Isaac Shelby

Portrait of Isaac Shelby
War & AffiliationRevolutionary War / Patriot
Date of Birth - DeathDecember 11, 1750 - July 18, 1826

Isaac Shelby was born on December 11, 1750 in Hagerstown, Maryland. After Pontiac’s War destroyed his father’s fur business, Shelby’s family moved to the vicinity of present-day Bristol, Tennessee in 1770. Several years later, Shelby was commissioned as a lieutenant in Virginia’s militia and served in a 1774 campaign against the Shawnee and Mingo Indians initiated by Virginia’s Royal Governor, John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore. After completing his military service, Shelby began work as a land surveyor. His time as a civilian, however, would be short lived. In 1776 Shelby was appointed as a captain in the Virginian forces defending the new state against the British. Shelby’s experience living and waging war on the frontier would prove useful. From 1777 to 1779 he led several expeditions to the west to procure supplies for American forces. In 1779 he also helped guard a commission sent to extend the North Carolina-Virginia border to the west, a project which incidentally placed his home in North Carolina. He was subsequently commissioned as a major in the militia of his new home state. When the British captured Charleston, South Carolina in 1780, Shelby was surveying land in present-day Kentucky. He assembled a force of militia to resist the British occupation of the South and lead his men to victory at the Battles of Thickety Fort, King’s Mountain, and at Musgrove’s Mill. Shelby, who had served in Virginia’s House of Delegates in 1779, was elected to North Carolina’s General Assembly in 1781 and again in 1782. In 1783 he moved west, settling in Boonesborough and marrying Susannah Hart, with whom he would have eleven children. Shelby worked hard to separate Kentucky from Virginia and make it its own state and in 1792 his labors paid off when he was sworn in as Kentucky’s first governor. During Shelby’s term of office from 1792 to 1796, the state was troubled by conflicts with Native Americans. Shelby convinced George Washington to send a military force under General “Mad” Anthony Wayne to defend white settlers. In 1812, Shelby was again elected as Kentucky governor and served until 1816. During this time he secured the appointment of William Henry Harrison to lead American forces in the Northwest. Isaac Shelby died on July 18, 1826.