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Isaac Shelby

Gov. Isaac Shelby

  • June 4, 1792 - June 1, 1796
  • Jeffersonian-Republican
  • December 11, 1750
  • July 18, 1826
  • Maryland
  • Married Susannah Hart; eleven children
  • National Guard


ISAAC SHELBY, Kentucky’s first governor, was born near North Mountain, Washington County, Maryland on December 11, 1750. His education was attained in the rural schools of his native state. In the early 1770s, his family moved to the Holston region on the western frontier of Virginia. Shelby had a long and prominent military career. He served as a lieutenant in the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774, was commissioned a captain of a minuteman company in 1776, served as commissary of supplies for a frontier regiment in 1778, aided in the supervision of supplies for the Continental Army in 1778, and fought in the Battle of King’s Mountain in October 1780. Shelby entered politics in 1779, serving as a member of the Virginia Legislature, a position that he held in North Carolina when a survey established that the Shelby lands belonged in North Carolina. He also served as a delegate to the 1792 convention that was instrumental in organizing Kentucky’s first constitution, and he took an active role in the proceedings that led up to the separation of Kentucky County from Virginia in 1791. Shelby was elected the first governor of Kentucky in May 1792. He was sworn into office on June 4, 1792, the same day Kentucky entered into statehood. He was reelected to a second term in 1812. During his first term, taxes and fundamental laws were instituted, military divisions were formed, a court system was originated, Indian attacks were handled effectively, and the Wilderness Road was advanced. His second term was consumed with issues dealing with the War of 1812. Kentucky troops were organized and personally led by Governor Shelby in the Battle of Thames, for which he was honored with a congressional gold medal. After leaving office, Shelby declined an appointment to serve in President Monroe’s cabinet as secretary of war. In 1818, he joined General Andrew Jackson in negotiating the Jackson Purchase. Governor Isaac Shelby, who had nine counties in several states named in his honor, passed away on July 18, 1826. He was buried at a family graveyard in Lincoln County, Kentucky.


Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 2, Westport, Conn.; Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.

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