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  • Writer's pictureLawrence Lore

Mayor of Vincennes and Defender of Morals

William B Searight was born in Ireland May 4, 1817 and was at one time engaged in a bank in Belfast.  He came to this country with the late William Williamson; they had married sisters.  William B Searight’s wife was Mary Ratcliffe. Researchers have discovered that the couple had at least ten children although Georgina, their oldest daughter, said she was one of 11.


William B and Mary Searight came to this country in 1847 traveling from Liverpool to New York city on the ship “Enterprise”.  Their young children James, Georgiana, and Mary were with them.  There were only eleven passengers on board and the Searight’s accommodations were in the steerage compartment. 


They traveled across the country settling in a place for a while before moving on.  Sarah was born in Ohio in 1850, but by the time the census was taken the family lived in Boone County Kentucky.   Anna, William and Margaret were born there. William Jr died as a toddler.


 By 1860 the family was living in Livingston County Illinois.  Elizabeth “Lizzie”, Wm Bottes, and Gerald were born in Illinois.  However shortly after, the family moved to Vincennes Indiana, and by 1862 William B Searight owned a flour mill.  That was the start of William’s business career.  The family bought the large impressive former home of Capt. Wm Denny on 6th and Busseron streets. (This is now the home of Radio stations WAOV and WBTO across from the Dairy Queen.)

 

By 1866 William B was a partner in the Searight & Bierhaus Pork House. From 1867-1868 the partners also operated a grocery store on Main Street between 2nd and 3rd Streets but eventually sold that to concentrate on their Wheat and Pork business.  In the era of steamboats on the Wabash, the company did very well, shipping barrels of pork and wheat downriver to New Orleans.


By 1877 William B Searight was mayor of the city of Vincennes. The Vincennes Weekly Sun, published on June 23. 1877, stated that “no man can ever beat Searight in this city.  He will fill the mayor’s chair just as long as he wishes to hold the office." This was shortly after he signed an ordinance prohibiting intoxication and certain other immoral exhibitions and acts on June 7.   “Any person who shall appear in any street, alley or other public place in said city in a dress or apparel belonging or inappropriate to his or her sex or in an indecent or lewd dress or apparel shall on conviction be fined in the sum not less than one dollar nor more than twenty- five dollars.” He collected enough fines to pay his salary --something that had never happened before. By the end of the summer Mayor Searight’s idea of justice toward evil doers made him very popular with Vincennes’ law-abiding citizens.


However, the mayor’s court became a terror to those who violated the law. By 1883 after three terms in office, the tide of popularity was turning against William B.  He was accused of taking advantage of his position and was badly beaten in the election of May 1883.


On May 2, 1883, after hearing the result of the election William B Searight, shot himself in the head on the floor of his living room while his family slept and he died at age 66 years.  A newspaper reporter noted that there was no doubt that the defeat at the polls prompted the step, “Mr. Searight considered his defeat an indication that he had forfeited the confidence of the people.”


The Vincennes City Council draped the city hall in black, buried the deceased at the city's expense, and acted as pall bearers. William B Searight was buried at Greenlawn Cemetery. 

Now, Readers, you may be wondering what this gentleman has to do with Lawrence County.  (Well, who knew there were that many drunks, transvestities, and lewdly dressed residents in Vincennes, anyway?) No, the real reason is that the Historical Society has his desk.


The mayor's eldest daughter Georgina married George McNeill and they moved to Lawrence County, specifically Petty Township. There they had Mary, John, Elizabeth, Anna Catherine, Kate, and William. The daughters all married and raised their families in the county.  Mary married John William Abernathy Jr; Elizabeth married Frank Ridgley; Anna Catherine married Dr C M Lewis; and Kate married Ed Turner. All these family trees connect and are significant to Lawrence County history. Mary and John William Abernathy Jr’s daughter, Georgina married Oscar Hudspeth, and their son the late Rev. William Hudspeth, was the donor of the desk.  



William B Searight, Mayor of Vincennes, Indiana

Georgina Searight McNeill and her children. Photo taken sometime before Georgina died in 1914.

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