Shelby, Isaac

Born: 1750-12-11 Frederick County, Maryland

Died: 1826-07-18 Lincoln County, Kentucky

After growing up in Maryland, Shelby moved with his family to a farm near Holston, Virginia, in 1773. The following year, he served as a lieutenant in Lord Dunmore's War. In 1775, Shelby went to Kentucky to work as a land surveyor for Transylvania Seminary (later university). He settled in the state with a large land claim in 1776. Governor Patrick Henry appointed Shelby as commissary agent for the Continental Army in 1777 and he served in that capacity until elected to the House of Burgesses in 1779. The following year, Shelby became an officer in the campaigns against North Carolina loyalists. These efforts ceased following the American defeat at Camden, and Shelby, along with several others, raised new troops for a stand against the advancing British forces. This resulted in the American victory at King's Mountain, which earned Shelby substantial fame. He also commanded forces at Cowpens. Shelby left the army in 1781, when he won election to the North Carolina legislature, now calling that state his home. In 1783, he permanently left for Kentucky, where he married Susannah Hart, with whom he had eleven children.

Shelby became heavily involved in Kentucky politics. He served as chair of the first statehood convention in 1784 and won election as the state's first governor in 1792. His term primarily focused on defense and establishing the new government. Following his term, Shelby returned to his plantation in Lincoln County. He returned to public life with the outbreak of the War of 1812, easily winning a second term as governor. This term was primarily devoted to supporting the war effort, including Shelby personally raising 3,000 soldiers and serving alongside William Henry Harrison at the Battle of the Thames. He retired permanently in 1816, refusing appointment as secretary of war the following year.

Ron D. Bryant, "Shelby, Isaac," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 19:777-78.