William Owsley was born on March 24, 1782, in Virginia. His parents were William and Catherine (Bolin) Owsley. In 1825, the family moved to Lincoln County, Kentucky, near Crab Orchard. He was educated in the common schools. He was a teacher, a deputy surveyor, and a deputy sheriff before studying law with Judge John Boyle.
In 1803 he married Elizabeth Gill; they had six children.
Owsley was elected to the Kentucky House in 1809 and again in 1811 after serving briefly on the Court of Appeals. He accepted another appointment to the Court of Appeals in 1813 and remained on the court until 1828, when he resigned to pursue his law practice. He was elected to the Kentucky House again in 1831 and to the Kentucky Senate in 1832. He then served as Secretary of State in the administration of Governor James T. Morehead.
In 1844, Owsley was nominated by the Whigs to run for Governor against the Democratic candidate General William O. Butler. Owsley won a close election. He left office in 1848 and returned to Boyle County. He died on December 9, 1862, and was buried in the Belleview Cemetery in Danville. Owsley County, created in 1843, was named in his honor.
"Biographical Encyclopedia," pg 652;
Collins, "History of Kentucky, Vol. II," (1874), pgs 674-75;
John M. Gresham, "Biographical Cyclopedia," pgs 478-79;
Lowell H. Harrison, "Kentucky’s Governors," pgs 60-63;
Levin, ed., "Lawyers and Lawmakers," pgs 588-89;
Obituary, "Daily Commonwealth," December 12, 1862.