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Alexander Stephen (1722-1793), the son of William Stephen, a tenant farmer near Lossiemouth on the Moray Firth he set up business at Burghead, 8 miles from Lossiemouth, in 1750, building small vessels for local customers.
He was joined in 1777 by his brother's son, William Stephen (1759-1838), who worked with him at Burghead for ten years before returning to his home town of Aberdeen to learn ship drafting in James Cochar's yard. Aberdeen at that time had the largest concentration of shipbuilding activity on the east coast of Scotland.
By 1793 William Stephen had set up on his own to build ships in competition with Cochar at Footdee in Aberdeen. The Stephens then had two yards, the original one at Burghead operated by Alexander Stephen, and the Footdee establishment at Aberdeen operated by his nephew William Stephen. It was from this second enterprise that a further six generations of Stephens were to become shipbuilders, moving progressively down the east coast from Aberdeen to Arbroath and then Dundee, and finally westward to the Clyde.