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Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald

On October the fourth of the year 1773, the brigantine Jenny Nettles, merchantman out of New Bedford, made port. No sooner was she tied up than the crew was at work with block and tackle, with hammer and chisel, unshipping the figurehead.

They lifted it up and swung it ashore, the carved and painted wooden statue of a woman in Highland garb, and laid it down on the pier. Then six men on either side they carried it shoulder high to the nearest churchyard. They dug a grave, lowered the figurehead in, and said the words from the Book. When they were done they filled in the grave, set up crosses at the head and foot, and returned to the ship without a word.

None of the crew ever shipped in Jenny Nettles again, and more than one of them left the sea for good after that voyage. But not a soul among them would ever say why.

* * *

She was built in Halifax in 1755, and christened Jenny Fraser.

The owner was a Scotsman, a Fraser of Strathglass. In the bloody year of '45, when the Scottish clans rose up against the crown of England, John Fraser was a new-married man. With a wife to keep, and a child on the way, he stayed out of the fighting. He obtained a certificate of immunity—an official paper showing that he had never fought against King George II—and after the uprising ended in bitter defeat for the rebels at the Battle of Culloden, he trusted in the certificate to protect him from King George's soldiers.

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