SHELBY, ISAAC. (1750–1826). Militia leader, first governor of Kentucky. Born near Hagerstown, Maryland, on 11 December 1750, Isaac Shelby moved with his family to the Holston settlements in what was then the westernmost part of Virginia, and in 1774 he served in his father's Fincastle County militia company as a lieutenant. He distinguished himself in the battle of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, on 10 October 1774. Until July 1775 he was second in command of the garrison at Point Pleasant. After surveying lands in Kentucky for the Transylvania Company—and for himself—he was appointed captain of a company of Virginia militia in July 1776. For the next three years he was engaged in providing supplies for various frontier garrisons and for the expeditions of Lachlan McIntosh (1778) and George Rogers Clark (1779). In 1779 he was elected to the Virginia legislature for Washington County.
Early in 1780 he was appointed colonel of militia in Sullivan County, North Carolina. In July 1780 he joined General Charles McDowell with about 600 "Over Mountain Men" and helped in the capture of Thicketty Fort, in South Carolina. He then combined forces with Elijah Clarke to repulse a Loyalist attack at Cedar Springs, South Carolina, on 8 August, and to win the engagement at Musgrove's Mill ten days later.
Shelby figured prominently in the victory at Kings Mountain, South Carolina, on 7 October 1780. He was also present for the victory at Cowpens, also in South Carolina. Fear of the Cherokee kept Shelby's troops close to home until a treaty was negotiated on 20 July 1781. With 200 men Shelby joined Colonel Hezekiah Maham to capture a British post at Fair Lawn, near Monck's Corner, South Carolina, on 27 November 1781. While engaged in this expedition, Shelby was elected to the North Carolina legislature. He attended its sessions in December 1781 and, re-elected, he sat in the sessions held at Hillsboro in April 1782.
In 1783 Shelby moved to Kentucky, where he was a member of the conventions of 1787, 1788, and 1789 that prepared the way for statehood. On 4 June 1792 he took office as the state's first governor, but four years later he declined re-election and devoted the next 15 years to his private affairs. In August 1812 he again became governor, and the next year led 4,000 volunteers north to take part in the victory over the British at the Thames River, near Ontario, on 5 October 1813. In March 1817 he declined the portfolio of Secretary of War, which was offered to him by President James Monroe. Shelby died at his home in Lincoln County, Kentucky, on 18 July 1826.
Wrobel, Sylvia, and George Grider. Isaac Shelby: Kentucky's First Governor and Hero of Three Wars. Danville, Ky.: Cumberland Press, 1974.
revised by Michael Bellesiles