Secretary of State

William Owsley

Term of OfficeMarch 1835 - February 1836
Significant AccomplishmentsOwsley served as Governor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky from 1844 to 1848. During his administration, nearly twenty years before the Civil War, he pardoned Delia A. Webster, convicted of abetting the escape of slaves.
Governor during his term of OfficeGov. James T. Morehead
EducationCommon Schools; studied law with Judge John Boyle
Spouse(s)Elizabeth Gill
ParentsWilliam & Catherine (Bolin) Owsley
ResidenceKentucky (Lincoln County; Boyle County)
OccupationTeacher; Deputy Surveyor; Attorney
Birth Date3/24/1782
Birth PlaceVirginia
Date of Death12/9/1862
Place of DeathKentucky (Boyle County)
Place of BurialKentucky (Belleview Cemetery, Danville, Boyle County)
Other State Offices HeldKentucky House of Representatives (1809-1810; 1818-1813; 1831-1832); Kentucky Court of Appeals (1810; 1813-1828); Kentucky Senate (1832-1835); Kentucky Governor (1844-1848)
County Offices HeldDeputy Sheriff
NoteOwsley County, Kentucky, formed in 1843 from parts of Clay, Estill and Breathitt counties, is named in his honor.
QuoteOn legislative funding of public education, Gov. Owsley said "Nothing but money will do it, and it is left to the appropriate department--the legislature--to determine the expediency or inexpediency of raising it." At the close of his term as Governor, Owsley said [the end of his term] "excites in my breast no emotions of regret."

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.