|Margaret Lea Houston|
|Born||Margaret Moffette Lea
April 11, 1819
|Died||December 3, 1867
|Cause of death||Yellow fever|
|Resting place||Houston-Lea Family Cemetery
|Alma mater||Judson Female Institute|
|Known for||First Lady of Republic of Texas (1841–1844)
First Lady of State of Texas (1859–1861)
|Children||Sam Jr. (1843–1894)
Nancy Elizabeth (1846–1920)
Mary William (1850–1931)
Antoinette Power (1852–1932)
Andrew Jackson (1854–1941)
William Rogers (1858–1920)
Temple Lea (1860–1905)
Margaret Lea Houston (April 11, 1819 – December 3, 1867) was the third wife of politician Sam Houston of Texas. They met in between his two non-consecutive terms as President of the Republic of Texas, and married during his service as a representative in the Congress of the Republic of Texas. When he was elected to a second term as the Republic's president, she became the First Lady of the Republic of Texas.
She came from a strong, close-knit family in Alabama, some of whom had preceded her in moving to Texas. For thirteen years she remained in Texas with their children while Houston was in Washington, D.C. serving in the United States Senate. He opposed withdrawing from the Union when he was elected governor in 1859, a little over a year before the Texas Order of Secession. When Margaret became First Lady of the state of Texas she was pregnant with their last child, and Houston worked in vain to defeat the secessionist movement. Her short tenure was fraught with fear for her family's safety, enduring a death threat against her husband and witnessing angry street mobs in Austin, as the state was torn apart by the secession debate.
Margaret was successful in getting Houston to give up both alcohol and profane language. Her mother Nancy Lea was a constant in their lives, alternately providing the family with financial assistance and temporary housing, or moving in with them to manage their household. Her presence and that of other family members were the spiritual bond that helped Margaret convince Houston to convert to the Baptist faith, after he had many years previously been baptized a Catholic in Nacogdoches.
Houston and Margaret had a total of eight children; she was a war-time mother whose oldest son joined the Confederate army and was taken prisoner at the Battle of Shiloh. Because she died of yellow fever, Margaret could not be buried with her husband in a public cemetery in Huntsville for fear of contamination. She was interred next to her mother on their property. Margaret's favorite slave, called "Aunt Eliza" by the children, stayed with the family after Abraham Lincoln emancipated the slaves. When she died inn 1898 the family honored her request to be buried next to Margaret.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Marriage to Sam Houston
- 3 The president's wife
- 4 Extended family life
- 5 Life in the Governor's mansion
- 6 Death of Sam Houston
- 7 Final years
- 8 Legacy
- 9 Citations
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Margaret Moffette Lea was born April 11, 1819 into a family of devout Baptists in Perry County, Alabama. Her father Temple Lea was a church deacon and the state treasurer of the Alabama Baptist Convention, and her mother Nancy Moffette Lea was the only female delegate at the convention's 1823 formation. Nancy managed their cotton plantation and purchased it with her share of an inheritance from the Moffette family. The family trees on both sides in the United States traced back to the American Revolutionary War. Margaret had four older siblings – Martin (b. 1799), Varilla (b. 1801), Henry Clinton (b. 1804) and Vernal (b. 1816) – and a younger sister Antoinette (b. 1822).
She was described as "accomplished, well-connected and deeply religious," a pianist who also played Spanish guitar, wrote poetry and loved romantic novels. Temple died in 1834 and bequeathed Eliza and three other of the plantation's slaves to Margaret. According to history passed down through the family, Eliza was kidnapped as a young child and put on the auction block in Mobile, when Temple and Margaret passed by the slave sale and bought Eliza at Margaret's insistence. The older Lea children had married prior to Temple's death, but Vernal, Margaret and Antoinette accompanied Nancy when she moved into Henry's home at Marion, Alabama. Her brother Henry was an attorney who was elected to the Alabama State Senate in 1836, and sat on the board of three educational institutions, including Judson Female Institute where Margaret continued her education. Reverend Peter Crawford baptized her in the Siloam Baptist Church of Marion when she was 19.
Marriage to Sam Houston
In early 1839 after completing his first term as President of the Republic of Texas,[Note 1] Houston arrived in Mobile representing the Sabine City Company, seeking investors to develop a community that is today known as Sabine Pass. Through Martin Lea, he made the acquaintance of Antoinette's husband William Bledsoe, a wealthy businessman who in turn suggested Nancy Lea as a possible investor. Houston and Margaret first met shortly thereafter at a garden party that Antoinette was hosting at Martin's home, and the mutual attraction was instantaneous. Nancy was favorably impressed with Houston's land sales pitch, but not so impressed with his interest in her daughter. Bledsoe subsequently made an exploratory trip to Texas, providing positive feedback that inspired Nancy to eventually pull up stakes and move to the Republic.
After several weeks of love letters between Margaret and Houston, he proposed marriage in July. Nancy and others in the family were concerned about Margaret's future with a hard-drinking womanizer with a proclivity for profanity, who was 26 years older and twice married. The Leas were not the only ones who were skeptical, as friends in Texas were aware of his recently having been spurned by a long-term girlfriend there. Political crony Barnard E. Bee, Sr. tried to discourage him from making a third attempt at marriage, believing him to be "totally disqualified for domestic happiness." In an effort to assuage the family's opposition to the union, Houston spent several weeks in the Lea home in Alabama. During his absence from Texas, his supporters at home elected him to serve as a representative from San Augustine County in the Republic of Texas House of Representatives.
On the day of the May 9, 1840 wedding, some family members still looked upon him with uncertainty and were opposed to the marriage. However, Margaret was headstrong and intended to marry the man she had fallen in love with. Reverend Peter Crawford officiated at the ceremony that took place in Henry's home. After the wedding ceremony, the newlyweds spent their honeymoon week at the Lafayette Hotel before sailing to Galveston, where Nancy and the Bledsoes had already established a residences. Along with slaves Joshua, Eliza, and two others who had accompanied them on the trip, Margaret shared her mother's house while Houston traveled on business.
The president's wife
During his first presidency, Houston had purchased property at Cedar Point in Chambers County, which he named Raven Moor.[Note 2] The existing 2-room log dogtrot house with its detached slaves' quarters overlooked Galveston Bay and became the newlyweds' first home, filled with furnishings from Margaret's home in Alabama, as well as newer pieces bought after the marriage. Margaret renamed it Ben Lomond, after a Scottish locale she had read about in a Walter Scott work, and delegated management of the household to her mother Nancy.
Twenty-six miles north of Ben Lomond, the Bledsoes operated a sugar cane plantation at Grand Cane in Liberty County. Financially supplemented by Nancy, the plantation became a family gathering place.
Houston retained a house he owned in Houston City, but Margaret had no taste for the hustle and bustle and stayed with her mother in the lesser populated Galveston. Nor did she particularly care for the public political life and preferred to spend private time with her husband in their own home. When the couple appeared at several events in Nacogdoches, his old friends took notice of his total avoidance of alcohol, and he continued to assure her that he was giving it up completely. He also began to clean up his language to please his new wife, and would eventually claim to have eliminated his profanity altogether. She disliked campaign traveling, and frequently stayed behind when he ran for a second term as President of the Republic of Texas. Yet, when she rose to the occasion, such as the post-election extended Redlands tour in San Augustine County and victory celebrations in Washington County and Houston City, Margaret became an impressive political asset. She rode in the 1841 presidential parade, but stayed home rather than travel to the inaugural in Austin.
Vernal and Mary Lea moved to Grand Cane in 1841, with Vernal later becoming its first postmaster. Shortly after Mary miscarried a child in 1842, the couple accepted guardianship of a 7-year-old Galveston orphan named Virginia Thorne whose personality immediately ran afoul of Nancy.
The events with Mexico leading up to the September 17, 1842 Battle of Salado Creek near San Antonio caused Houston to move the Republic's capital to Washington-on-the-Brazos, and to send Margaret back to Alabama for her own safety. Upon her later return, they temporarily lived with the John W. Lockhart family at Washington-on-the-Brazos until they were able to acquire a small home there. Nancy joined the couple shortly after learning of the death of Margaret's brother Martin and helped out by managing the household and providing financial assistance for food and household supplies. The couple's first child Sam Houston, Jr. was born in this house on May 25, 1843.
Extended family life
Raven Hill and Woodland
The Concord Baptist Church at Grand Cane was founded May 24, 1845, through the efforts of Margaret, Antoinette and Nancy. The next month, Margaret accompanied Houston to President Andrew Jackson's funeral in Tennessee, but did not attend the parties and dinners thrown in her husband's honor by his old friends and supporters. During the latter part of the year William Bledsoe died, followed a few months later by the death of Vernal's wife Mary. Prior to her death, she had elicited a promise from Margaret to assume the guardianship of Virginia Thorne. Toward the end of the year, Houston acquired the Raven Hill plantation east of Huntsville, in what is now San Jacinto County, and with Joshua in charge of the carpentry, built Margaret a new house.
When Texas relinquished its sovereignty to become the 28th state in the union, Houston was elected by the Texas state legislature to serve in the United States Senate, for a term beginning February 21, 1846.[Note 3] Margaret's pregnancy prevented her from accompanying him, so he took up temporary residence at a hotel in the nation's capital and periodically returned home. Reverend George W. Samson first met Houston at the E-Street Baptist Church in Washington D. C. and was told that his attendance was influenced by "one of the best Christians on earth," his wife Margaret. For the duration of his senatorial service, the pastor had many doctrinal discussions with him, as Houston often shared his wife's letters and discussed her devotion to the Christian faith.
Margaret's sister Antoinette eloped with wealthy Galveston businessman Charles Power in April. The second Houston child Nancy (Nannie) Elizabeth Houston was born at Raven Hill on September 6. In a letter to Houston that gave insight into Nancy's forceful presence in their lives, Margaret conceded, "She is high spirited and a little overbearing, I admit..." but advised her husband to just give in to the insignificant issues. Houston replied, "I love the old Lady as a Mother, and have resolved to defer to her age and her disposition. Her blood is much like my own." Off and on, Margaret's mother had taken charge of Virginia Thorne, whom Houston disliked and distrusted to the point where he feared for the health and safety of his children with her in the house.
A breast lump and complications necessitated surgery for Margaret in 1847. In an era before the development of anesthesia, her only alternative to bear the pain was to bite on a coin. During this period, Houston negotiated a labor-swap arrangement with Raven Hill's overseer Captain Frank Hatch. In lieu of a cash payment for his services, the bulk of Houston's slave labor force was engaged to work on Hatch's property at Bermuda Spring. The remaining slaves were retained as house labor for Margaret. Eventually, Houston became the owner of Bermuda Spring when he and Hatch swapped properties, and he set about to build the Woodland home for his wife. The first child to be born in the house was Margaret (Maggie) Lea Houston on April 13, 1848.
In 1849, the widowed Vernal married Catherine Davis, and the two moved into the Bledsoe cabin, but guardianship of Virginia Thorne remained with Margaret. Following an 1850 disagreement with each other, Thorne alleged Margaret had used threats and violence against her. Thorne and her husband overseer Thomas Gott, a key witness to the alleged incident, filed assault and battery charges against Margaret. When a grand jury investigation resulted in a deadlock, the matter was referred to the local Baptist church whose elders acquitted Margaret.
Margaret and her mother hosted many guests at Woodland, including, albeit with trepidation, members of various Indian tribes who came to visit and camp out on the land. Daughter Mary William (Mary Willie) Houston was born in this house on April 9, 1850. Their fourth child Antoinette (Nettie) Power Houston was born at Woodland on January 20, 1852.
Houston's profession of faith
Nancy moved to Independence in 1852, and much of the remaining Lea family began to form its nucleus there. Antoinette and Charles Power were also living in Independence after their Galveston sugar plantation was decimated by a hurricane. Brothers Vernal and Henry died in the waning months of 1852. Only days after the beginning of Houston's third term in the United States Senate, Varilla's husband Robertus Royston died on March 11, 1853, after which she also moved to Independence. That August, the Houstons bought a house near the original Baylor University campus in Independence. Their sixth child Andrew Jackson Houston was born on June 21, 1854 in the new home.
As required by Mexican federal law in 1833 for property ownership in Coahuila y Tejas, Houston had then been baptized into the Catholic faith in the Adolphus Sterne House in Nacogdoches. By 1854, Margaret had spent 14 years trying to convert her husband to the Baptist denomination. Early in the year, Houston told Rev. Samson he felt compelled to make a public profession of faith, perhaps on the floor of the United States Senate, but was torn in his decision by feeling obligated to make the profession among those who knew him best in Texas.
When he ultimately decided on going through the public rite at Independence, word quickly spread bringing spectators from neighboring communities to witness the event. Reverend Rufus Columbus Burleson, Baylor University president and Independence Baptist Church pastor, conducted the ritual on November 19, baptizing him in Little Rocky Creek, two miles southeast of Independence. Houston afterwards still felt unworthy of taking the Eucharist and becoming a member of Margaret's church. At her request, Reverend George Washington Baines of Brenham counseled with him to eliminate his self-doubts.
The baptismal site is marked by the Texas Historical Commission as located on Farm to Market Road 150 at Sam Houston Road. In gratitude and celebration, Nancy sold her silverware to purchase a bell for the Rocky Creek Baptist Church. The bell is currently located at the intersection of Farm to Market Road 50 and Farm to Market Road 390.
Life in the Governor's mansion
When the state legislature decided not to re-elect Houston to the United States Senate, he made an unsuccessful 1857 run for the office of Governor of the state of Texas, losing to Hardin Richard Runnels. After a near-miscarriage 7 weeks earlier, William Rogers Houston was born at the Woodland home on May 25, 1858; debts incurred during the losing gubernatorial campaign forced Houston to eventually sell the house in order to satisfy his creditors. He subsequently defeated incumbent Runnels with a second bid for the office during a period when the populace was bitterly divided over the issue of secession from the United States, and was sworn in December 31, 1859.
Construction on the Texas Governor's Mansion in Austin had been completed in 1856 and first occupied by Governor Elisha M. Pease whose wife played hostess to anyone who stopped by for a visit. The Houston family with a retinue of slaves moved into the mansion during a political climate that grew increasingly hostile over the secession debate. The family furniture had been moved from Independence by Joshua, since the state government had made no provisions for security staffing or for furnishing and maintaining the governor's residence. A request for furniture had been made during the Runnels administration, but had stalled out in the legislature. The financial burden for life in the mansion fell on the shoulders of the incumbent, and the state partially defaulted on Houston's salary. Margaret feared for the family's safety, as her husband worked towards defeating passage of the ordinance of secession. There had been a botched assassination attempt on Houston, and she daily witnessed throngs of malcontents gathering in the city. Margaret closed the mansion doors to all but those with an invitation from the Houstons.
As she had done everywhere else they lived, she cared nothing about public life, and instead worked with Eliza and the other household slaves to create a home that welcomed extended family members and personal friends of the Houstons. The family and household slaves resided on the second floor of the mansion, while other slaves lived in the stable. Houston would occasionally hire out some of his slaves to others. The first child ever born in the Texas governor's mansion was also the last of the Houston children; Temple Lea Houston was delivered on August 12, 1860 by Dr. Beriah Graham. This last birth left the 41-year-old Margaret debilitated for almost two weeks, with a watchful Houston constantly by her side. After recovery, she left the mansion only to attend church activities.
The state Secession Convention passed the Texas Ordinance of Secession on February 1, 1861, effectively becoming part of the Confederate States of America on March 1. Houston, like all other office holders in the state, was expected to take an oath of loyalty to the Confederacy. He refused and was removed from office on March 16, succeeded by Lt. Governor Edward Clark.
Death of Sam Houston
Their home in Independence had been leased out to the Baptists, so Sam and Margaret were not able to take up residence there. Houston was in poor health, as well as spiritually and financially broken, but had managed to retain his land at Cedar Point. After a brief sojourn at Nancy's house in Independence, and over her objections, the family returned to Ben Lomond. Margaret remained constantly at her husband's side, and Sam Jr. spent the summer with his parents as Houston bemoaned the inevitable battles on the Texas coastline.
Sam Jr.'s enlistment in the Confederate States Army 2nd Texas Infantry Regiment, Company C Bayland Guards sent Margaret into melancholia, with the same worried dread of every mother whose son sets off to war. Houston tried to help out by assuming care of their other children in between his extended visits to Galveston. Margaret's fears seemed well-founded when her son was critically wounded and left for dead at the Battle of Shiloh. A second bullet was stopped by his Bible, inscribed "Sam Houston from his Mother, March 6, 1862." He was found languishing in a field by a Union Army clergyman who picked up the Bible and also found a letter from Margaret in his pocket. Taken prisoner and sent to Camp Douglas in Illinois, he was later released in a prisoner exchange and received a medical discharge in October.
Lacking the financial means to buy back their Woodland home, they rented the Steamboat House in Huntsville.[Note 4] Houston was in his final days and feeble. Until daughter Maggie took over as his personal assistant, Margaret shouldered the duties. On July 26, 1863, she was at his bedside reading the 23rd Psalm to him when he died.
After Houston died, Margaret returned to live near her mother in Independence, swapping land for a nearby property known as the Root house, renamed the Mrs. Sam Houston house. The Texas legislature eventually gave Margaret an amount equivalent to her husband's unpaid gubernatorial salary; nevertheless, in order to afford Sam Jr.'s enrollment at medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, she rented out the Ben Lomond plantation.
Nancy Lea had been preparing for her eventual death for more than a decade, building a burial tomb on her property, and keeping a metal coffin stored under her bed. She died of undiagnosed flu-like ailments on February 7, 1864, and was entombed as she wished. Margaret died on December 3, 1867, having contracted yellow fever during an epidemic. Walter Reed would not make his discovery of the cause of yellow fever through mosquito bite until 1900; contamination through contact was the pervading fear in 1867, and prevented Margaret's remains from being interred in a public cemetery with Houston's. She was buried in the ground at 11 p.m. beside Nancy's tomb by her servant Bingley, family friend Major Eber Cave, and her two daughters Nettie and Mary Willie. No funeral service was performed.
Two years after Houston's death, Baylor University president William Carey Crane was commissioned by Margaret to write her husband's biography, allowing complete access to all correspondence and records. Crane was a Lea family friend from Alabama who had little more than a passing acquaintance with "the hero of San Jacinto". His perception of Margaret, however, was that of an extraordinary woman, in many aspects equal to the man she married. Houston's "guardian angel", as Crane called her, had set out from the time she met Houston to refine his rough edges and provide a solid foundation for his personal life. That assessment of Margaret's relationship with her husband was echoed over a century later by author James L. Haley, "...Houston trusted the care of his soul to Margaret, that he had no more war to fight within himself, left him with more energy to wage political battle." Ultimately, several of Houston's associates were cooperative with the Crane endeavor, but not everyone was inspired to join the effort. According to daughter Maggie, the author had told her that many valuable documents were destroyed by Margaret in a fit of anger when someone she considered a friend expressed disinterest. Life and select literary remains of Sam Houston of Texas was rejected by the initial publisher, but was eventually published by J.B. Lippincott in 1884.
After emancipation and Margaret's death, "Aunt Eliza", as the children called her, alternated her time between Nannie's and Maggie's households. When Eliza died March 9, 1898, she was buried next to Margaret at her request. Nancy's tomb fell to decay over the years, after which she was re-interred in the ground with Margaret and Eliza. There has been much discussion about moving Margaret's remains next to Houston's in Huntsville, but the family and various authorities have never come to an agreement over it. Not until May 15, 1965 was an historical marker erected in Independence to denote her contributions to Texas history.
Ben Lomond and the Raven Hill homes were destroyed, as was Nancy Lea's home. The only standing homes of Margaret and Sam Houston are the following:
- Steamboat House was moved in 1936 to the grounds of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum at Sam Houston State University, and designated a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark in 1964.
- The Mrs. Sam Houston house in Independence was listed on the National Register of Historic Places listings in Washington County on October 22, 1970.
- The Woodland home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places listings in Walker County on May 30, 1974 as the Sam Houston House, and is part of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum.
"First Lady and the matriarch of one of the most significant families in Texas history." – Texas Historical Commission
- Sam Houston, Jr. (1843–1894) became a physician and author. He was widowed early into his marriage to Lucy Anderson and spent his final years living with his sister Maggie.
- Nancy (Nannie) Elizabeth Houston (1846–1920) married Joseph Clay Stiles Morrow in 1866. When her mother died, Nannie assumed guardianship of her younger siblings. Jean Houston Baldwin (1916–2002), wife of Texas Governor Price Daniel was her great granddaughter. Jean's son Price Daniel, Jr. (1941–1981) was Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives.
- Margaret (Maggie) Lea Houston (1848–1906) married Captain Weston Lafayette Williams on October 17, 1866. The couple purchased the Mrs. Sam Houston home where they helped Nannie provide a home for their younger siblings, and also raised their own 5 children there.
- Mary William (Mary Willie) Houston (1850–1931) married J. S. Morrow in 1871, and later became postmistress of Abilene, Texas.
- Antoinette (Nettie) Power Houston (1852–1932) was a published poet who married Texas A&M University president William Lorraine Bringhurst. She was state historian for the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
- Andrew Jackson Houston (1854–1941) was a United States Senator. He was married to Carrie Glenn Purnell, and was a proponent of prohibition and suffrage for women.
- William Rogers Houston (1858–1920) never married, and became a career employee of the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Oklahoma. He died of a heart attack en route to a reservation.
- Temple Lea Houston (1860–1905) Attorney, Texas State Senator, District 19, and Senate President Pro Tem. He became the most famous of the Houston children and was considered a brilliant legal counsel whose "Soiled Dove Plea" won the acquittal of a woman accused of prostitution. Married to Laura Cross, he lived his final years in Oklahoma. The Temple Houston television series was based on his legal career.
|Houston family tree|
SOURCE: Genealogy of the Houston and Lea families, and descendants of Sam and Margaret Houston is documented here:
- The Constitution of the Republic of Texas stated that no president could succeed himself, but did not prohibit any non-consecutive multiple terms. Houston's first term ended December 10, 1838."Constitution of the Republic of Texas (1836):ARTICLE III.". Tarlton Law Library. The University of Texas School of Law. Retrieved March 17, 2016.
- In his youth spent among the Cherokee, Houston was called "the Raven". An 1840 legal dispute with Andrew Janeway Yates over legal ownership of the Cedar Point property was not resolved until the Texas Supreme Court handed down its 1848 decision giving clear title to Houston. Haley (2004), p. 211; Flanagan (1973), p. 49; Williams, Amelia W. "Andrew Janeway Yates". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved March 24, 2016.
- Article 1, Section III of the United States Constitution states "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof, for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote." Election by popular vote of individuals in a given state did not come about until the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on April 8, 1913."Constitution of the United States". United States Senate. United States government.
- One of the myths associated with Houston is that in 1862, with varying dates of exactly when in 1862, he gathered his family and slaves together in the Steamboat House and read the Emancipation Proclamation from a newspaper and immediately freed his slaves. When Houston died, 12 slaves were listed on the inventory of his estate. Lincoln did not issue the proclamation until January 1, 1863. Slaves in Texas were not emancipated until June 19, 1865 by the issuance in Galveston of General Order No. 3 from Union General Gordon Granger, almost two years after Houston's death. Up until the end of the war, the Texas constitution in effect under the Confederacy, Section III, Article 2, prohibited emancipation. Roberts (1993), p. 319; Campbell, Randolph B. (July 1984). "The End of Slavery in Texas: A Research Note". The Southwestern Historical Quarterly (The Portal to Texas History) 88: 71–80.; "Juneteenth". Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Retrieved March 18, 2016.;"Article VIII, Section 2". Texas Constitution amended 1861. Tarlton Law Library. Retrieved March 18, 2016.; Porterfield, Bill (July 1973). "Sam Houston, Warts and All". Texas Monthly 1 (6): 67.
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- Baum (1998), "Late Antebellum Texas: The Political Resurrection of Sam Houston", pp. 7–41; Maher, Jr., Edward R. (1951–1952). "Sam Houston and Secession". The Southwestern Historical Quarterly (The Portal to Texas History) 55: 448–458.
- Smyrl, Vivian Elizabeth. "Governor's Mansion". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved March 3, 2012.
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