John Edward Rastall was born on July 23, 1840 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England to Richard and Sarah Rastall. He had four brothers: Samuel, James, Richard (Dick), and Benjamin. The family emigrated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1852 or 1853, where young Rastall learned printing through working at the Milwaukee Sentinel and at the Beloit Herald in Beloit, Wisconsin. Only a few years later, he was one of a group of Wisconsin abolitionists headed by E. G. Ross who went south to join the Free State Army in Kansas. Rastall made raids on villages where people were enslaved with riders led by abolitionists Jim Lane and John Brown. He was captured by federal troops but escaped and made his way back to Milwaukee, where he worked at the Sentinel until the Civil War broke out in 1861. He enlisted immediately as a private in the Fifth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, Company B. In September 1861 he was discharged from the Fifth Wisconsin to accept a commission as a first lieutenant and adjutant of the newly organized First Maryland Eastern Shore Volunteers. He served with the First Maryland Eastern Shore from September 1861 to October 1864. The regiment spent time at Salisbury, Point of Rocks, and Cambridge, Maryland, as well as at Fort McHenry and other sites around Baltimore. They saw action at the battle of Gettysburg. As adjutant, Rastall assisted Colonel James Wallace and later Colonel John R. Keene with administrative and clerical duties, and he officiated at court-martial proceedings.
After the war, Rastall spent several years dividing his time between farming in Manistee, Michigan and printing in Milwaukee. In 1867 he married Miss Fannie Hawley, the daughter of a Milwaukee dry-goods merchant. In the early 1870s he returned to Kansas with his wife. From 1876 to 1877 he published the Junction City Union in Junction City, Davis County. In 1877 the couple settled in Burlingame, Osage County, where they remained for many years while Rastall published the Osage County Chronicle. Beginning in 1881, Rastall served in the Kansas state legislature. Fannie Rastall was also active in the community and used her influential position in the local chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union to help establish an Industrial School for Girls in Beloit, Kansas.
Rastall later moved to Washington, D. C., where he worked in the United States Government Printing Office until his retirement, probably in the late 1910s. Fannie died in Manchester, Vermont in 1920. Rastall returned to Wisconsin for medical treatment at the Wisconsin Veterans' Home in King in 1923 but resided in Washington until his death in 1927.