James Mitchell Varnum

James Mitchell Varnum (December 17, 1748 – January 9, 1789) was an American legislator, lawyer, general[1] in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, and a pioneer to the Ohio Country.[2][3][4][5][6] "The career of Gen. Varnum was active, but brief. He graduated at twenty; was admitted to the bar at twenty-two; entered the army at twenty-seven; resigned his commission at thirty-one; was member of Congress the same year; resumed practice at thirty-three, and continued four years, was elected to Congress again at thirty-seven; emigrated to the west at thirty-nine, and died at the early age of forty."[7]

James Mitchell Varnum was "a man of boundless zeal, of warm feelings, of great honesty, of singular disinterestedness; and, as to talents, of prodigal imagination, a dextrous reasoner, and a splendid orator. He was a man made on a gigantic scale; his very defects were masculine and powerful, 'and, we shall not soon look upon his like again.'"[8]

James Mitchell Varnum
James Mitchell Varnum
James Mitchell Varnum, painted posthumously in 1804 by Charles Willson Peale
BornDecember 17, 1748
Dracut, Massachusetts
DiedJanuary 9, 1789 (aged 40)
Marietta, Ohio
Place of burial
Oak Grove Cemetery, Marietta, Ohio
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch Continental Army
Years of service1774–1779
Other worktwice elected delegate to the Continental Congress (1780-82 and 1786-87), pioneer to the Ohio Country, justice of the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territory
Appletons' Varnum James Mitchel signature
Varnum marker in Oak Grove Cemetery in Marietta, Ohio
General James Mitchell Varnum, wife Martha Child inset.

Early life

James Mitchell Varnum was born in Dracut, Massachusetts. As a young man he matriculated at Harvard College only to transfer to the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, more commonly known as "Rhode Island College" (the college later named Brown University),[9] He graduated with honors in the college's first graduating class in September 1769. In Rhode Island he met his future wife, Martha "Patty" Child, whom he married on February 2, 1770.

He then studied law under Rhode Island Attorney General Oliver Arnold and was admitted to the bar in 1771. He settled in East Greenwich, Rhode Island and pursued the practice of law. He began construction of his home, a colonial mansion now known as the Varnum House, in 1773.

Leadership in the American Revolution

In October 1774, while tensions were rising between the American colonies and Great Britain, Varnum was elected as captain in command of the newly organized Kentish Guards, a chartered militia company in Varnum's home town of East Greenwich. Another member of the company was Private Nathanael Greene who would rise to become one of the most distinguished officers in the Continental Army and would soon be Varnum's immediate superior. No fewer than 30 other members of the Kentish Guards would also serve as officers in the Continental Army.

In May 1775, following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Varnum was commissioned as colonel in command of one of the three regiments from Rhode Island, under the command of Brigadier General Nathanael Greene, which served in the Army of Observation during the Siege of Boston. In early July 1775 General George Washington arrived in Cambridge to take command of the Army of Observation which then became the Continental Army.

In the early part of war regiments were identified by the name of their commanding officer. Varnum's Regiment was renamed as the 9th Continental Regiment on January 1, 1776.

Varnum's regiment served throughout the Siege of Boston which ended with the evacuation of the British army on March 17, 1776. In early April the regiment marched to New York where it participated in several battles, including the Long Island and White Plains, in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent the British from occupying the city.

In December 1776 Varnum returned to Rhode Island to recruit more soldiers for the Rhode Island units in the Continental Army who's enlistments were about to expire. On December 12 Varnum accepted a commission as a brigadier general in Rhode Island Militia and given command of the state's brigade which guarded the state's mainland from possible attack from the British forces which had recently occupied the important port city of Newport.

Varnum's stay in Rhode Island was brief because he was commissioned as a brigadier general in the Continental Army in February 1777. He then served as a brigade commander until he resigned in March 1779. During this period he served at the battles of Red Bank, New Jersey in 1777 and the Battle of Rhode Island in 1778. He was also at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777 to 1778.

Varnum advocated allowing freed African American slaves to enlist in the Continental Army, which resulted in the reorganization of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment as a racially integrated unit in 1778. Varnum was a disciple of Major General Charles Lee and a serious critic of the position of Inspector General held in 1778 by Baron Von Steuben.

Legal career and later life

In March 1779 Varnum resigned his Continental Army commission because of personal business matters. He was commissioned as the major general in command of the Rhode Island Militia in May 10, 1779 and held the position until he was relieved by Major General (and future U.S. Senator) Joseph Stanton, Jr. on May 7, 1788. He led Rhode Island troops in the service of the United States in July and August, 1780, under the Comte de Rochambeau who commanded the French army sent by King Louis XVI of France.[10]

In common with 33 of the 81 generals in the Continental Army, Varnum was a Freemason. He attended St. John's Lodge, No. 1 in Providence.[11]

In 1783, at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War, along with General George Washington, Nathanael Greene, Henry Knox, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and numerous others, General Varnum became an original member of the Society of the Cincinnati and served as president of the Rhode Island Society, following the death of Nathanael Greene, from 1786 until his death in 1789.[12][13]

He represented Rhode Island at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia from May 3, 1780 to May 1, 1782 and in the 8th Confederation Congress which convened in New York from November 6, 1786 to October 30, 1787. The 8th Confederation Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance on July 13, 1787 which opened settlement in the Northwest Territories (now the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota).

Varnum was also well known as a jurist. He successfully represented the defendant in Trevett v. Weeden, one of the earliest cases of judicial review.

On August 29, 1787 he was chosen as one of the directors of the Ohio Company of Associates. On October 14 of the same year, Varnum was appointed as one of two "supreme" judges for the Northwest Territory. He then moved to Marietta, Ohio, to take up his duties. He was one of the early pioneers to the Northwest Territory, arriving in Marietta on June 5, 1788.

Shortly after his arrival Varnum was chosen to be the orator of the day for the celebration of American independence on July 4.

Varnum then assisted Territorial Governor Arthur St. Clair, who took office on July 15, in creating a code of laws for the territory. This proved to be Varnum's only significant accomplishment in Ohio as he was overcome with consumption which was exacerbated by his long journey westward.


General Varnum died in January 1789, only seven months after his arrival in Marietta, of consumption. He was originally interred in the Mound Cemetery near the original settlement and later reburied the Oak Grove Cemetery in Marietta.

His college classmate the distinguished physician Solomon Drowne eulogized him during an oration at the one-year anniversary celebration of the founding of Marietta:

But of these worthies who have most exerted themselves in promoting this settlement, one, alas! is no more; one whose eloquence, like the music of Orpheus, attractive of the listening crowd, seemed designed to reconcile mankind to the closest bonds of society. Ah! what avail his manly virtues now! Slow through yon winding path his corse was borne, and on the steepy hill interred with funeral honors meet. What bosom refuses the tribute of a sigh, on the recollection of that melancholy scene, when, unusual spectacle, the fathers of the land, the chiefs of the aboriginal nations, in solemn train attended; while the mournful dirge was rendered doubly mournful mid the gloomy nodding grove. On that day even nature seemed to mourn. O Varnum ! Varnum! thy name shall not be forgotten, while gratitude and generosity continue to be the characteristics of those inhabiting the country, once thy care. Thy fair fame is deeply rooted in our fostering memories ...[14]


General Varnum was the son of Samuel Varnum (1715–1797) and his second wife Hannah Mitchell. He had three brothers and two sisters of which only two brothers, Joseph Bradley Varnum (1751–1821) and Samuel Varnum (1762–1822), lived to maturity.

Joseph Bradley Varnum served as a United States Representative from Massachusetts from 1795 to 1811 and then as a United States Senator from 1811 to 1817.


Varnum House Museum, East Greenwich Rhode Island
Varnum's house at 57 Peirce Street in East Greenwich, Rhode Island

General Varnum's home, the Gen. James Mitchell Varnum House in East Greenwich, Rhode Island is a historic house museum today. Varnum's brother was Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Joseph Bradley Varnum.

The Varnum Continentals, an historic military command in East Greenwich, were founded in 1907 and are named after General Varnum.

Dates of rank

  • Captain, Kentish Guards, Rhode Island Militia – November 1774
  • Colonel, Varnum's Regiment, Army of Observation – 3 May 1775
  • Colonel, Varnum's Regiment, Continental Army – 3 July 1775
  • Colonel, 9th Continental Regiment – 1 January 1776
  • Brigadier General, Rhode Island Militia – 12 December 1776
  • Brigadier General, Continental Army – 27 February 1777
  • Resigned from Continental Army – 5 March 1779
  • Major General, Rhode Island Militia – 10 May 1779 to 7 May 1788

See also


  1. ^ Heitman, Officers of the Continental Army, 559.
  2. ^ Wilkins, Memoirs of the Rhode Island Bar, 145-239.
  3. ^ Hildreth, Early Pioneer Settlers of Ohio, 165-85.
  4. ^ Conley, Rhode Island's Founders, 134-37.
  5. ^ Dodge, Directory of the United States Congress 1774-2005, 2089.
  6. ^ Leiter, Generals of the Continental Army, 102-03.
  7. ^ Hildreth, Early Pioneer Settlers of Ohio, 184-85.
  8. ^ Hildreth, Early Pioneer Settlers of Ohio, 185.
  9. ^ Charles Theodore Greve (1904). Centennial History of Cincinnati and Representative Citizens, Volume 1. Biographical Publishing Company. p. 104. Retrieved 2013-05-22.
  10. ^ "Rhode Island Society of the Sons of the American Revolution: History - Nathanael Greene, genealogy, reenacting". Rhodeislandsar.org. Retrieved 2013-11-02.
  11. ^ https://scottishrite.org/scottish-rite-myths-and-facts/george-washingtons-generals/
  12. ^ "General James Mitchell Varnum House Armory History". Varnum Continentals. Archived from the original on 2013-12-09. Retrieved 2013-11-02.
  13. ^ "James Mitchell Varnum". Nps.gov. 2001-10-17. Retrieved 2013-11-02.
  14. ^ Hildreth, Pioneer History, 520.


  • Conley, P. T.: Rhode Island's Founders: From Settlement to Statehood, The History Press, Charleston, South Carolina (2010).
  • Dodge, A. R.: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-2005, Sixteenth Edition, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (2005).
  • Heitman, Francis B.: Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution, Rare Book Shop Publishing Co., Washington, D.C. (1914).
  • Hildreth, S. P.: Biographical and Historical Memoirs of the Early Pioneer Settlers of Ohio, H. W. Derby and Co., Cincinnati, Ohio (1852).
  • Hildreth, S. P.: Pioneer History: Being an Account of the First Examinations of the Ohio Valley, and the Early Settlement of the Northwest Territory, H. W. Derby and Co., Cincinnati, Ohio (1848).
  • Leiter, M. T.: Biographical Sketches of the Generals of the Continental Army of the Revolution, University Press: John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1889).
  • Updike, W.: Memoirs of the Rhode Island Bar, Thomas H. Webb and Co., Boston, Massachusetts (1842).
  • Varnum, J. M.: A Sketch of the Life and Public Services of James Mitchell Varnum of Rhode Island, David Clapp and Son Printers, Boston, Massachusetts (1906).

External links

1789 in the United States

Events from the year 1789 in the United States. The Articles of Confederation, the agreement under which the nation's government had been operating since 1781, was superseded by the Constitution in March of this year.

1st Rhode Island Regiment

The 1st Rhode Island Regiment (also known as Varnum's Regiment, the 9th Continental Regiment, the Black Regiment, and Olney's Battalion) was a regiment in the Continental Army from Rhode Island during the American Revolutionary War (1775–83). It was one of the few units in the Continental Army to serve through the entire war.

The unit went through several incarnations and name changes, like most regiments of the Continental Army. It became well known as the "Black Regiment" because it had several companies of black soldiers. It is regarded as the first black military regiment, despite the fact that its ranks were not exclusively black.

Armory of the Kentish Guards

The Armory of the Kentish Guards is a historic armory at Armory and Peirce Streets in East Greenwich, Rhode Island and is currently home to the Kentish Guards, a historic state militia organization.

Camp Varnum

Camp Varnum is a Rhode Island Army National Guard training facility in the Boston Neck area of Narragansett, Rhode Island. During World War II it was Fort Varnum, a coastal defense fort.

East Greenwich Historic District

East Greenwich Historic District is a historic district encompassing the historic commercial and civic heart of East Greenwich, Rhode Island. The district bounded on the east by Greenwich Cove, an inlet on Narrangansett Bay, on the south by London and Spring Streets, on the west roughly by Park Street, and on the north by Division Street. The district extends westward on Division Street as far Dark Entry Brook, and the district properties on its north side now lie in the city of Warwick. East Greenwich was settled in 1677 with its town center growing in the district, with a rural farm landscape to the west. The area's road network had begun to take shape by the mid-18th century, and the town center was industrialized in the 19th century.The district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It includes several separately-listed properties: the Windmill Cottage at 144 Division Street, the Kent County Courthouse, the Gen. James Mitchell Varnum House, the Armory of the Kentish Guards, and the Col. Micah Whitmarsh House.

Gen. James Mitchell Varnum House

The General James Mitchell Varnum House is an historic house at 57 Peirce Street in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. The 2-1/2 story wood frame house was built in 1773 for James Mitchell Varnum, who later served as a general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. It is five bays wide, with two interior brick chimneys. Its main entry is sheltered by a portico supported by fluted Ionic columns and pilasters. A 19th-century addition extends from the rear of the main block. Notable later residents of the house include George A. Brayton, who served as Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. The house was purchased in 1939 by the Varnum Continentals, and has since served as a museum.The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

George A. Brayton

George A. Brayton (1803–April 21, 1880) was a Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court from 1843 to 1874, serving as Chief Justice from 1868 to 1874.

Born in Warwick, Rhode Island, Brayton graduated from Brown University in 1824, and studied law in the office of Albert C. Greene, afterwards Attorney-General of the State and United States Senator, and at the Litchfield Law School. In 1832, and again in 1843, Brayton served in the Rhode Island General Assembly. He was a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1842.In 1843 Brayton was elected an Associate Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and in 1868, after nearly twenty-five years of service, became Chief Justice. Brayton resigned in 1874, after the longest term of judicial service in the history of the State.Brayton lived for a time at the historic Gen. James Mitchell Varnum House in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.

George Turner (judge)

George Turner (c. 1750 – March 16, 1843) was an English-born soldier, land speculator, and jurist from South Carolina.

Little is known about Turner's personal life. In the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), he served in the 1st South Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army, rising to the rank of captain. He was taken prisoner by the British at the siege of Charleston on 12 May 1780. He was later exchanged, and brevetted a major at the end of the war.Turner moved to Philadelphia after the war. A member of the Society of the Cincinnati, he was secretary of their second general meeting, held in Philadelphia in May 1787. Turner was the likely author of a set of "strictures on the proposed Constitution" which were published anonymously in the Freeman's Journal on September 26, 1787. The article was the first criticism of the proposed Constitution to be distributed publicly in the United States.Turner became a member of the American Philosophical Society in January 1790. He wrote several works on various subjects.

As a prominent land speculator, Turner had a vested interest in seeing a stable government established in the newly acquired Northwest Territory. In 1789, he was appointed by the Washington administration as a judge of the Northwest Territory to replace the deceased James Mitchell Varnum. With Governor Arthur St. Clair and Judge John Cleves Symmes, in May 1795 Turner helped draft Maxwell's Code (named after its printer, William Maxwell), the first criminal and civil legal code for the Northwest Territory.In October 1794, Turner became the first territorial judge to hold court in what is now Illinois. His actions as judge were seen as high-handed by many of the residents of St. Clair County, who had previously been independent of the federal judiciary. In May 1796, residents sent a petition with 49 names to the U.S. House of Representatives, asking for Judge Turner's removal. The House considered but did not pursue impeachment proceedings against Turner. Had they proceeded it would have been the first impeachment of a U.S. federal judge. Turner resigned over the winter of 1797–1798 and was replaced as territorial judge by Return J. Meigs, Jr.Turner returned to Philadelphia in 1833, where he died ten years later. His obituary appeared in the 1844 edition of American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge, which compiled a list of notable 1843 deaths. It read:

March 17. — In Philadelphia, Penn., Hon. George Turner, aged 93. Mr Turner was a native of England, but joined the American army on the breaking out of the revolutionary war; he was a Captain in the service, and commanded in South Carolina, and distinguished himself in several severe engagements, especially in the affair generally known, from the fatal effects of the courage and perseverance on both sides, as the "Slaughter Pens." He was the personal friend of Washington.

Griffin Greene

Griffin Greene (1749–1804) served as a commissary, paymaster, and quartermaster to the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He was subsequently a pioneer to the Ohio Country, helping establish Marietta, Ohio as the first permanent American settlement of the new United States in the Northwest Territory.

John Nelson Arnold

John Nelson Arnold (June 4, 1834 – May 31, 1909) was an American portrait painter.

He was born on June 4, 1834 in Masonville, Windham County, Connecticut.His portraits of governors are located in the Rhode Island State House and other portraits are in the Brown University Portrait Collection. Arnold painted portraits of John Russell Bartlett, John Brown Francis, Reuben Guild, John Hay, John Pitman, Barnas Sears, James Mitchell Varnum, Sarah Helen Whitman, and Alva Woods, among others.He published Art and Artists in Rhode Island in 1905. Arnold was also a member of the Providence Art Club from its founding in 1880 to his death in 1909.He married his student, Clara L. Maxfield in 1908. At the time, he was 73 and she was 27. He died on May 31, 1909 and was buried in Providence, Rhode Island.

Marie Louis Amand Ansart, Marquis de Marisquelles

Marie Louis Amand Ansart de Marisquelles (1742 – 22 May 1804) was a French aristocrat, and military officer born in the town of Maresquelles in the Pas-du-Calais region of France. Ansart was a Colonel in the American Revolution.

National Register of Historic Places listings in East Greenwich, Rhode Island

List of Registered Historic Places in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, which has been transferred from and is an integral part of National Register of Historic Places listings in Kent County, Rhode Island

This National Park Service list is complete through NPS recent listings posted July 18, 2019.

National Register of Historic Places listings in Kent County, Rhode Island

This is a list of the National Register of Historic Places listings in Kent County, Rhode Island.

This is intended to be a complete list of the properties and districts on the National Register of Historic Places in Kent County, Rhode Island, United States. Latitude and longitude coordinates are provided for many National Register properties and districts; these locations may be seen together in a map.There are 80 properties and districts listed on the National Register in the county, including 1 National Historic Landmark.

This National Park Service list is complete through NPS recent listings posted July 18, 2019.

Ohio Company of Associates

The Ohio Company of Associates, also known as the Ohio Company, was a land company whose members are today credited with becoming the first non-Native American group to settle in the present-day state of Ohio. In 1788 they established Marietta, Ohio as the first permanent settlement of the new United States in the newly organized Northwest Territory.

Patriot (American Revolution)

Patriots (also known as Revolutionaries, Continentals, Rebels, or American Whigs) were those colonists of the Thirteen Colonies who rejected British rule during the American Revolution and declared the United States of America as an independent nation in July 1776. Their decision was based on the political philosophy of republicanism as expressed by spokesmen such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine. They were opposed by the Loyalists who supported continued British rule.

Patriots represented the spectrum of social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. They included lawyers such as John Adams, students such as Alexander Hamilton, planters such as Thomas Jefferson and George Mason, merchants such as Alexander McDougall and John Hancock, and farmers such as Daniel Shays and Joseph Plumb Martin. They also included slaves and freemen such as Crispus Attucks, the first casualty of the American Revolution; James Armistead Lafayette, who served as a double agent for the Continental Army; and Jack Sisson, leader of the first successful black operation mission in American history under the command of Colonel William Barton, resulting in the capture of British General Richard Prescott.

Rhode Island Line

The Rhode Island Line was a formation within the Continental Army. The term "Rhode Island Line" referred to the quota of numbered infantry regiments assigned to Rhode Island at various times by the Continental Congress. These, together with similar contingents from the other twelve states, formed the Continental Line. The concept was particularly important in relation to the promotion of commissioned officers. Officers of the Continental Army below the rank of brigadier general were ordinarily ineligible for promotion except in the line of their own state.

Not all Continental infantry regiments raised in a state were part of a state quota, however. On December 27, 1776, the Continental Congress gave Washington temporary control over certain military decisions that the Congress ordinarily regarded as its own prerogative. These "dictatorial powers" included the authority to raise sixteen additional Continental infantry regiments at large.

Early in 1777, Washington offered command of one of these additional regiments to Ezekiel Cornell of Rhode Island. Cornell declined in order to command a brigade of Rhode Island state troops.

Washington also offered command of an additional regiment to Henry Sherburne of Rhode Island, who accepted. In 1776, Sherburne has served with distinction at the Battle of The Cedars. Half of Sherburne's Regiment was drawn from Rhode Island and half from Connecticut.

Still other Continental infantry regiments and smaller units, also unrelated to a state quota, were raised as needed for special or temporary service.

Siege of Fort Mifflin

The Siege of Fort Mifflin or Siege of Mud Island Fort from September 26 to November 16, 1777 saw British land batteries commanded by Captain John Montresor and a British naval squadron under Vice Admiral Lord Richard Howe attempt to capture an American fort in the Delaware River commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Smith. The operation finally succeeded when the wounded Smith's successor, Major Simeon Thayer, evacuated the fort on the night of November 15 and the British occupied the place the following morning. Owing to a shift of the river, Fort Mifflin is currently located on the north bank of the Delaware adjacent to Philadelphia International Airport.

After General Sir William Howe's British-Hessian army occupied Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 26, 1777, it became necessary to supply his troops. Fort Mifflin on Mud Island in the middle of the Delaware and Fort Mercer at Red Bank, New Jersey, together with river obstructions and a small flotilla under Commodore John Hazelwood prevented the Royal Navy from shipping provisions into the city. With Philadelphia effectively blockaded by the Americans, the Howe brothers were forced to lay siege to Fort Mifflin in order to clear the river.

A Hessian attempt to storm Fort Mercer failed with heavy losses on October 22 in the Battle of Red Bank. Two British warships which had run aground near Mud Island were destroyed the next day.

General George Washington reinforced Fort Mifflin throughout the siege, but the garrison never numbered more than 500 men. After a few setbacks, the British finally assembled enough artillery and warships to bring Fort Mifflin under an intense bombardment beginning on November 10. No longer able to reply to the British bombardment, Thayer ordered the survivors to row across to New Jersey in the night and left the flag flying. Fort Mercer was abandoned soon afterward, opening the Delaware and permitting the British to hold Philadelphia until June 1778.

Society of the Cincinnati

The Society of the Cincinnati is a hereditary society with branches in the United States and France, founded in 1783, to preserve the ideals and fellowship of officers of the Continental Army who served in the Revolutionary War. Now in its third century, the Society promotes the public interest in the Revolution through its library and museum collections, publications, and other activities. It is the oldest hereditary society in the United States. The Society does not allow women to join, though there is a partnership society called Daughters of the Cincinnati which permits all female descendants of Continental officers.


Varnum may refer to the following people:

Betty Lou Varnum, children's television program personality

Charles Varnum, US Army officer

James Mitchell Varnum, Continental Army officer and US statesman

John Varnum, US Representative from Massachusetts

Joseph Bradley Varnum, US Representative from Massachusetts and Speaker of the House

Charles Albert Varnum, US Soldier and Custers Chief of Scouts at the time of Little BigHorn

John Edmond Varnum, Retired US Army, Great Grandson of Charles Albert VarnumVarnum may also refer to:

Varnum v. Brien, WL 874044 (Iowa 2009).



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