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This webpage reproduces an article in
The Wisconsin Magazine of History
Vol. 30 No. 2 (Dec. 1946), 174‑183

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though, please let me know!

p174 The First Dutch Settlers in Milwaukee

By Henry S. Lucas*

It is now a hundred years since the Dutch colony of Milwaukee came into existence. Although never large like the German group for which the city became famous, the Dutch population played an important part in the larger history of Dutch immigration to the central western states of our republic.

Following its admission to the Union in 1848, the State of Wisconsin stood at the threshold of a remarkable period of history. Its fertile lands offered alluring prospects for homes to the impoverished peoples of Europe. Small wonder that the city of Milwaukee, marked by its central geographical position on the west coast of Lake Michigan, seemed to invite the land-hungry immigrant. Strange, indeed, it would have been if no Hollanders had established themselves in this center of opportunity behind which to north, south, and west lay endless miles of fertile country, prairie as well as woodland, inviting industrious farmers and enterprising men of business.

Just when the first Dutch settlers made their home in Milwaukee is uncertain. But the "Reminiscences of Arend Jan Brusse" help to lessen the uncertainty.1 Although written in 1909, Mr. Brusse vividly recalled the circumstances of his coming to this country, and every discoverable bit of information dealing with Dutch immigration during the late 1840's and especially with Dutch settlement in Wisconsin warrants the faith we repose in his presentation of these instructive data. Mr. Brusse's family left p175Arnhem, The Netherlands, on June 4, 1846. The still unpublished notes made by the Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte who in 1847 was to found the Dutch colony at Holland in Ottawa County, Michigan, vividly portray the departure of this group of families from Aalten, Varseveld, Velp and Dinxperloo — all in the province of Gelderland. Before leaving Arnhem, they met in their church (a Christian Reformed Church of The Netherlands) for prayer, after which a part of the congregation accompanied them to the pier to bid them a final farewell.2 A slight discrepancy enters the account at this point, for Van Raalte's notes state that the group sailed to Boston in the "Barrington," whereas Brusse tells us they took passage in the sailing vessel "De Hollander". It is possible that the conflict is only apparent, for sailing arrangements may have been changed at Rotterdam. The writer in all probability was not mistaken in the name of the ship in which he, his family, and friends sailed across the ocean.

According to Van Raalte's notes the purpose of this group of "representatives" was "to investigate the opportunities for the purchase of lands in the interior of America." They carried with them a letter signed by the Rev. Albertus C. Van Raalte and the Rev. Antony Brummelkamp, dated Arnhem, June, 1846, an appeal To the Faithful in the United States of North America.3 After landing at the port of Boston, the little company proceeded to Albany where they stayed in a hotel owned by some German with whom they no doubt felt some kinship in this strange land. It has always been unknown just how the appeal To the Faithful in the United States of North America came into the hands of the Rev. Isaac N. Wyckoff of the Reformed Church, Albany, New York.4 p176That genial gentleman spoke the Dutch language very well, heard the Netherlandish accents of the group, took a lively interest in them, and brought some of them to his home.

This proved to be the beginning of that long and intimate connection between the Reformed Church in America and the steady stream of Dutch immigrants which for two generations kept coming into the Middle West and so established the Reformed Church and the Christian Reformed Church in Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, and other states as far west as Washington and California. The letter To the Faithful was at once translated into English by a Mrs. S. who understood the Dutch language very well. She was a member of Dr. Wyckoff's Second Reformed Church in Albany and had "a short time since" emigrated from The Netherlands. The translation was published in the October 15, 1846, issue of the official organ of the Reformed Church,5 and at once received attention from its readers, for a knowledge of the Dutch language was by no means extinct in the Hudson River Valley,a and sympathy for Holland and the plight of Dutch immigrants was spontaneous.6

From the beginning these Hollanders, according to Brusse, had Milwaukee in mind as their destination. A number of Gelderlanders had migrated to America as early as 1842 and 1844. One of them, a schoolteacher at Neede, named A. Hartgerink, called on Brummelkamp in 1845, when on his way to America. He had been sent to investigate the advisability of emigration to America on behalf of a group of poor people who were discriminated against on account of their religious convictions. Indeed, several Gelderlanders from the vicinity of Neede had gone to America a few years before, and so favorable had been their reports that a strong desire to follow them arose in the minds of many.7 Thus Wisconsin, p177and in particular Milwaukee, attracted their first attention.

Arrived in Milwaukee, Brusse informs us that the only Hollander they met in that city was a saloon keeper by the name of Wessink, to judge from his name evidently a Gelderlander. That other Netherlanders, however, had been in Milwaukee before Brusse's arrival and were living there at that time is most probable. Among them were Jakobus Tak, Jan Pleite, Jakobus Ameele, Andries Du Mez, Hendrik Bruggink, and the Siefeld family all of whom had come in 1845. Du Mez and Bruggink were Gelderlanders,b the rest were Zeelanders, according to the Rev. John H. Karsten, who served as minister of the Reformed Church in Oostburg, Wisconsin, from 1893 to 1899.8 John A. Meenk, another Gelderlander, appears to have come to the country also in 1845 and settled in Alto Township of Fond du Lac County. The village of Alto, it is instructive to note, was settled almost entirely by Gelderlanders. Roelof Sleyster, who came on "De Hollander" with the Brusse family, also settled in Alto.9 Such are some of the circumstances which led to the founding of the Dutch colony at Alto and Waupun.

But there were other Hollanders in Milwaukee. Just how many we are not in a position to know; there may have been several, but it is certain that Brusse became acquainted with one, a Zeelander named Lukwilder. The immigration of the Zeelanders at this time, that is before the settlement of the Zeelanders in 1847 at Zeeland, Michigan, was wholly unrelated to the immigration of the Gelderlanders under the direction of Van Raalte and Brummelkamp. The earliest center of the settlement of the former was Wayne County, New York. In 1832 Hubertus Luitweiler, with p178wife, five sons, and two daughters left Vlissingen (Flushing) and established themselves in Rochester. We may assume that this thriving metropolis of western New York attracted these immigrants, but the special and particular reasons that guided them elude our researches. Four years later John Cappon, also from Vlissingen, settled at Pultneyville in Wayne County, some twenty or thirty miles east of Rochester. With them came Jacob Puynbroek. So enthusiastic were their reports about the new country in which they had settled that a considerable number from Kadzand and neighboring parts in the province of Zeeland were moved to migrate to New York. They settled at Lyons, east of Williamson, Pultneyville, and Rochester.10 Among them apparently was the De Kruif family who came in 1840, and the Daane family who left Westkapelle in 1842.11 In the following year three brothers of the Eernisse family left Kadzand and settled in Rochester. The next year their brother John with his parents followed them. After an adventurous voyage on which they escaped a Portuguese pirate they too arrived in Rochester.12

This advance guard of a new immigration from The Netherlands was to play an important part in the movement of Hollanders westwards to find homes in the newly opened regions beyond the Great Lakes. Small wonder that they, too, like many Americans, came west, and most naturally to Milwaukee which at that time was a strong competitor of Chicago. So when Brusse arrived in Milwaukee with his parents, brothers, and sisters he met "a Zeelander, a printer, by the name of Lukwilder, who had been its country for many years." Who was this Lukwilder? We have no doubt that this name is an Americanized form of the Dutch Luitweiler and that this person belonged to the Luitweiler family from Vlissingen that had settled in Rochester as far back as 1832. From p179these facts it seems only natural to conclude that Zeelanders from western New York who had already become more or less Americanized should come to Milwaukee and help other Zeelanders coming directly from The Netherlands, many of whom tarried for some time in Pultneyville, Rochester, and other places. But the flow of Zeelanders to Wisconsin received a decided impetus during 1847 when, as Brusse states, the Rev. Pieter Zonne arrived with a number of Zeelanders directly from The Netherlands. By this time a few Zeelanders had already settled in Sheboygan and thither Zonne and his followers went in 1847 and founded the flourishing communities of Oostburg and Cedar Grove.13

How the earliest Hollanders came to settle in Sheboygan County in what soon was to become known as Holland Township seems to be impossible to determine. Peter Daane, writing in 1892, from memory of his long residence in Sheboygan County, declares that the first Dutch settler was John Zeeveld and that he arrived in 1845, settling on the northwest quarter of section thirty-six. Who was this John Zeeveld? In 1892 his name was also spelled "Zeefeld." A few years later the Rev. John Karsten spelled it "Siefeld." Undoubtedly he belonged to the "Siefeld" family that came from the Netherlands in 1845 and at once moved to Sheboygan County. The original spelling in all probability was Zeeveld, but later was changed to Seefeld and finally to Siefeld, changes due probably to German linguistic influences which were potent in Wisconsin. Daane further states that Gerrit Hendrik Kolste, Aplonia Van den Driest accompanied by her sons Daniel and Willem, Jan Caljou, and Hendrik Vrijheid came in 1846.14

p180 Another group of Zeelanders, reinforced by a number of families from other provinces of The Netherlands settled at a place about eight miles north of Milwaukee known as "Town Eight" or, among Hollanders as "Ton Acht."15 A Hollander whose name is unknown to us was living at that place in 1847, and most likely as early as 1846. Another Hollander whose name likewise is unknown to us who had come from the "old country" in 1841 or 1842 settled in Town Eight in 1847. A series of circumstances prevented him from joining the Hollanders under the leadership of Van Raalte at Holland, Michigan. Concluding that these hindrances were put in his path by the Almighty, he decided to stay in Wisconsin and bought a small parcel of land at Town Eight. At the opening of 1855 twenty families were reported to be living in this settlement. A church organization was effected under the leadership of Dominie Huibert Jakobus Buddingh (or Budding), a minister who had been active among the Seceders from the Reformed Church on the island of Walcheren. This restless person of curious idiosyncrasies but of great piety spent a brief time with the settlers at Town Eight and moved on, later buying a farm at Baltimore, Maryland, which he speedily abandoned, and returned to The Netherlands.16 The congregation continued its activities for a few years, apparently under the leadership of a layman named G. Brant.17 But this settlement, in spite of its advantageous economic position, failed to grow and became extinct.

During this time also a group of Zeelanders lived at Franklin Prairie about fourteen miles southwest of Milwaukee.18 A few families of Zeelanders, led by Jan Kotvis and P. Lankester, probably attracted by the open prairie of extremely fertile land, settled p181here in 1847. As in Town Eight these people from the first held religious services. But the little colony failed to grow in spite of every economic advantage. It dwindled, its young people moving to other places, and the shrunken settlement of Hollanders, scattered among a larger non-Dutch speaking population, could not avoid losing its identity.19

Thus Wisconsin became, initially at least, the center of a steady flow of Dutch immigrants from the provinces of Zeeland and Gelderland from about 1845. Many an immigrant no doubt could have left us an account of his journey as graphic as the one written by John Remeeus who in 1854 journeyed from Middelburg to Milwaukee.20

Meanwhile the settlement of Hollanders in Milwaukee grew steadily in numbers, well being and prestige, but of course never rivaled the numerically superior Germans. Brusse states the Dutch immigrants were poor, content to serve as "hewers of wood and drawers of water." By the autumn of 1846 most of them were living on the "Hollandsche Berg," or "Dutch Hill." This was the rising ground northwest of the flats along the Milwaukee River, beyond Chestnut Street. On this vacant ground, the owner of which they did not know, the Brusse family erected a house of rough boards. According to Gijsbert Van Steenwijk, then a resident of Milwaukee, the Dutch population of Milwaukee numbered from 700 to 800 out of a total of about 6,000 inhabitants.21 The grocery store of a Gelderlander named D. J. Doornink stood at Sixth Street on the "Hollandsche Berg."22

From the beginning the Dutch settlers in Milwaukee had their own religious services, just as in Town Eight and Franklin Prairie. p182This is exactly what we would expect, for the immigrants came from a group in The Netherlands among whom the old Reformed doctrine flourished in a vigorous revival known as the Reveil, a spiritual movement which proved important in the history of the Dutch people during the past century.23 These pious people who seceded from the official Reformed Church when it sought to impose a liberal type of theology met with much social and other discrimination, and before 1847 were subjected to government fines and dispersal by the troops. These people admired the spiritual writers of the preceding centuries and led deeply devout lives of religious reflection, prayer, Bible reading, and song.

Although a youth, Brusse acted as leader in the absence of a minister. His statement that at religious services he read from the sermons of Abraham Hellenbroek, a prominent minister who had labored in Rotterdam and died in 1731, is significant.24 Hellenbroek's thought was molded by Gisbertus Voetius (1588‑1678), the powerful defender of Reformed theology and professor of divinity at the University of Utrecht. The thought of Voetius — practical, edifying, ascetic, denying the allurements of the world, and exhibiting a mystical tendency resembling the piety of the Imitation of Christ — from the beginning characterized the religious life of many of the Hollanders who, after settling in the United States, joined the Reformed or the Christian Reformed Churches. For this reason no one can comprehend the conception of life held by these people, and all it implies in the realm of the practical, without some study of religious thought in the United Provinces from the sixteenth century to the French Revolution, and during the first three decades of the new age, after the restoration of The Netherlands as a sovereign state.

These forces frequently presided in determining the question of church affiliation of these Dutch immigrants after settling in Wisconsin. p183Individualism had been a pronounced feature of the pietistic Reveil in The Netherlands. So Scholte (who founded the Dutch colony of Pella, Iowa), Budding, Van Raalte, and others went their divergent ways, each seeking an ecclesiastical adherence to suit his preference. Scholte founded an independent church in Pella which did not survive his death. Budding's idiosyncrasies ultimately brought him into opposition to Reformed teaching, and Van Raalte led his following into the Reformed Church in America. Later others broke away and formed the Christian Reformed Church which has always clung close to its brethren in The Netherlands. Both Reformed and Christian Reformed Churches gained the support of Wisconsin Hollanders. But a considerable number, led by the Rev. Pieter Zonne and others, joined the Presbyterian Church. This movement, however, never assumed great proportions, being limited chiefly to the Hollanders who settled in Wisconsin.25


The Editor's Note:

* Professor Henry S. Lucas, a staff member of the University of Washington, has contributed this article on Dutch immigration which was promised the readers in the September number of this Magazine. It is a worthwhile addition to the studies on Wisconsin immigration printed by the Society from time to time.


The Author's Notes:

1 Published in the September, 1946, number of this Magazine.

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2 These notes were written in a blank note book to which was given on the outside cover the title "Landverhuizing Memorial, 1847—." In 1920, when in The Hague, I was graciously given permission by Mrs. Antony Brummelkamp, daughter-in‑law of the Rev. Antony Brummelkamp, brother-in‑law and colleague of Rev. A. C. Van Raalte, to copy and use its contents for the elucidation of the history of the immigration of Hollanders to this country.

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3 The original, in the Dutch language of course, was printed in Landverhuizing; of Waarom bevorderen wij de Volksverhuizing en wel naar Noord-Amerika en niet naar Java? Door A. Brummelkamp en A. C. Van Raalte, Bedienaren des Goddelijken Woords. Vierde Druk (Amsterdam, 1846).

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4 For the Rev. N. Wyckoff see E. T. Corwin's A Manual of the Reformed Church in America (formerly Reformed Protestant Dutch Church), 1628‑1902, 4th ed. (New York, N. Y., 1902), 922‑24.

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5 The Christian Intelligencer, Oct. 15, 1846. A complete file of this paper may be found in the library of Hope College, Michigan.

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6 This is evident from the fact that when the Rev. Hendrik P. Scholte, founder of the Dutch settlement in Pella, Iowa, arrived in New York, he was invited to preach in the Dutch tongue. He declares that there were many people in Albany who still were able to understand Dutch. See his Eene Stem uit Pella (Amsterdam, 1848) 10‑11. He also states that he preached in Dutch in New York City.

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7 See the rare pamphlet Stemmen uit Noord-Amerika met begeleidend Woord van A. Brummelkamp, bedienaar de Goddelijkn Woords (Amsterdam, 1849). For further facts, drawn from another source, see J. A. Wormser, Een Schat in Aarden Vaten, Eerste serie. I. In Twee Werelddeelen. Het Leven van Albertus Christiaan Van Raalte (Nijverdaal, 1915), 106.

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8 The Rev. John H. Karsten in 1897 wrote a survey of the history of the Hollanders in Wisconsin which he read at the semi-centennial celebrations of Dutch immigration to the United States held that year in Holland, Michigan. This account, to be found in the Netherlands Museum in Holland, Michigan, has never been printed. See E. T. Corwin's A Manual of the Reformed Church, 4th ed., 548.

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9 See the list of first settlers of Alto Township in The History of Fond du Lac County in Wisconsin (Chicago, 1880), 1057‑63. According to this list, drawn up after consultation with the first settlers, Jan A. Meenk came to the United States in 1845, G. Rensink in 1846, and Jan and Hendrik Straks, also in 1846. See also H. W. Heuvel's "Achterhoeksche menschen in Amerika," Vragen van den Dag, XXXVIII (1923), 266‑82, 381‑93.

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10 Mrs. Ellery O. Handy, "The Dutch in Rochester," The Rochester Historical Society Publications, Fund Series, XIV (1936), 61‑73.

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11 For the Daane family and the settlement of Pieter Daane in Sheboygan County in Wisconsin see S. F. Rederus' "The Dutch Settlements in Sheboygan County," Wisconsin Magazine of History, 1:256‑65 (March, 1918). "Daane" is the original spelling, and "Daan" has not yet replaced it.

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12 For the Eernisse family, see De Voeksvriend, Sept. 29, 1904, and March 7, 1907. This newspaper has been published in Orange City, Iowa, from 1874 until the present day. Fifty years later members of this family were living near Harrison, South Dakota, when they spelled their name, "Ernisse."

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13 We have definite information that many Zeelanders who settled in Sheboygan County stopped at the Dutch settlements in Wayne County, New York while on their way from The Netherlands. See De Sheboygan Nieuwsbode, May 2 and 23, June 6 and 13, and Sept. 12, 1854, and May 29, June 5 and 26, 1855. This, the first newspaper printed in the Dutch language in the United States, was published by a Zeelander named Jacob Quintus, in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, from Oct. 14, 1851, to May 8, 1861. From Jan. 6, 1855, to May 8, 1861, its title was De Nieuwsbode.

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14 See Pieter Daane's "History and Anecdotes of the Town of Holland" in the Sheboygan Herald, Jan. 16, 1892. This list would appear to be accurate. But Carl Zillier's History of Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, Past and Present (Chicago, 1912), 1:244‑49, adds a few other names. According to him a Mr. De Vos came in 1845, also Pieter Zeeveld and his father Laurence Zeeveld. To the names of those who came in 1846 Zillier adds the names of Pieter J. De Leijser and Isaac Ver Duin. His spelling of these names is uncertain. See also G. W. Buchen, Historic Sheboygan County (Sheboygan, Wis., 1944).

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15 De Hollander, Feb. 22, 1855, and quoting this paper, De Sheboygan Nieuwsbode, March 13, 1855. The De Hollander was published at Holland, Michigan, from the fall of 1850 to Dec. 24, 1895.

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16 For Budding, see Jaarboekje ten dienste der Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Noord-Amerika voor het Jaar 1897 (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1896), 53‑73.

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17 The Illustrated Historical Atlas of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin (Chicago, 1876), 10, 48, informs us that twenty-five years later the following families with Dutch names lived in Milwaukee County, north of Milwaukee in Town Eight, and along the shore of Lake Michigan: Schram, Koeslag, Loosen, Schoof, Looysen, Baas, Westendorp, Vruwink, Obma, Swart, Cappon, and Grootemaat.

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18 B. de Beij en A. Zwemer, Stemmen uit de Hollandsch-Gereformeerde Kerk in de Vereenigde Staten van Noord-Amerika (Gröningen, 1871), 58.

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19 The Illustrated . . . Atlas of Milwaukee County, 35, gives the names of the following families with Dutch names living near Franklin Prairie and south of that place: Bosch, Reynders, Herda, Verhalen, Berst, Rademaker, Leenhouts, Braam, Kotvis, Van Houten, Walters, Kommers, and Seger. Many of the families who settled in Franklin Prairie came from Kadzand in the Province of Zeeland. See De Hope, July 5, 1927. The De Hope was a weekly organ of the Reformed Church published in Holland, Michigan, from 1867 to the 1920's.

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20 H. S. Lucas, "The Journey of an Immigrant Family from the Netherlands to Milwaukee in 1854," Wisconsin Magazine of History, 29:201‑23 (December, 1945).

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21 G. Van Steenwijk, "Milwaukee," an article in De Recensent, Algemeen Letterkundig Maandschrift. A reprint of this article dated April 12, 1851, may be found in the Wisconsin Historical Society Library at Madison.

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22 De Sheboygan Nieuwsbode, March 11, 1856.

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23 For an account of this movement, see J. C. Rullmann's Een Nagel in de Heilige Plaats. De Reformatie der Kerk in de XIX Eeuw (Amsterdam, 1912). Instructive also is H. Beets, De Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Noord-Amerika. Zestig Jaren van Strijd en Zegen (Grand Rapids, Mich., 1918).

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24 For Hellenbroek, see J. P. De Bie en J. Loosjes, Biographisch Woordenboek van Protestantich Godgeleerden in Nederland ('s Gravenhage, n. d.), 3:639‑42.

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25 M. Borduin, "Het Hollandsche element in de Presbyteriaansche Kerk," De Gereformeerde Amerikaan, 8:119‑25 (1904). The De Gereformeerde Amerikaan, a monthly, was published in Holland, Michigan, from 1897 to 1916.


Thayer's Note:

a This non sequitur (to read an English translation doesn't require knowledge of Dutch) is in the original.

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b Andries Du Mez was a Zeelander, in fact; born February 26, 1809 in Nieuwvliet. A later Dutch census records his departure for America, 11 April 1844 naar Amerika. (The reader should not form the impression that I am an expert in Dutch history or genealogy: the information comes to me, supported by a clear photograph of the birth register of the then French-occupied commune of Nieuwvliet, by the kind offices of Ton van Heusden thru the wonders of the Internet.)


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