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1777 William Stephen (1759-1838) went to work with his uncle, Alexander Stephen, building small ships 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.
1814 His eldest son, William, after release by the French leased a yard for himself at Arbroath.
c.1820 William's second son, Alexander, joined his father in the Aberdeen yard, keeping a diary from 1824 for 30 years.
1825 Arbroath got into difficulties; William, senior, signed a bond making himself responsible for the debts of William, junior.
1826 The brig Unicorn, commanded by William's youngest son, James, was lost with all hands off the Irish coast. Other sons had business troubles, one died.
1828 William senior was declared bankrupt due to debts of the Abroath yard.