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Sir William Berkeley's

"A History of Our Miseries"

Edited by Wilcomb E. Washburn.*

Bacon's Rebellion was the supreme test for Virginia's controversial
governor Sir William Berkely. It climaxed thirty-five years' service
to the colony, twenty-four of them as governor, years in which
Berkely had been, in the words of Robert Beverley, "the Darling of the
People."1 That the rebellion was the logical outcome of his rule is the belief of many later historians who depict Berkeley as increasingly op-
pressive and corrupt after an early period of honest and englightened ad-
ministration. To Berkeley, however, the rebellion was not only "unex-
pected" but "ungrounded." Its cause was to be found not at all in maladministration, but in a vicious perverseness on the part of his cousin
by marriage, Nathaniel Bacon, Jr.

     Berkeley was well aware, of course, that more than the ranting of a
harebrained young man was necessary to create a rebellion. Indian attacks on the frontier, economic depression, bad weather, high taxes — all created discontent and a desire for relief. But it was Bacon's wanton dis-
regard of the governor's Indian policy and Berkeley's attempt to enforce
compliance that made the uprising inevitable. Their differing ideas on
how to treat the Indians are well brought out in this letter. Instead of
direction his hostility against the Susquehannock Indians, with whom
the colony was at war, Bacon treacherously fell upon the frieldy Oc-
caneechees immediately after the latter had themselves destroyed a
Susquehannock outpost. The popularity Bacon obtained by his "victory" over "the Indians," plus his promise to finance further campaigns out of
his own pocket, led directly to the final break between the aged governor
and his young cousin and to the civil discour that ensued.

     * Mr. Washburn is a Fellow of the INstitue of Early American History and
Culture. He is working on a volume of documents on Bacon's Rebellion to be pub-
lished by the Virginia Historical Society, probably in 1958.

   1 Robert Beverley, The History and Present State of Virginia, ed. Louis B. Wright (Chapel Hill, 1947), p. 74 (Bk. I, ch. iv. sec. 92).


404                            William and Mary Quarterly

     Following Bacon's death in October 1676, Governor Berkeley took the offensive, and succeeded, by the end of Jnuary 1677, in breaking the back of the rebel power. Just at that moment one thousand troops to put down
the rebelliong and three commissioners to investigate its causes arrived from
England. Berkeley had not asked for help, and he was staggered by the
prospect of providing quarters and provisions for a thousand solders in a
desolted country whose total population was only forty thousand.

    It was in an anxious state of mind that the governor saild down to ke-
coughtan (Hampton) from Green Spring, his plantation near Jamestown,
to greet the commissioners. Sir John Berry, commanding His Majesty's
ship Bristol and the naval force sent out by Charles II, had dropped anchor in the James River on January 29, 1677. With him was Colonel Francis
Moryson, one of the Virginia agents in England, who had been appointed,
with Berry, to the investigating commission. The third Commissioners,
Colonel Herbert Jeffreys, and the main body of the troops did not reach
Virginia until February 11.

     Berkeley came aboard the Bristol on February 1. The commissioners
read him their commission, handed him the King's additional instructions
to him as governor, and briefly discussed the situation in Virginia. That
night, no doubt, Berkeley sat down and began his long letter to Henry Coverntry, one of Charles II's Rpincipal Secretaries of State, to whom he
explained that he was sending not so much a letter as a "History of our

     The letter, completely in Sir William's firm hand, is not a styl8istic
masterpiece. It lacks organization and polish, and in spots it is confused.
These deficiencies point up the tension under which Berkeley was laboring,
for he normally wrote the best prose in the colonies, a feat not unnatural
for a man who fort years earlier had writte The Lost Lady for the Lon-
don stage.

     Two interesting and closely related aspects of Berkeley's personality are involved in his account of the rebellion. While his attribution of the
ultimate cause of the rebellion to the active hand of God suggests a pious
frame of mind, it also suggests his conviction that his troubles were not of
his own making. That this conviction represent self-[pride, he wa well
aware. He was proud of his record, of his services to his King and the
colony; but he was Christian enough to recognize his pride as a fault and humble enough to admit it openly. Even when he conceded it, however, his pride showed through. IN the ifrst part of the letter he comments that

                 SIR WILLIAM BERKELEY'S "A HISTORY OF OUR MISERIES"             405

"God to humble me and take away the pride of my hart and thoughts"
raised this "unexpected rebellion against me his most sacred Majestie the
country and me . . . ." The initial "me" was struck out as soon as written
(though with no attempt to conceal it) and a more proper hierarcy sub-

     Berkeley's letter is among the Henry Doventry Paper, Vol. LXVII,
foll. 350-355, at Longleat, the estate of the Marquis of Bath, in Wiltshire,
England. It is published here with the kind permission of his Lordship.2


Right Honorable

     After my rendering thankes to God who hath raysed me in this my
greate necessity and perhaps unparaled misery so Noble a frend to be my
Protector I shall then tel you that this will not be a letter but a History of
our miseries but before I enter into it I must cleere one just accusation
which you have against me till you heare my justification and that is this
that I wrote not to you the state and condition of this afflicted country.

     Sir if a miserable man can find so much Charity as to be belieev'd then
I must humbley beseech you to heare this truth that I wrote to you at large
Entending my letters should goe by Captain Eveling3 but he was so justly
frighted by Mr. Bland4 and one Captain Carver5 who were comming to

2 Two copies of the letter, in the hand of a scribe, but signed by Berkeley, also
exist at Longleat, Vol. LXXVII, foll. 356-359 and 360-363. At the end of the first
copy is the note in Berkeley's hand; "Right Honorable: I have sent you this Dupli-
cate with the Original only to helpe to reade my ill Hand writing. Your most
obedient obleeged and humble servant, Will: Berkeley." At the end of the other
copy is a similar note in Berkeley's hand that "I have sent this with mine to helpe
you to reade my Bad hand." There is not indication when the original letter was
received. Ths first copy is endorsed "Duplicate, Received Aprill 20." The other copy
is endorsed "Received Aprill 9."

3 Christopher Eveling (Evelin), a merchant ship captain.

4 Giles Bland, son of an important English merchant, John Bland, and son-in-
law of an important English court official. Thomas Povey, had come to Virginia a
few years before the rebellion as customs collector. He early got into trouble with
Berkeley and the countil (see, for example, documents in Virginia Magazine of
History and Biograph, II [p1912], 238,242, 350,352, XXI [1913], 125-135; H.R.
McIlwaine, Journals of the House of Burgesses, 1659-6- [Richmond, 1914], pp.
62-63). When the rebellion broke out, Bland joined Bacon and as his right-hand
man in the attack on Berkeley in Accomack.

5 William Carver, a rough and wild sea captain who was sent by Bacon to capture
Berkeley on the Eastern Shore. See later in text of letter.

406                     WILLIAM AND MARY QUARTERLY

Cease [seize] him with a ship Bacon had taken and had put two hundred
men aboard her with a Commission for that Grand Rebel to make
Evelings shipp and al that was in her a Prize that he was forced to make al
the hast he could to Sea without calling for my letters of giving Bills of
lading to Diverse Gentlmen that had put goods and Tobaccoes aboard
him. Right honorable this is al truth and I have your letters still by me at
my house but being now aboard Sir John Berries shipp who has been in
the country three dayes cannot send them now But by the next shipp that
goes for England wil doe it and then I hope your Goodnesse and mercy will absolve me from my supposed Crime and neglect of my Duty.

     And now most Honord Sir I will give you a relation of the original
grouth of al our miseries only premising this that I thinke I should un-
pardonably offend that God who has shewed such miraculous mercyes to me in my deliverance (I say miraculous mercyes) if now after the feeling
of them I should in the presence of God my deliverer write any thing in
my own favor or in the Exagerating the Crimes of the Rebels.

     And thus I shal begin when seaven moneths since I was Exalted with
pride that I had governed this Country fower and twenty Yeares in peace
and plenty and was most certaine that no pretence of a fault could be al-
leaged against me. Then did God to humble me and take away the pride
of my hart and thoughts rayse this ungrounded (for any real Grevance)
and unexpected rebellion against his most sacred Majestie the country and
me and thus is was

     When those were resolved to stirr up the people to sedition had
divulged amongst the Rabble what feare there was of a sodaine invasion
from the Indians Then did Bacon by his servants and other Emissaries
send into al parts of the Country that his father had five and twenty hun-
dred pounds per annum in England and that he would spend al that
Estate to free the Country from the Charge of the Warr on condition they
would make him their General. Sir it is hardly to be believed how the
promise and undertaking tooke with the country who did and made others
beleeve that al was truth he promsd them so that like a trayne of powder
as it were in a moment it enfected not only Virginia but Maryland who by
the Experience of our miseries were forced to keepe a gaurd to prevent the
rising of the seditious there.

     But sir his first greate Act (and this to try what followers and abeettors
he was likely to procure) was to goe to a nation one hundred miles from

               SIR WILLIAM BERKELEY'S "A HISTORY OF OUR MISERIES"                407

any English plantation called the Occannoeches6 who were ever frends to
the English and seated in an Island Very well fortified by nature. But to
this place he comes Hollowes7 to the Indians to bring him and his men
over into the Island which they civilly and courteously did in their Canoes
and Bacon himselfe confesd to me and my Councel that he could not have
forced his way by day if they had had intelligence of their intentions. But
Sir being frendly entertained in the Island the Chiefe of the Indians
asked the English what businesse or designe brought them thither. The
English replied they came to seeke the Sesquasahannochs and destroy as
many of them as they could find for they were their Ennimies. The Ind-
dians very civilly replied that they were no frends of theirs that the English
were tired with a long march that there was a nation of these sesquasa-
hannoch about twenty miles of[f] that they would destroy them for the
English sakes and bring in what prisoners they could to be disposed of by
the English which they performed Exactly and brought in Diverse prisoners
most of which the Indians Knockt in the head in sight and instance of the
Inglish. But now Sir begins the quarrel with these Innocent and courteous
Indians. With the prisoners they brought in a conserable [sic} quantity
of beavor and a considerable quantity of Beads the only Indian Coyne.
This as the Prisoners the English pretended to be theirs. To thie the In-
dians modestly replied that they had brought them the prisoners to mani-
fest their desires of Amitie with the Inglish But for the Beavor and the
other wealth they had got it with the hazard of their lives and that they
knew not how any one besidese themselves could pretend any title to it:
But this satified not the avarice and as they then thought the Power of the
English to compel the Indians to what they pleased, and with this confi-
dence they fel roundly to worke with the Indians. But the Indians retiring
to their fort quicly made the Inglish know how much they were deceavd
and in fower howers time forced them to wade out of the Iland to the maine land and on my faith according oto the best intelligence I could ever
get, Bacon was the first man that leapt his horse into the River and so escaped to the maine land and was followed by al that were not Killed on
the Iland. But it is not to be imagined how cowardly treacherous an dun-
grateful soever this Act was what opinion it got him with the base rabble

6 The Occaneechi (Occaneechee) Indians lived on an island at the juncture of
the Dan and the Roanoke rivers near the present town of Clarksville, Virginia. The
island has been flooded in recent years by the construction of a dam a few miles
down the river.

7 Hollowes: halloos or shouts.

408                                 WILLIAM AND MARY QUARTERLY

who were resolved to approve of al he did and Bacon heightened with the
concurrance [sic] of this Rabble sends out hisEmissaries againe to make
them Vote him their General and cry out for a new Assembly which by
the feares and sollicitations of the Councel I granted for I had alwaise this
fault predominant in me not to resist the opinions and sollicitations of my
Councel thoughe I knew almost demonstrably I was in the right and they
in the wrong, and this fault my first Glorius Master Charles the first was
Guilt of who thoughe undoubtedly he had more understanding of affaires
then al his Councel chose often rather to be led by them then to leade them.
But Right honorable to returne to the story of our miseries this Assembly
thus called Bacon thought his businesse was halfe donne and with reason
for their was but eight of the Burgesses that were not of his faction and at
his devotion and yet Sir this very Assembly after I had dared them to de-
clare any fault I had ever committed in reference to the Government and
shewed them my Petition to his sacred majestry to send in an abler Gover-
nor to manage his great concernements in this Colony this Very factious
Assembly I say absolv'd me from al crimes relating to the country and
desird me not to sollicite his Majestie to remove me.8

     But Sir to returne to Bacon when he knew the Assembly was thus
Packt to his likeing he came downe to James Towne with about three-
score men thinking to surprise me and the Councel. But Young Collonel
Morrison a Valient and Loyal Gentleman9 with some other loyal gentle-
men had sent me fourty men of quality to assist me in any exigent. This
Bacon expected not and so meant to retire til a fitter opertunity. But I pre-
vented him and with the helpe of thes mentioned Gentlemen and after
some resistance tooke him and al his sloopes as he fled and Brought him backe to James Towne.10 And now Sir I know it wil be deservedly ob-
jected against me why I did not put him to death when I had him in my
power. Truly Sir I must have beene Judge Jury and Executioner my selfe
to have donne it for the Assembly as I sayde were al packt for him, the
Councel frighted with hearing two thousand men were armed to deliver
him (which was a greate truth) so that al we could doe was to make him
confesse his fault which he willingly did not from any repentance but

8 Journals of the House of Burgesses, ed. McIlwaine, p. 66.

9 Probably Charles Moryson, nephew of Col. Frqancis Moryson. The Moryson
family played important roles in Virginia history; the captaincy at Point Comfort
Fort was usually in their hands in the seventeenth century. See William and Mary Quarterly, 1st Ser., IX (1900), 122-123.

10 The action was performed by Thomas Gardner, a merchant ship captain.

              SIR WILLIAM BERKELEY'S "A HISTORY OF OUR MISERIES"               409

that he might sooner head his Party. Now Sir behold the miserty I was en-
volved in. I did almost with teares beg of the Assembly to have on hun-
dred Voluntier Gentlemen to be my gaurd for the Rabble I durst not
trust which was scornefully and peremptorily denied me though five or
six dayes after they payde and allowed Bacon one thousand men for his
Gaurd (Sir Pardon my many Excursions which I am forced for want of
time ad preperation to make). When Bacon was assured of the inclina-
tion of the people to him he came downe to James-Towne six six hun-
dred of the meanest of the People, Came into the court and Assembly with
their Guns ready to fire, Clamourd for a commission for their General and
thought it is known thes terrors moved not me as I have it stil under al
their several hands that unlesse I would yeald to invincible necessity they
and their wives and children were al undone.11 This with the considera-
tion I could doe the King little service by dying for him and might doe
him service by living inclined me to sute my Judgement to theirs and
Grant him a commission which was no soner signed but al his Rable
veryly beleevd I had resigned al my power to thei New General and Bacon
himselfe made them beleeve he thought so too and accordingly fel to
worke confiscating and Plundering divers good mens houses. For one
mopneth he came not to mine so that I had opertunity to save al my plate
and secure it in Captain Evelings shipp. And hearing that Bacon entended
to make me and Sir Harry Chicheley12 prisoners, and perhaps dale more
sevearly with us for hee had proclaimed us both Traytors at the heade of
his rebellious Army, I went to Sir Harry Chicheleys house perswading
him to retire with me to Accomach which place I understoodf continued
Loyal (and indeed half of it was so). Sir Harry told me that he could not
then goe but would be with me in fower dayes but before that time was
Expired was Taken Prisoner By Bacon and so continued twenty weekes
no cause ever yet assigned why he was a prisoner. But now Sir begins
Gods Visible mercyes to shine uppon me for thoughe I went to Acco-
mach but with fower Gentlemen yet I had in three dayes at least fowrty
Gentlemen of the best qualitie in Virginia that came over to me many of

     11 The drmatic scnes at Jamestown, June 23 and 24, are described in T.M.
[Thomas Mathew], "The Beginning, Progress, and Conclusion of Bacons Rebellion
in Virginia in the Years 1675 and 1676, Narratives of the Insurrections, 1675-1690,
ed. Charles M. Andrews (New York, 1915, pp. 27-31.

12 Sir Henry Chicheley was deputy governor of the colony and brother of Sir
Thomas Chicheley, Master of the King's Ordnance.

410                               WILLIAM AND MARY QUARTERLY

them with their wives and children and left their estates to the mercy that
is Rapine of Bacons Barbarous Soldiers. And within a weeke after Bacon
sent a shipp with two hundred men under the Command of one Bland
and Captain Carver with joynt commission to take me and al my frends
and Bring us to him deade or alive which Bland swore a thousand God
damme him he would doe. But now Sir observe the mercy of God. This
Carver was an able stoute seamen and soldier who under pretence of treat-
ing with me came from his shipp with one hundred and threescore men.
But it pleasd God he could not goe backe with the Pinnace he brought his
men in which I believe he was glad of for I had charged him to begon in
Eight howers and this contrary wind gave him a pretence to stay longer
for an opertunity to corrupt or cease [seize] my Gaurd that wacthead
[watched] his motions. Whilest this was acting on both sides about twelve
a clocke at night came a letter to me from the master of the shipp that
Bacon had surprised and put Bland and these soldiers aboard her that told
me there were but fourty men that wer left to gaurd the shipp13  that if I
would send thirty or fourty Gentlemen he would so employ and secure the
soldiers that we should easily enter and retake the shipp al which was un-
dertaken and performed in six howers. And Carver seeing wherries goe to
the shipp and suspecting the Cause made after them in a small boate and
was within musket shot of the shipp side when our men were possest of
her who let him come on til was within Pistol shot and then commanded
him on Board which he ascended like a Chased Bore and would have stabd
his lieu-Tenant if he had not been prevented by our men. This great and
miraculous mercy put al the soldiers in to our hands who having not
Victuals for eight howers surrendred themselves and Armed tooke the
Oahts of allegiance and Supremacy but Kept them so as the Parliament
soldiers used to doe in England. However this action gave the Loyal party
a great reputation in the Country and now the rfeare of me made many de-
clare for the King who never after durst goe backe to Bacon.

      And now Sir this miraculous mercy of God, for we were no more con-
trivers of it then the Axe is in the Carpenters hand, [was such] that we
thought the whole country was owr owne but we afterward found we
were not Ripe for Gods ful mercy: However, elevated with this sucesse
we resolvd with al sppeed to make for James-Towne and sodainely raysing
two hundred men we shipt them in the shipp we had tkane and six or

    13 Capt. Thomas Larrimore.


seaven Sloopes more which we got together and as soone as we came to
the Westerne Shoar were met by one hundred men more. With thes we
sayled for James Towne where we found five hundred of Bacons men but
oru numbers being trebled is the opinion of the Ennimiue and I issuing
out a Proclamation pardoning al the Common solders that would lay
downe their Armes and al the officers but three Bacon Drumer [Drum-
mond] and and [sic] lawrance,14 thoughe they would not lay downe their
Armes Yet the same night we arrived at James-Towne, they al fled to
Bacon who then with six hundred men about fourty or fifty miles from us
lay expecting our motions little thinking that such a Garrison as he had
left in James Towne would have quitted the Towne without shooting one
Gun at us—and then he thought for want ot provisions we must be forced
to goe higher into the country to seeke them which he hopd with his men
to prevent. But the newes of James Towne being delivered and our smal
numbers when landed being certainely Knowne he swore a Thousand of
his usual execrable oaths he would put us al to the sword and with hti
resolution Joyning his forces with the others that fled from James Towne
beseeged us. And the first thing he did was to Issue out a Proclamation
that he would neither take nor give Quarter to which he bound al his
soldiers with a most Horrid Oath.

     But Sir twice Bacons forces had not beene able to hurt us if our officers

and soldiers had had Courage or loyalty but there was a want of both in
both for the common soldiers mutinied and the officers did not doe their
whole Duty to surpresse them but some of them as I afterwards found di
al they could to foment the mutiny.

     One night having rode from Gaurd to gaurd and from quarter to
quarter al day long to encourage the soldiers I went to bed about six or
seaven at night. I was no sooner layne Downe but there came three or
fower of the cheefe officers to me and told me I must presently rise and to
goe to the shipp for the solders were al mutinying and running away. I
told them I left them al ful of courage and as I thought fidelity. They re-
plied they seemed so to me but I was no sooner gone but they fel afresh to
mutiny and that two or three hundred men were landed at the backe of
us. This made me cal for my clothes and horse and with fourty men that

     14William Drummond was a key rebel. See my article, "The Humble Petition
of Sarah Drummond," William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd Ser., XIII (1956), 354-375.
Richard Lawrence was another important rebel. See the Burwell MS account of the
fear inspired by Berkeley's petition in Andrews, Narratives, pp. 65-66.

412                                 WILLIAM AND MARY QUARTERLY

I could confide in I went to the place where thes men were reported to
[be] landed but found not one man landed. When I obbrayded this to the
officers they told me twas confidently so reported to them and in the con-
dition I was then in was forced to take this for answere. The next day
came more officers to me and represented to me againe the necessity of my quitting the towne. I represented to them the reputation we should loose
and not only that but many hundreds that were now declaring for us
which we found afterwards to be true desiring them with al passionate
Earnestnesse to keepe the Towne but three dayes, that Bacons men sufferd
more than we did and were as like to mutiny as ours.

     When thes reasons would not revaile I told them I could neither
answere this to the King nor to any man that ever was a soldier unlesse
they gave under their hands the necessity of my dishonorble quitting the
place. This they swallowed too and presently drew up a declaration to
that purpose and signed it with there several hands which I have stil with me.

     I no sooner quitted the towne but Bacon entered it burned five houses
of mine15 and twenty of other Gentlemen and they say a very commodious
church he set fire too with his owne sacriligious handes. But within three
weekes after the Justice and Judgemen of God overtooke him. His usual
oath was which he swore at least a Thousand times a day was God damme
my Blkood and Go9d so infectd his blood that it bred Lice in an incredible
number so that for twenty dayes he never ashte his shirts but burned
them.16 To this God added the Bloodfy flux and an honest Minister wrote
this Epitaph on him

Bacon is Dead I am sorry at my hart
that Lice and flux should take the hangmans part.

      And now Right honorable that God has brought this most Atheistic
man to his deserved end I must Epitomise the rest and say that Bacon

     15 Berkeley had built houses in Jamestown in response to the King's frequent
commands to develop the place into a city. The Burwell author asserts that James-
town at this time had sixteen or eighteen houses and about a dozen families, for not
all the houses were occupied (Andrews, Narratives, p. 70).

     16 The commissioners, in the "True Narrative of the Rise, Progresse, and Cessa-
tion of the Late Rebellion in Virginia," reported that Bacon was "about four or five
and thirty yeares of age, indiffferent tall but slender, blackhair'd and of a ominous
pensive, malncholy Aspect, or a prestilent and prevalent Logical discourse tending
to atheisme in most companyes, not given to much talke, or to make suddaine re-
plyes, of a most imperious and dangerous hidding Pride of heart, despiring the


being deade the Rabble chose an other General which had been Bland
but he was out of their reach, continued the other officers who soone dis-
aggreed amongst themselves mistrusting one the other. In the meane time
my soldiers Kild fower of their most obstinate officers, two are dead in
Prison, and fourteen Executed. Their lieutenant General first and after
their General gave up al their men and Armes into my hands and are
pardoned. More then one hundred I had in prison before this surrender.
What my part has beene in this I would rather you should heare from any
Pen then mine. I wil only say this I have ever been faithful Diligent and
Loyal and have lost a Quarter as much as al the country besides. If the
King wil give any thing to support my old Age I wil Blesse God and him
for it. If not I wil never repine nor Dispute with my God nor my King.
But I thinke I could doe him better service then any commissioner of the
cvustomes he has and sooner let him know the worth of al his customes
especially those of Tobbacco of which If I be rightly enformed the King
does not receave halfe his due.17 Right Honorable I humbly beg your
pardon for thus long troubling you and doe most hunbly beseech you to
continue your favours to me though I shal never deserve them. Your most
humble obleeged Dutiful and Devoted servant

              Will Berkeley

From on Board Sir John Berries shipp Febrruary the 2d 1676.7,

     If his Majestie would write to the Assembly that in consideration of
the Gracious favours his Majestie has donne the Country they wil provide
that his Governors losses given in on Oath may be made good to him it
would put him in a condition of living happyly the remainder of his old
age and leaving something to his poore Vertuous and now distressed wife.18


wisest of his neighbours for their Ignorance, and very ambitious and arrogant"
Andrews, Narratives, p. 110).

     17 An attack on Bland, whom Berkeley suspected of defrauding the crown of
much customs revenue.

      18 The reluctance of the commissioners to conede Berkeley's right to make good
his heavy losses caused by the rebels' plundering was one of the reasons for the bad
blood that developed between him and teh commissioners. For his love for his wife,
lady Francis (Culpeper), see his will in William W. Hening, The Statutes at
Large; being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia,
II (New York, 1823), 558-560.


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