Cornelius McAnelly (McAnnelly), physician and soldier, was born about 1808 in Kentucky. In an advertisement announcing the establishment of his practice in Houston, he reported having graduated from Transylvania University and "Worthington Reformed Medical College." In January 1841 he was elected an alderman in Houston. In 1842 he served as second lieutenant of Capt. A. M. Tompkins's company, which set out to help repulse the raid of Rafael Vásquez; the company marched from Houston on March 1 but turned back at Columbus when it learned that Vásquez was in retreat. Later that year McAnelly served as brigade surgeon with the rank of colonel on the Somervell expedition.
In September 1845 he ran unopposed for a seat representing Harris County in the Tenth Texas Congress; though he was elected, the Congress never convened because Texas was annexed in December of that year (see ANNEXATION). In July 1848 McAnelly was a delegate to the Whig convention in Huntsville. He was elected to represent Harris County in the Senate of the Fifth Legislature (1853–54). He had run unsuccessfully for that seat in 1851.
In March 1848 McAnelly was one of a group of men, including Abner H. Cook, Peter W. Gray, and Thomas M. Bagby, who organized the Houston Lyceum, a society devoted to literary and scientific studies. Two years later in the federal census McAnelly reported real-estate holdings valued at $10,000. His will was filed in Harris County on April 25, 1855, and Robert Daugherty McAnelly was named as administrator of his estate.