Isaac Shelby

Isaac Shelby, early Tennessee settler, Revolutionary War veteran, and governor of Kentucky, was born in Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1750 to Evan and Letitia Cox Shelby, who moved their family to Sapling Grove, the present site of Bristol, in 1771. Their son Isaac Shelby served as a lieutenant, captain, and colonel in the Revolutionary War and fought with distinction at the battle of Kings Mountain in 1780. In an address before the battle, Colonel Shelby encouraged his men to fight in frontier fashion: “Let each one of you be his own officer, taking every care you can of yourselves, and availing yourselves of every advantage that chance may throw in your way. If in the woods, shelter yourselves and give them Indian play! advance from tree to tree, pressing the enemy and killing and disabling all you can.” (1)

Political fame followed his military exploits. An early justice of the peace in Sullivan County, Shelby represented the county in the North Carolina House of Commons in 1782. The following year, in 1783, he married Susanna Hart at Boonesborough, Kentucky, and they had eleven children.

After the creation of the Southwest Territory and the State of Kentucky during the early 1790s, Isaac Shelby enjoyed an even more prominent Kentucky career. He was chosen governor in 1792 and again in 1812. Between his terms as state executive, he served as sheriff of Lincoln County, Kentucky, from 1796 to 1798. His last significant contribution to the region came in 1818 when he, Andrew Jackson, and others negotiated the “Jackson Purchase,” which removed control of the western districts of Kentucky and Tennessee from the Chickasaw Indians. To honor this service, the Tennessee General Assembly named Shelby County (Memphis) for him. He died in Lincoln County, Kentucky, in 1826.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Isaac Shelby
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date July 20, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018