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Friday, June 7, 2013

The Finleys

John Finley (1797-1866)

     The original inspiration for today's post can be found in the pages of the photo album that belonged to my great grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Houston Row. Included among those portraits are four which, when I came across them four years ago,  I had no idea as to their identity or significance. Over time I was able to piece together some interesting facts, but it was not until I was recently contacted by the archivist at the Morrisson-Reeves library in Richmond, Indiana that I began to delve into the stories of these relatives of mine in earnest. It has been well worth the effort. The images of Sarah Finley Wrigley, her son Luke as a young man and her brother John Finley II are from that album. All images can be clicked on for larger viewing.
   Michael Finley (1683-1747) of County Armagh, Ireland was among the thousands of Scots-Irish immigrants who crossed the Atlantic to America in the first half of the eighteenth century. The Finleys settled in Pennsylvania in 1734, and his children lost no time in successfully establishing themselves in the new world. One of Michael's sons, John (1713-1782) is reputed to have accompanied Daniel Boone in blazing the trail into Kentucky. Another son, Samuel Finley, was a president of the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton; his great grandson was Samuel Finley Breese Morse, inventor of the telegraph.
     A third son of Michael the immigrant was William, father of Andrew Finley, who made his way south with many other Scots-Irish and came to Rockbridge County, Virginia. Andrew Finley and his wife Ann McClure had five children together. A daughter, Elizabeth, married my third great grandfather, William Houston (a cousin of General Sam Houston). Andrew's son John Finley was born in Rockbridge on January 11, 1797.
     Andrew Finley was a prosperous farmer and a merchant in the village of Brownsburg in Rockbridge. Andrew's prosperity came to an abrupt end during the War of 1812 when a cargo of his flour was captured by the British. It was a financial blow from which he did not recover. His sixteen year old son John was now forced to fend for himself, something that he proceeded to do with great skill.
     Young John Finley first went to work in the tannery of a relative in Greenbrier (West) Virginia. His abilities and ambitions far exceeded what this small opportunity afforded him. In 1816 he moved west, living for a time in Cincinnati, Ohio before settling in Richmond, Indiana in 1820.
     Richmond was but a small village when twenty three year old John Finley arrived, but it grew steadily over the years and John grew with it. He began as a justice of the peace in 1822. He was then elected to the state legislature 1828-1831. This was followed by three years as the enrolling clerk in the state senate. John Finley was elected clerk of court for Wayne County in 1837 and served until 1845. He bought a controlling interest in the town's leading newspaper, The Richmond Palladium, and was its editor and publisher 1833-1837. In 1852 John was elected mayor of Richmond and served until his death in December 1866.
     Despite these manifold accomplishments, John Finley is best known as a poet, and for one poem in particular. On January 1, 1833 he published in the Indiana Journal a poem entitled "The Hoosier's Nest." It is widely acknowledged as the first appearance in print of the word "Hoosier." Up to that point this term used to describe Indianans had sort of negative flavor, casting them as uncouth and rough. Finley's poem gave Hoosiers a more positive connotation, presenting Indianans more as self-reliant, salt of the earth types.
     John Finley married an Ohio girl named Rachel Knott, who died about the time their son William was born in 1826. John married a second time three years later, this time to Julia Hanson. Together they had four children, two of whom we will meet today.

Sarah Finley Wrigley

     John and Julia's first child, Sarah, was born March 6, 1830. Sarah began her education at age four, being taught by a private tutor. She later attended a private school at the future site of the Richmond city hall.
     Sarah Finley married Benjamin Wrigley in September 1854. It has been suggested that this was a shotgun wedding, since their first son, Roy, was born in March 1855. A second son, Luke, arrived in 1856. Sometime after Luke was born Benjamin Wrigley appears to have drifted away. The 1860 census shows that Sarah and her sons were living with her parents and her sister Julia and her brother John, with no husband in sight. Benjamin Wrigley was killed by a fall from his horse in Texas in December 1861.

John Finley II

     The same 1860 census shows that Sarah's twenty one year old brother John was employed as an auctioneer in Richmond. The following year John Finley the younger took up arms in the defense of his country by joining the 16th Indiana Infantry on April 20, 1861. Three weeks later he was promoted to second lieutenant. The 16th was organized for one year's service only, and Lieutenant Finley mustered out on May 23, 1862.

Major Finley in uniform (Steve Martin, Palladium-Item)

      In 1863 John Finley II organized Company A of the 69th Indiana Infantry. Soon thereafter John--now Major John Finley-- and his regiment joined General Grant's ongoing siege of Vicksburg. On May 22 Major Finley led his men in an assault upon the Confederate works there. He was gravely wounded that day. Word of his condition arrived in Richmond and his sister Sarah took immediate steps to come to his aid. Likely pulling strings with his friend the governor, the senior John Finley made arrangements for Sarah to embark with a hospital ship that was scheduled to sail to Mississippi. Once there Sarah found her brother and brought him back to Richmond to care for him. Her heroic efforts in her brother's behalf came to naught, however, and Major Finley died on August 26, 1863. His father never recovered from the loss of his son.
     By 1864 Sarah Finley Wrigley was widowed, grieving for her brother and raising her two sons. That year an opportunity came her way, and in the Finley tradition she made the most of it. The town of Richmond received from Robert Morrisson a gift of books and a library named in his honor was established. Sarah served as the town's librarian until her failing eyesight forced her to retire in 1903.

Luke Hanson Wrigley

Judge Luke Wrigley

     Sarah's older son Roy moved west to Colorado and California, but Luke Wrigley remained in Indiana. From the age of 13 Luke, like his grandfather John, had to rely on his own resources to succeed in life. He supported himself while a student by working as a janitor in a school building. For a number of years he worked at his mother's library. He earned his law degree and was admitted to the bar of the Wayne County circuit in 1879.
     Luke Wrigley set up his law practice in Albion, Indiana. In the early 1900s Albion's first public library was located at the law offices of Luke Wrigley. Luke was elected as circuit court judge in 1908 and served in that capacity until 1920.

Sarah Finley Wrigley

     During these years Sarah continued to live in Richmond with her sister, Julia, who died in 1918. It was probably then that she moved to Albion to live with Luke and his family. When America went to war Sarah, now blind, scraped lint to be made into bandages for the troops. She died at the home of Judge Wrigley in February 1920. She is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Albion, Indiana.

Postscript, May 25, 2016:

In just the past few days, a newspaper article has been published which recounts the perilous evacuation of the wounded Major Finley from the Vicksburg battlefield and his transportation back to Indiana, told in the words of his sister, Sarah. They continued to be shot at by Confederate troops as their steamer made its way north:

Here is a screen shot from the article in the Palladium-Item:


  1. I have an ancestor named John Finley. I know not if this is him, or if it isn't. I really thank you for showing me this. I am not exatly sure if this man you speak of is actually my summod great grandfather. But if this is, thank you for the information!

  2. i thought john finley married martha henderson