Isaac Shelby

Overmountain Leader and Kentucky Governor


Painting of Isaac ShelbyIsaac Shelby lived his entire life on the frontier. He was born in 1750 in western Maryland to a Welsh immigrant and fur merchant. As a teen he learned to survey and became deputy sheriff. A war with Native Americans destroyed the family business when Shelby was in his early 20s. The family moved to what now is northeastern Tennessee, then part of Virginia. His first military action came in the Virginia militia against Natives in 1774. Shelby worked briefly as a surveyor for famed frontiersman Daniel Boone’s land company and for Virginia. He was called back to the militia two years later for the Revolution. Until 1780 he mostly led units protecting supply and surveying missions, including one “which incidentally placed his home in North Carolina.”[1] His new state immediately made him a major in its militia. In that role Shelby was a leader of the Overmountain Men and brokered a change of command. Later he was involved in other battles in South Carolina and Georgia. Thanks to the border change, Shelby also served in both the Virginia and N.C. legislatures. When the war ended he moved to Boonesborough in what then was western Virginia. In addition to farming, he was county sheriff. Shelby helped create the State of Kentucky and was elected its first governor. During the War of 1812, he organized and led a large militia force under later-Pres. William Henry Harrison that invaded Canada and won a decisive victory over the British. He was 75 when he died of a stroke.

More Information

[1] American Battlefield Trust 2017.

Mug with a fortifications map saying, "Wilmington 1781"
Computer with a sticker of the AmRevNC logo on it, a state map with pins in it on a 13-star American flag