Born in Rockbridge County, Virginia on January 11, 1797, he came to Indiana in 1821 and served in various public offices for the rest of his life, beginning in 1822 when he became Justice of the Peace. He represented Wayne County in the State Legislature from 1828 to 1831, and for three years after that was the Enrolling Clerk of the Senate. From 1833 to 1837 he owned and edited the Richmond Palladium. In 1837 he was elected Clerk of the Wayne County Courts for a seven year term. In 1852 he was elected Richmond’s second mayor, and he held that position until his death on December 23, 1866.
Finley was also a poet who is credited with the first literary use of the word “Hoosier” in his poem titled The Hoosier’s Nest.
He had five children: two sons, William, who died in 1846 at age 19, and John H., who was a major in the 69th Indiana Infantry during the Civil War. In May 1863 he was badly wounded during an assault on the city of Vicksburg and died of his wounds the following August. “From this blow the father never recovered,” reported his oldest daughter, Mrs. Sarah Wrigley. In 1864, Sarah Wrigley became librarian of the newly opened Morrisson Library and remained in that position until 1903. His two other daughters were Miss Julia Finley and Mrs. Mary F. Hibberd.