Isaac Shelby commanded a company under his father, General Evan Shelby, during Chief Cornstalk’s late 1774 defeat at Point Pleasant.
After Richard Henderson’s Transylvania Company ostensibly acquired the Cherokees’ land at Sycamore Shoals, Shelby spent a year surveying Henderson’s purchase in Kentucky. Returning to Virginia, he became a militia commissary agent, was commissioned a major, and then elected to the Virginia legislature.
Returning to Kentucky following the Revolution, Shelby married Susannah Hart. They had 11 children, some of the most notable being Sarah, who married Dr. Ephriam McDowell, and Evan, who accepted the British surrender at King’s Mountain.
Shelby was trustee of Transylvania Seminary, participated in the conventions preceding Kentucky statehood, and was a member of the committee that wrote Kentucky’s first constitution. In June 1792, he was unanimously voted Kentucky’s first governor. His term was marked by efforts to quell Native American threats and to keep the Mississippi River open during the Spanish Conspiracy.
Refusing a second term, Shelby returned to his Lincoln County estate, Travelers Rest. In 1812 he reassumed the governorship amid the increasing British threat and led 4,000 volunteers to General Harrison on Lake Erie.
He later declined President Monroe’s 1817 invitation to become Secretary of War. In 1820 he became partially paralyzed, his crippled body belying his keen intellect until his death on July 18, 1826.
Before he passed, Shelby was said to be the only Kentuckian still living on his original “Corn Patch” pre-emption claim.