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Order for the deportation of Acadians, read by Colonel John Winslow in a Grand-Pré church.[1]

The Expulsion of the Acadians, also known as the Great Upheaval, the Great Expulsion, The Deportation, the Acadian Expulsion, and called by the deportees, Le Grand Dérangement (the Big Disturbance), was the forced population transfer of the French Acadian population from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick (an area known as Acadie to the French) to other British-controlled colonies between 1755 and 1763. It was ordered by British governor Charles Lawrence and the Nova Scotia Council and led to the deaths of thousands of Acadians. The policy was extremely controversial, both in Canada and England, where opponents of the British government strongly criticized it.



The Acadian removal occurred at the culmination of tensions between the French and the English that had existed in Acadia since the territory was ceded to the British by the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713. It was also related to increasing tensions in the 1750s between the two nations in Europe and North America. The British, nervous about the loyalties of French-speaking inhabitants of the newly created colony of Nova Scotia, demanded that the Acadians swear an oath of loyalty to the British. The Acadians offered to swear their neutrality. In 1730, the British agreed and the Acadians became the "neutral French."[2] In 1749, Governor Cornwallis again asked the Acadians to take the oath. Although unsuccessful, he took no drastic action. The following governor, Peregrine Hopson, continued the conciliatory policy for the Acadians.[3]

When Charles Lawrence took over the post following Hopson’s return to England, he took a stronger stance. When fighting between the French and the English broke out in the Ohio River valley in 1754, signalling the beginning of the French and Indian War (and Seven Years' War in Europe), Lawrence concluded he needed the Acadians to accept the oath on British terms. Following the discovery of 300 Acadians at the French Fort Beauséjour when the English captured it in 1755, Lawrence made one last attempt to convince the Acadians to accept the oath.[4] They again refused to accept Lawrence’s terms. The Lieutenant Governor decided to deport the Acadians to various locations throughout the thirteen British North American colonies, France, Louisiana, and Britain.

Their Mi'kmaq hosts, who never agreed to cede any of their land, were not so lucky as to be deported (except for some of mixed French descent, who were deported to Massachusetts as indentured servants). Instead, to dispossess them of their homeland, successive British governors issued proclamations offering bounties to colonial rangers for hunting, killing, and scalping Mi'kmaqs. Such proclamations were issued by Governors Paul Mascarene (and William Shirley of Massachusetts Bay) in 1744, by Edward Cornwallis in 1749, and by Charles Lawrence in 1756. By the time a lasting peace was concluded between the Mi'kmaq and British in 1761, the Mi'kmaq had been greatly reduced in numbers, and most of their territory had been seized by the wave of British immigration that began in 1749. Those Mi'kmaq who managed to elude the British provided crucial support to many refugee Acadians who were relatives. Soon after the British began to claim Acadians and Mi'kmaqs as their subjects in 1713, the colonial authorities passed laws forbidding the groups to speak or intermarry, but they were not successful in keeping the populations separated.[5]


After the fall of Fort Beausejour (1755), the first wave of the expulsion of the Acadians began. Acadians numbering in the thousands were deported from mainland Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The deportees were held on prison ships for several weeks before being moved to their destinations, leading to the deaths of hundreds. An estimated 2,700 deportees died before reaching their destination. An additional 10,000 are estimated to have died from displacement during the winter of 1755–1756.

The second wave the of the Deportation began in 1758. With the fall of Louisbourg, thousands of Acadians were deported from Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton. The single largest number of deaths during the Deportation happened with the sinking of the Duke William.

There were approximately 23,000 Acadians before the deportation according to provincial records, but based on British records, only an estimated 10,000 survived. Approximately 5,000 to 6,000 Acadians escaped to Quebec, hid among the Mi'kmaq, or were able to hide in the countryside and avoid deportation until the situation settled down.[6]

Acadians in the British Colonies

The British governor of Nova Scotia, Charles Lawrence, was the mastermind behind le Grand Dérangement. He was the one who decided that the Acadians should be sent away from the colony and dispersed amongst the thirteen others from Massachusetts to Georgia.[7] The Acadians had no knowledge of these intended destinations when they were deported that October of 1755. In a correspondence Lawrence wrote that the Acadians must “be kept in the dark as to their destination.” [8] The British feared a dispersal of Acadians that would strengthen the populations of other French possessions in the maritimes such as Louisbourg or Ile Saint-Jean. Despite claims that the Acadians would be considered officially French “prisoners of war” and “Subjects of the King of France,” promises that they were to be sent to France were mere fabrications.[9] Lawrence fostered plans which today would be considered ethnic cleansing. In a speech he gave to his council he planned to “divide [the Acadians] among the colonies…as they cannot easily collect themselves together again.”[10]

Due to legislation passed in the colonies, the Acadians, who had already suffered familial separation at the time of deportation, faced the forcible transfer of their children to “honorable families.”[11] Undoubtedly, these children gained better prospects of actually surviving once removed to these Protestant families, but their fate of cultural death was certain. These children and their families were the victims of a genocidal attempt at elimination of the Acadian ethnicity through coercive assimilation. Even today, many of their Acadian descendants bear Anglo-American adopted names, and remain in these colonies oblivious to their true heritage.[12]

It is perhaps impossible to say which colony treated the Acadians most miserably, but we can be certain those sent to Maryland endured the best treatment the colonies would offer.[13]. In Maryland fellow Catholics from Ireland greeted over 900 Acadian deportees.[14] The local newspaper requested the Acadians be shown “Christian charity.” Presumably this charity was intended as private aid since no governmentally sanctioned relief was offered.[15] The Acadians in Maryland tended to fare well in relation to their kin in the other colonies with a substantial portion of them residing in a Boston suburb known as Frenchtown.[16] Yet, even in Catholic Maryland private charity was inadequate and some groups went without shelter. Less than a year after le Grand Dérangement, legislation was passed in Maryland, which authorized the imprisonment of homeless Acadians and the “binding out” of their children to other families.[17]

It is unsurprising that no Acadians were deliberately sent off toward Massachusetts given the role that its governor, William Shirley, played in the ethnic cleansing of Acadia.[18] Nevertheless, at one point there numbered over a thousand exiles in the colony.[19] Some of these were from vessels bound for South Carolina which were forced into Boston due to storms and their sorry state of insufficient food, overcrowding, and polluted water.[20] Many of these Acadians, however, had wandered in on a fugitive trek in an attempt to find their native land or their separated families.[21] In response, the Massachusetts government issued severe penalties for vagabond Acadians, which included imprisonment, fining, and public whipping of both men and women. Here, as in the other colonies, children were stripped from their families. For Acadians who chose to remain in the districts of Massachusetts to which they had been distributed by the local government, housing and food would be provided at public expense, but they were expected to be able to support themselves within the year.[22]

To some colonies no warning was given of the hundreds of destitute Acadians which would suddenly appear.[23] Others received warning, but Connecticut was the only one to have made preparations for any sort of reception.[24] Like Maryland, the people of Connecticut made attempts at goodwill, and the legislature declared that “[the Acadians] be made welcome, helped and settled under the most advantageous conditions, or if they have to be sent away, measures be taken for their transfer.”[25] Connecticut followed Massachusetts’ lead in enacting legislation forbidding itinerant Acadians.[26] The Acadians suffered from forced servitude, loss of religious freedom, separation of families, and the inability to leave their designated locations under pain of heavy penalties. All of this has led at least one scholar to describe their state as “the worst type of slavery imaginable.”[27]

In colonies such as Pennsylvania the exiles were refused permission to land and were forced to remain on their vessels for months. Before they were finally allowed off their ships, many were already dead or dying from disease, and they faced the same harsh treatment as Acadians in the other colonies. Likewise, Virginia refused to accept the Acadians on grounds that no notice was given of their arrival.[28] They were never given permission to land. The Virginians considered them a nuisance and ultimately had them sent to England as prisoners of war.[29]

Some colonies allowed only the first ships to disembark, while forcing the other ships to continue southward.[30] As a result, a large number of Acadians descended upon the southern colonies of the Carolinas and Georgia. Lawrence intended some Acadians to be sent south, notably those of the Beaubassin region since they were “guilty of rebellion” due to their reluctant defense of Fort Beausejour.[31] Yet, it was only these “special prisoners” sent in shackles that were meant to be sent so far south.[32] Despite this, about a third of the exiles of 1755 found their way to South Carolina.[33] The governments of these colonies eventually allowed the Acadians to land. In Georgia the governor at first officially refused to allow their disembarkation, but he was ignored.[34] These Acadians were “subsidized” and put to work on plantations along with slaves.[35]

We learn from an Army Chaplain by the name of Father Robin that memories which he recalled of l’Acadie were “too dearly vivid, and [the Acadians] burst into tears.”[36] The Acadians who arrived in the most southern colonies, however, found the least difficulty in attempting to return to Acadia. In Georgia and the Carolinas they found governors with little desire to deal with them. Under the leadership of Jacques Maurice Vigneau of Baie Verte, the majority of the Acadians in Georgia received a passport from the governor.[37] Without such passports travel between borders was not allowed.[38] The governors of these southern colonies, so removed from the struggle with the French in Canada, most likely felt as though they were shouldering the burden of Lawrence’s problem. Thus, it is unsurprising they were so willing to issue passports. As soon as the Acadians from Georgia made it to the Carolinas bearing a passport, the governor there realized the solution to his own problem. He quickly followed suit in delivering passports to the Acadians in his own colony.[39] Along with these issuances the Acadians were given two vessels, which were hardly seaworthy.[40] This does not necessarily entail a gesture of goodwill on behalf of the colonies or intent to have the Acadians sent back to Acadia, but it represented a strong desire to have them gone. After running aground numerous times in the faulty ships followed by work, some Acadians did make it back to the Bay of Fundy.[41] Along the way many were captured, despite their legitimate passports, and were imprisoned.[42] Of those who made it to Acadia only 900 remained, less than half who had begun the voyage.[43]

These were not the only Acadians to find their way back home. We read in the South Carolina Gazette that in February about thirty Acadians fled the island to which they were confined and escaped their pursuers.[44] The “special prisoners” sent in chains to the Carolinas were unlikely to be granted permission to leave as the other Acadians would a few months later; and this refusal perhaps forced them to such desperate measure. Alexandre Broussard, brother of the famed resistance leader Joseph Broussard, dit Beausoleil, was among these Acadians.[45] About a dozen are recorded to have returned to Acadia after an incredible overland journey of 1,400 leagues.[46] Such Acadians returning to the homeland are exceptions and represent an exceedingly small number. The majority of Acadians would find such returns impossible to attempt.

Acadians in Europe

The Acadians who found themselves back in the Old World hardly fared better than their kin in North America. About 3,000 gathered in France’s port cities, many wound up in Nantes.[47] Of these, 2,000 had been sent directly from Nova Scotia by Charles Lawrence. The others were those unlucky Acadians sent to Britain by the Virginians as prisoners of war. Due to lack of preparation on the part of the British government these Acadians were required to wait three days on wharves with no shelter during the winter.[48] They were then distributed to districts in segregated quarters in cities along England’s coast.[49] These prisoners were eventually repatriated through the work of France’s minister to England, Louis Jules Mancini Mazarini, Duke of Nivernais, Grandee of Spain, Knight of the King, and Peer of France. When the Duke first encountered the Acadian prisoners he found them to be aloof and distrustful. Yet, realizing that “their loyalty [was] only equaled by their suffering for their country” he considered it his duty to rescue them.[50] Unfortunately, the Acadians in England had heard rumors that the exiles sent directly to France were ignored and allowed to starve at the docks. So, despite their staunch patriotism, the Acadians fell victim to propaganda and at first feared to return to France.[51]

Once in France, the Acadians soon began to discover their fear of being treated poorly by the motherland was being realized.[52] Many plans were proposed concerning the Acadian question, but most were simply schemes to get them out of France, in which they would be subjected to “high rents, sterile lands, and unhealthy climates.”[53] The Caribbean possessions were unfit colonies for the Acadians given the overwhelming presence of landed plantation owners. These colonies could spare no land for the poor Acadian yeomen.[54] After a failed attempt at colonizing the Falkland Islands, these Acadians were eventually given barren land in France to colonize.[55] This land, named by them La Grand’ Ligne, or the King’s Highway, gave no harvest for two years. The failure of their colony, Poitou, “threw the Acadians of France into a state of idleness, discouragement, and uncertainty.”[56]

Acadians in Louisiana

These, and many other Acadians, would find themselves welcome in Louisiana which was then owned by Spain.[57] Though no Acadians were sent directly to Louisiana by Lawrence, many made did make their way there.[58] The transfer of Louisiana to the Spanish government was done secretly in 1762.[59] As a result of this secrecy, many falsely believed they were relocating to a colony under the dominion of France.[60] Regardless, the Acadians were allowed to continue their lives with little change once there. Some names were changed to Spanish, and French priests were replaced with Spanish Capucins, but the good relations between the two nations, and their common Catholic religion resulted in many Acadians choosing to take oaths of allegiance to the new government.[61] Soon the Acadians comprised the largest ethnic group within Louisiana.[62] Over 200 years after the tragic expulsion from Nova Scotia, there live more than 400,000 descendants of the Acadians in Louisiana.[63] There are many Acadian descendants scattered throughout the globe, but it is that area of Louisiana now known as Acadiana where we find one of the largest collections of Acadians to have managed to maintain their national and cultural identity.[64]

After the expulsion

Joseph "Beausoleil" Broussard. Artist Herb Roe
Destinations for deported Acadians[65]
Area Population
Connecticut 667
New York 249
Maryland 810
Pennsylvania 383
North Carolina 280
Georgia 185
Massachusetts 1,043
St. John River (Maine & New Brunswick) 86
Île Saint-Jean (Prince Edward Island) 300
Baie des Chaleurs (Québec & New Brunswick) 700
Nova Scotia 1,249
Québec 2,000
Louisiana 300
England 866
France 3,500
TOTAL 12,618

Not all Acadians were deported by the British. A large number of Acadians fled overland, aided by their Mi'kmaq allies, and resettled in the colonies of New France, present-day Québec and New Brunswick. There was also a small guerrilla resistance led by Joseph Broussard, known as "Beausoleil". Others returned and settled in the region of Fort Sainte-Anne, now Fredericton, and were displaced again by the arrival of Loyalists during and after the American Revolution. In 1785 they created the first colony in the Upper Saint John River valley, near what is now Edmundston.

Many of the deportees succumbed to disease after their removal from Nova Scotia and southeastern New Brunswick. When the vessels carrying the Acadians to Philadelphia reached Delaware in November 1755, it was discovered that smallpox had broken out among them. Many subsequently perished, despite efforts of local Quakers to assist.[66] An outbreak of smallpox also claimed some of those who found refuge at Quebec, then still under French rule. Those who went to the West Indies, in particular, suffered from the change in climate and endemic infectious disease, and many died of fever.[67]. Three hundred and sixty died when the transport ship Duke William, which sank along with the Violet and Ruby in 1758 en route from Île St.-Jean to France.[68]

The British burned the homes and farms around the Bay of Fundy. Acadian lands initially remained devoid of white settlement owing to the dangers of frontier conflict during the Seven Years War, but beginning in 1760, most former Acadian farms were resettled by English-speaking Protestant colonists, largely New England planters and in other locations by Highland Scots emigrating as a result of the Highland Clearances. However beginning in the 1770s, many Acadians were encouraged to return through the policies of Nova Scotia Governor Michael Francklin who guaranteed Catholic worship, land grants and issued a promise that there would be no second expulsion.[69] However the most fertile Acadian lands had been settled by New England planters and returning Acadians had to settle in other parts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick creating islands of largely French-speaking communities, such as Chéticamp where some descendants intermingled with those of the Scots migration.

Over the next several decades, many other Acadians moved down the North American east coast, landing temporarily in New England, the Carolinas and other ports, with a large number eventually settling in Louisiana, then controlled by Spain. Spanish authorities welcomed the Catholic Acadians as settlers, first in areas along the Mississippi River, then later in the Atchafalaya Basin and in the prairie lands to the west, a region later renamed Acadiana. During the 19th century, as Acadians reestablished their culture, "Acadian" was elided locally into "Cajun."

In popular culture

American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published a long, narrative poem about the plight of the Acadians called Evangeline in 1847.[70] The Evangeline Oak is a tourist attraction in Louisiana.

The song "Acadian Driftwood", recorded in 1975 by The Band, portrays the Great Upheaval and the displacement of the Acadian people.

The author Antonine Maillet wrote a novel about the aftermath of the Great Upheaval, Pélagie-la-Charrette. The novel was awarded the Prix Goncourt in 1979.


Grand-Pré Park, situated in present-day Grand-Pré, Nova Scotia is now a National Historic Site of Canada. It has been preserved as a living monument to the Expulsion, complete with a memorial church and a statue of Evangeline, the subject and title of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's stirring poem on the experience.

In December 2003, Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, representing Canada's Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, declared the Crown's acknowledgement of (but did not apologise for) the Expulsion. She designated July 28 as "A Day of Commemoration of the Great Upheaval." This proclamation, often referred to as the Royal Proclamation of 2003, closed one of the longest open cases in the history of the British courts, initiated when the Acadian representatives first presented their grievances of forced dispossession of land, property and livestock in 1760.

There remain in Nova Scotia a number of villages that have retained their original Acadian names, such as Noel, Nova Scotia.

See also


  1. ^ The Acadian Exiles, Arthur G. Doughty.
  2. ^ R. Douglas Francis, Richard Jones, and Donald B. Smith, Origins: Canadian History to Confederation, 6th ed. (Toronto: Nelson Education, 2009), 117
  3. ^ John Brebber, New England’s Outpost: Acadia before the Conquest of Canada, (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1965), 190.
  4. ^ James Hannay, "The Fall of Beausejour", in The Acadian Deportation: Deliberate Perfidy or Cruel Necessity?, edited by Naomi Griffiths, (Toronto: Copp Clark Publishing, 1969), 96.
  5. ^ Daniel N. Paul We Were Not the Savages, (2000) chapters 4-7
  6. ^ Faragher, p. 423–424
  7. ^ Arsenault, Bona. History of the Acadians (Quebec, Canada: L’Action Sociale Ltée, 1966), p. 151
  8. ^ Faragher, John M. A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from Their American Homeland. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2005, p. 328.
  9. ^ Faragher 327-328
  10. ^ Faragher 328
  11. ^ Aresenault 153.
  12. ^ Arsenault 158
  13. ^ Rieder, Milton P. Jr. and Rieder, Norma G. Acadian Exiles in the American Colonies. Metairie, LA, 1977, p.2
  14. ^ Arsenault 155
  15. ^ Faragher 375
  16. ^ Arsenault 155
  17. ^ Faragher 375
  18. ^ Faragher 243
  19. ^ Doughty, Arthur G. The Acadian Exiles. Toronto, ON: Glasgow, Brook & Company, 1916.
  20. ^ Arsenault 151
  21. ^ Doughty 148
  22. ^ Faragher 374
  23. ^ Faragher 381
  24. ^ Rieder and Rieder 1
  25. ^ Arsenault 153
  26. ^ Faraggher 375
  27. ^ Arsenault 152
  28. ^ Arsenault 156
  29. ^ Rieder and Rieder 2
  30. ^ Doughty 139
  31. ^ Arsenault 157
  32. ^ Farragher 383
  33. ^ Doughty 140
  34. ^ Farragher 385
  35. ^ Arsenault 157
  36. ^ LeBlanc, Dudley J. The True Story of the Acadians (1932), p.51
  37. ^ Governor Reynolds’ passport states, “These are to Certify whom it may Concern that the Bearer Jacques Morrice [Vigneau] hath behaved himself very well during all the time of his Residence in His Majesty’s Colony of Georgia under my Government (which hath been near four Months). I have been well informed that he always shewed great regard for the English by Saving them frequently from being scalped in Nova Scotia, where he was worth a great deal of Money before he was reduced. And he hath my leave to depart from the Province of Georgia with his Family.” (Faragher 386)
  38. ^ Farragher 389
  39. ^ Farragher 386
  40. ^ Rieder 2
  41. ^ Arsenault 157
  42. ^ LeBlanc, Dudley J. The True Story of the Acadians (1932), p. 48
  43. ^ Arsenault 157
  44. ^ Doughty 140
  45. ^ Arsenault 160
  46. ^ Faragher 388
  47. ^ Winzerling, Oscar W. Acadian Odyssey. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1955, p. ix.
  48. ^ Winzerling 33
  49. ^ Winzerling 24
  50. ^ Winzerling 37
  51. ^ Winzerling 33
  52. ^ Winzerling 66
  53. ^ Winzerling 65
  54. ^ Winzerling 55
  55. ^ Described by General Papuchon, “The region was never specially fertile. It was always known under the name of Des Gâtines, that is, the badlands. Elsewhere it is called Grande Gâtine, or Gâtine Oriental, denoting the area of the plateau between La Puye and Saint Pierre-de-Maillé. The Acadian colony of Poitou was situated in la Petite Gâtine, which was once covered by an immense forest, known as Noah’s Forest in the bad lands. The whole area was wasteland.” (Winzerling 75)
  56. ^ Winzerling 75
  57. ^ Winzerling 91
  58. ^ Doughty 150
  59. ^ Winzerling 59
  60. ^ Griffin, Harry L. The Attakapas Country. A History of Lafayette Parish, Louisiana (New Orleans, LA: Pelican Publishing Company, 1959
  61. ^ Arsenault 203
  62. ^ Faragher 436
  63. ^ Bernard, Shane K. The Cajuns: Americanization of a People. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2003, p. xxiii.
  64. ^ Doughty 160
  65. ^ R.A. LEBLANC. "Les migrations acadiennes", in Cahiers de géographie du Québec, vol. 23, no 58, April 1979, p. 99-124.
  66. ^ The Acadian Exiles, Arthur G. Doughty
  67. ^ Ibid.
  68. ^ Ibid.
  69. ^ L.R. Fisher, "Francklin. Michael", Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online
  70. ^ Calhoun, Charles C. Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 2004: 189. ISBN 0807070262.


  • Faragher, John Mack (2005). A Great and Noble Scheme: The Tragic Story of the Expulsion of the French Acadians from their American Homeland, New York: W.W. Norton, 562 pages ISBN 0-393-05135-8 (online excerpt)
  • Jobb, Dean (2005). The Acadians: A people's story of exile and triumph, Mississauga (Ont.): John Wiley & Sons Canada, 296 p. ISBN 0-470-83610-5
  • Moody, Barry (1981). The Acadians, Toronto: Grolier. 96 pages ISBN 0717218104
  • Rosemary Neering, Stan Garrod (1976). Life in Acadia, Toronto: Fitzhenry and Whiteside. ISBN 0889021805
  • Belliveau, Pierre (1972). French neutrals in Massachusetts; the story of Acadians rounded up by soldiers from Massachusetts and their captivity in the Bay Province, 1755-1766, Boston : Kirk S. Giffen, 259 p.
  • Griffiths, N.E.S. (1969). The Acadian deportation: deliberate perfidy or cruel necessity?, Toronto: Copp Clark Pub. Co., 165 p.
  • Doughty, Arthur G. (1916). The Acadian Exiles. A Chronicle of the Land of Evangeline, Toronto: Glasgow, Brook & Co. 178 pages (online)
  • Government of Nova Scotia transcripts from Journal of John Winslow
  • [1] Text of Charles Lawrence's orders to Captain John Handfield
  • LeBlanc, Ronnie-Gilles, ed. (2005). Du Grand dérangement à la Déportation : nouvelles perspectives historiques, Moncton: Chaire d'études acadiennes, Université de Moncton, 465 p.
  • Arsenault, Bona and Pascal Alain (2004). Histoire des Acadiens, Saint-Laurent, Québec: Éditions Fides, 502 p.
  • Sauvageau, Robert (1987). Acadie : La guerre de Cent Ans des français d'Amérique aux Maritimes et en Louisiane 1670-1769 Paris: Berger-Levrault
  • Gaudet, Placide (1922). Le Grand Dérangement : sur qui retombe la responsabilité de l'expulsion des Acadiens, Ottawa: Impr. de l'Ottawa Printing Co.
  • d'Arles, Henri (1918). La déportation des Acadiens, Québec: Imprimerie de l'Action sociale

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