Some of my ancestors came early enough to America that they fought in the Revolutionary War. Others came later, sailing like so many other immigrants into New York Harbor and into Philadelphia. But one of my great-grandfathers chose a most unconventional way to arrive but his desire to join his brothers who were already in America outweighed any legal considerations so he came.

Some of my ancestors came early enough to America that they fought in the Revolutionary War.  Others came later, sailing like so many other immigrants into New York Harbor and into Philadelphia.  But one of my great-grandfathers chose a most unconventional way to arrive but his desire to join his brothers who were already in America outweighed any legal considerations so he came.
Benjamin Hayward was born on the 29th of February in 1849 on a large estate with extensive gardens and orchards near Eckington, England.  His father worked as one of the head gardeners there and his mother had been in service before she married.  At least one of his sisters would go into service as well and become a housekeeper but his brothers, one by one, sailed for America to seek their fortune and find a better life.  My great-grandfather was the youngest of the Hayward children and Haywards had dwelled in the area around Eckington for generations.
    At a young age, he was apprenticed to a machine shop, a modern career he liked well enough and he had no immediate plans to leave England.  Ben, however, was impressed into the British Navy, a common enough recruitment practice in the mid-19th century and he became a sailor.
    He sailed around the world and saw amazing sights.  One holiday season, he was one of a small group of sailors who were chosen to sing for Her Majesty Queen Victoria, one of his most memorable moments while in the Navy.
    His sisters married or in service and his parents passed away so when he came back home on leave, most of his family were gone.  By then, the excitement of travel and exotic locations had paled against the often harsh realities of life aboard ship so Ben made a plan.
    Although the story has come down through the generations, no one knows how long he waited but in time, the ship docked somewhere in Canada.  When my great-grandfather went ashore for liberty, he didn’t go back.  He took along a single suitcase and made his way overland to the bustling, booming city of St. Joseph, Missouri where his brothers (Joe, Charley, Tom and Willie) worked for the railroad.
    Along the way, he stopped for a meal and placed his bag on a seat.  When the proprietor charged for the seat, my great-grandfather declared that the suitcase would eat too.  He proceeded to fill it with enough provisions to last until he reached Missouri.
    He never became a citizen because if he’d been caught, the British Navy would have hung him for desertion.  Fortunately for Ben and his descendents, they weren’t worried enough about the whereabouts of one sailor to track him down.  So I am the great-granddaughter of an illegal immigrant, today a controversial issue.
    On his arrival in St. Joseph, Missouri, the first thing that happened to him before he found his brothers was a fight.  His distinct West Midlands English accent drew attention and someone called him a “greenhorn”.  Although just arrived, he took it for what it was – an insult.  After years at sea, Ben had a warrior’s heart and he got into a fistfight.  The police were called and he rode to jail in a Black Maria wagon.
    The story has a happy ending, however.  His brothers bailed him out, they were reunited, and Ben went to work for the Burlington Railroad as an engineer.  He married twice.  His first wife died in childbirth, leaving four children, Margaret, Willie, Nick, and Myrtle.  He remarried George Ann “Annie” King and had another four children, Ben, Edward, Hazel, and Robin.  Ben raised his family in St. Joseph, Missouri where some of his descendents still live today.
    Ben Hayward remained a proud Englishman all his life.  Growing up near the River Severn in England, with years spent at sea, Ben often walked to the edge of the broad Missouri River that borders Kansas.  Once retired, he walked down to the river each day to watch the construction of the Pony Express Bridge, finished the year he died.
When he died in 1929, his oldest brother Joe, said, “I was there when you were born and I’m here when you’re dead.”
    Benjamin Hayward is buried in Memorial Park Cemetery on the eastern edge of St. Joseph with his wife Annie.  And so as the poet Rupert Brooke once wrote in his poem, The Soldier, there is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.







Lee Ann Murphy is a staff writer and writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.