonian Democrat. He served as governor from 1810 to 1812, and was elected Vice President of the United States under James Madison. He died in 1814, on his way to a session of the Senate. John Brooks, the physician who led the Reading militia at Meriam’s Corner, became a leader of the Federalist party, and was elected to six terms as governor from 1817 to 1822.

Woburn’s Major Loammi Baldwin, who had shown a keen eye for the ground along the Battle Road, went on to become one of America’s first professional topographical engineers. In 1794 he built the Middlesex Canal between the Charles and Merrimack rivers, the first important canal in America. On his farm in Woburn he also developed the Baldwin apple, which for many generations became the “standard winter apple of eastern America.” 15

Most of the Americans who fought at Lexington and Concord went back to the farms that their fathers had tilled before them. But things were never the same for them again. For the men who were there, the countryside was haunted by spirits of those who had fought and died. It was said of Concord’s David Brown, who commanded the town’s company of minutemen, that “the brave captain never crossed alone the causeway of the North Bridge after dark on his way to and from the market, without singing at the top of his voice some good old psalm tune that would ring out in the night, and wake many a sleeper in the village, perhaps to lay the ghosts of the British soldiers buried there, perhaps as a requiem to their souls.” 16

The next generation, the children who heard the Lexington alarm but were too young to fight, grew up to be the statesmen of America’s silver age. Their experience on the day of Lexington and Concord made a difference in their lives. At Braintree, Massachusetts, for example, a company of militia stopped at a farm on its way to the battle. The men were amused when an eight-year-old boy emerged from the house with a musket taller than himself, and performed the manual of arms before them. The child was John Quincy Adams. The nationalism that became central to his public career had its beginning in those early experiences. There were many others like him of the same age. 17

Some of the most interesting careers were those of the third generation, who had no direct knowledge of the event. In the years just after war, they were raised on grandfathers’ tales of Lexington and Concord, and went on to become great tale-tellers in their own right. The grandson of Paul Revere’s friend Thomas Melville, who came home from the Boston Tea Party with his shoes full of tea, was the novelist Herman Melville. The grandson of Concord’s minister William Emerson was Ralph Waldo Emerson. The grandson of Private John Thoreau, who served under Paul Revere’s command later in the Revolution, was Henry David Thoreau. The grandson of Lexington’s Captain John Parker was Theodore Parker. The grandson of Peleg Wadsworth, Revere’s commander on the Penobscot Expedition, was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The grandson of a North Shore family named Hath-orne who turned out for the Lexington alarm changed his name to Nathaniel Hawthorne and moved into the Old Manse next to the North Bridge. All the great literary figures of the American Renaissance except the New Yorker Walt Whitman and the southerner Edgar Allan Poe were grandchildren of men who served with Paul Revere or soldiered at Lexington and Concord.

There was also another group of Americans who took the opposite side in the War of Independence and experienced some of the worst sufferings of the war. Few of their countrymen felt much sympathy for them. William Brattle, whose letter to General Gage led to the Powder Alarm, was never able to return to his mansion in Cambridge. When the British army left Boston, Brattle went to Halifax, where he and other Loyalists “mess’d together in a little chamber over a grog shop.” He died there in the Fall of 1776. In Cambridge his mansion still stands, and is now the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. Another Tory house, which had been besieged by 4000 angry men in the Powder Alarm, became the residence of Harvard’s Dean of Faculty, and survived other sieges in the era of Vietnam and Watergate.

Daniel Bliss, the Tory lawyer in Concord who showed Ensign De Berniere and Captain Brown the route that the Regulars used to march upon his town, was never able to live in that community again. He fled to Boston, and later moved to New Brunswick in company with many other Loyalists, who had a major impact on Canada’s history and politics. His estate was the only Tory property to be confiscated in Concord.

General Gage’s American wife Margaret Kemble Gage was sent to England by her husband in the summer of 1775. She sailed in the transport Charming Nancy, with sixty widows and orphans and 170 severely wounded British soldiers who were bound for the Royal Hospital at Chelsea. It was a terrible voyage. When the ship put into the English port of Plymouth for a new mainmast, a correspondent in that town reported that “a few of the men came on shore, when never hardly were seen such objects! Some without legs, and others without arms; and their cloaths hanging on them like a loose morning gown, so much were they fallen away by sickness and want of proper nourishment. … the vessel itself, though very large, was almost intolerable, from the stench arising from the sick and wounded.” 18

General Gage remained in Boston for another catastrophic year. He was the British commander during the battle of the Bunker Hill, adding one more epic disaster to his long experience of defeat. Even that event did not end his career. He was reappointed to his command in August 1775, but in Boston his own officers refused to obey him. Finally, in October, he was recalled and sailed home from America, never to return. In Britain, he continued to hold the title of Royal Governor of Massachusetts even after American independence, and following Lord North’s fall from power was promoted yet again to full general. After returning to London, he was estranged from his wife. In 1787 Thomas Gage died at his London home, and was buried at Firle Place, in his beloved Sussex countryside.

Paul Revere’s life took a different path. In 1776 he joined the army with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and was made commander of Castle William, with the urgent task of fortifying Boston against the expected British return. He desperately wanted a field command with the Continental Army and pulled every string to get one, but without result. In 1777 he complained to his old friend John Lamb, “I did expect before this to have been in the Continental Army, but do assure you I have never been taken notice of, by those whom I thought my friends, [and] am obliged to remain in this state’s service.” 19

Twice during the war Paul Revere went on active service with state troops in New England. In 1778 he joined an abortive campaign against the British garrison on Rhode Island, as lieutenant-colonel of Massachusetts artillery. The following year he commanded the artillery in an ill-fated expedition by Massachusetts troops against a British fort at Penobscot Bay. The mission ended in disaster for the Americans, and led to an angry controversy in which he was deeply involved. Paul Revere’s brief military career was the one great failure in his life. 20

After the war Paul Revere returned to his ruined business. His silver shop expanded rapidly, shifting from custom work to standardized production. One scholar writes that Paul Revere “played an active role in not one, but two, revolutions: the War of Independence, and the nascent industrialization of American silversmith-ing.” 21 Revere added other lines of business with mixed success. For a time he tried his hand at selling hardware, but found that business tedious and dull, and gave it up. More interesting to his restless and curious mind was the science of metallurgy, which he began to study after the war. He wrote for help to experts abroad, telling them candidly that he did not know much about “chem-istree.” 22

While his son looked after the silver shop, Paul Revere taught himself to cast bell-metal, and opened a foundry in the North End for the manufacture of church bells in New England. He was just in time for a religious revival that historians call the second great awakening, and business boomed. The youngsters of the North End liked to visit Paul Revere in his bell foundry, gathering so close that he had to warn them away from the hammers and flames. Many years later, one of them remembered the old “founder,” as he now called himself, prodding them cheerfully with his silver-headed cane and telling them with a laugh, “Take care, boys! If that hammer should hit your head, you’d ring louder than these bells do!” 23

He also invented new alloys and amalgams, studied the latest European techniques, and became one of the first manufacturers in America to roll copper sheets on a large scale. Paul Revere’s copper covered the top of the new Massachusetts Statehouse, and the bottom of frigate Constitution. He made the boilerplate for Robert Fulton’s steamboats, and cannon for the forts and warships of the new Federal government. Later he moved his business to the rural town of Canton, where it expanded into the Revere Copper and Brass Company, one of New England’s largest manufacturing enterprises. 24


Paul Revere at the age of seventy-seven in June 1813. His son Joseph Warren Revere paid the American artist Gilbert Stuart $200 for these paintings of his parents in old age. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

After the war Paul Revere also continued active in politics. He was appalled by the disorders of the postwar period, and threw his influence behind the framing of a Federal Constitution. When John Hancock and Samuel Adams were reluctant to support its ratification, Paul Revere organized the Boston mechanics into a powerful political force, and worked behind the scenes with such effect that he is commonly thought to have turned the narrow balance in a critical state. Once again, he showed his genius for being at the center of great events. His nation owes him another debt for his role in the enactment of the new government.

During the early Republic, the Whig leaders of the American Revolution divided into two political parties. Revere’s cousin Benjamin Hitchborn became a leader of the Jeffersonian Republicans in Massachusetts. Paul Revere himself was a Federalist of the old school, strongly opposed to the growth of Jeffersonian democracy. He wrote to an old comrade, “My friend, you know I always was a warm Republican. I always deprecated Democracy as much as I did Aristocracy.” 25


Rachel Revere was sixty-seven years old when she sat for this painting. She died a few weeks later on June 26, 1813. (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

In old age, when young men began to wear pantaloons and top hats, Paul Revere continued to dress in knee britches and a cocked hat. In his last years he retired to a country estate next to his factory at Cantondale, surrounded by his large and growing family. More than fifty grandchildren had been born by the time of his death. Today his descendants are reckoned in thousands. When they return to visit the Revere House in Boston, the staff observes that many bear an uncanny resemblence to the portrait by John Singleton Copley.

Paul Revere died in the New England Spring, on May 10, 1818. His loss was mourned in Massachusetts as the passing of an age, but the myth and legend of his acts was only beginning its long career. Today, a long stretch of the road that he traveled on his midnight ride is a National Park. The anniversary of the ride and battle is still kept as a public holiday called Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts and Maine. Every year since the battle itself, the event continues to be celebrated with what a 19th-century writer described as “new and old rehearsals of what occurred at the North Bridge at Concord, with the ringing of bells, the firing of salutes, the parade of military, orations, bonfires and general glorification.” 26

That custom of “general glorification” is still observed in the author’s town of Wayland, the seat of the original Sudbury from which five companies of militia and minutemen marched to Concord. In some ways, the town itself has changed profoundly since 1775. Only a small minority of its inhabitants are of Yankee stock. A plurality of the church-going population is Roman Catholic, as in every county of New England. On the Boston Post Road where Ensign De Berniere stumbled through snowdrifts and the post-rider Israel Bissell carried his news of the battle, one finds today a gleaming Jewish synagogue on one side of the old highway, and a new Islamic mosque on the other.

Much has changed in this old New England town, but some things remain the same. On weekdays the people are still busy in their callings, and on Sundays the churches are as full as they were two centuries ago. The town meeting has moved to the high schoolgymnasium, but still operates very much as it did in 1774, when Parliament unwisely tried to curtail it. The common schools continue to be open to “the children of all,” and the newspapers still exercise their ancestral right to rage against the government. The town has become a suburb of Boston, but it does not think of itself as subordinate to anything, and remembers its long history with fierce and stubborn pride.


Near the end of his life, Paul Revere attended a meeting of a voluntary association in Boston, and absent-mindedly left his eyeglasses behind. They were picked up by someone else and found their way back to the Paul Revere House, where they may be seen today, as if he had dropped them only a moment ago. (Paul Revere Memorial Association)

Each year, that old memory is carefully renewed. On the 19th day of every April, at the same hour when the messenger of alarm arrived in 1775, the town’s great bell is made to ring again in the night. The people of the town awaken suddenly in their beds, and listen, and remember. It is an ancient tradition in the town that the ringers should include the children, so that the rising generation will remember too. The bell itself was made by Paul Revere. Still it carries his message across the countryside. 27

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