Reverend James Bradley Finley was a Methodist clergyman and author born in western North Carolina in 1781. He was the son of Robert W. Finley, a Presbyterian (later Methodist) minister, and Rebecca Bradley. His father, who studied for the ministry at Princeton, engaged in missionary activity in North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Kentucky. He later settled north of the Ohio River near Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1796. Young Finley was educated at a school run by his father in Bourbon County, Kentucky. He later studied medicine and was admitted to practice in Ohio, however, his love of farming and hunting proved more powerful. He married Hannah Strane in 1801; they had one daughter. The Finleys settled in an isolated log cabin in Highland County, Ohio.
In August 1801, Finley attended the great Cane Ridge camp meeting near Paris, Kentucky. At the Cane Ridge Church, previously served by his father, Finley witnessed the dramatic outpouring of emotion experienced by Christian believers, and he underwent a conversion experience on his journey home. It was not until 1808, however, following an incident in which he almost accidentally killed his brother, that Finley turned his life toward Christian ministry. In 1809, Finley was licensed to preach in the Western Conference of the Methodist Church, which then included all of Ohio as well as neighboring states and territories. Over the next fifty years, he served the Methodist cause in the West, traveling thousands of miles as a circuit rider, missionary, and presiding elder of frontier districts.
Finley’s familiarity with Native-American customs prompted Methodist Bishop McKendree to station him at the newly created Wyandot Indian mission at Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Under Finley’s leadership, the mission prospered with the establishment of a church, school, farm, and store. Finley significantly improved support for the mission during a trip east in 1826 to attend the anniversary of the Methodist Mission Society. Wyandot preachers Between-the-Logs and Mononcue accompanied him. Although poor health forced his resignation in 1827, Finley kept in close contact with the Upper Sandusky mission. A sympathetic defender of Indian rights, he was harshly critical of the federal government’s removal policy that ultimately forced the Wyandot nation to relocate in Kansas in 1843.
Finley also served as a trustee of Ohio Wesleyan University at Delaware, Ohio. In addition to his other duties, Finley served as the chaplain at the Ohio Penitentiary near Columbus, Ohio, from 1846 to 1849. He was instrumental in prison reform, including a library program and the separation of youthful offenders from older prisoners. Finley was also a force in the growing antislavery movement within Methodism.
He published several books based on his journals, the most important of which is his autobiography (1853). His writings provide insights into pioneer life in Ohio during the early national and Jacksonian eras and important political issues such as Indian removal and the growth of popular denominations in the West. He died in Eaton, Ohio, in 1857.