John William Finnell was born in Winchester, Clark County, Kentucky, on December 24, 1821. His father was Nimrod L. Finnell who was a printer and an editor for several newspapers.
John Finnell graduated from Transylvania at age seventeen in 1837. He studied printing with his father and helped him edit the "Lexington Intelligencer," a Whig newspaper. He graduated from the Law Department of Transylvania in 1841 and took up the practice of law at Carlisle in Nicholas County.
Finnell was elected to the General Assembly and served in the 1845-46 session. After serving this term, he became editor of the "Frankfort Commonwealth." In 1848, he was appointed Secretary of State by Governor John J. Crittenden when Crittenden resigned to become Attorney-General in the administration of Millard Fillmore. He was reappointed by Governor John D. Helm who succeeded Crittenden.
At the conclusion of his term in office, Finnell moved to Covington where he resumed the practice of law and assisted the courts in bankruptcy proceedings.
In 1861, Finnell became an ardent Unionist from Kenton County in the legislature. In October 1861 he became the state’s Adjutant-General during the administration of Governor Beriah Magoffin, and he held this position until September 1863 when Thomas Bramlette became Governor.
He resumed the practice of law in Covington and became Register in Bankruptcy for the Sixth District of Kentucky. In 1870, he resigned this position and moved to Louisville where he edited several newspapers. He moved back to Covington around 1874.
John Finnell married Elizabeth Tureman of Carlisle in 1854. The couple had six children: Joseph, Ida, Daisy, Harry, and Nellie. His wife Elizabeth died on July 1, 1884.
Finnell died in Helena, Montana, in late January 1888 while on professional business.
Federal Census for Kenton County: 1880;
Lewis Collins, "History of Kentucky," (1874);
"Biographical Encyclopedia," (1878), pg 447;
Levin, "Lawyers and Lawmakers of Kentucky," (1897), pgs 726-27;
Jim Reis, "He Served His Country Well was John Finnell’s Epitaph," article in the "Kentucky Post," January 26, 1998.