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Isaac Shelby, portrait
Isaac Shelby, portrait
Battle of Kings Mountain
Battle of Kings Mountain
Isaac Shelby's Gold Medal
Isaac Shelby's Gold Medal
Isaac Shelby's Call to Arms
Isaac Shelby's Call to Arms
| Jan. 4, 2022
Isaac Shelby – Placing the Commonwealth and the Kentucky Militia on a Strong Footing
By John Trowbridge,
FRANKFORT, Ky. –
NOTE: This is a guest article from SFC(R) John Trowbridge. He's a Kentucky Guardsman and former Command Historian that has compiled information on this topic from a variety of sources which aren't cited here. For more information on where this information has originated, please contact Mr. Trowbridge at the following:
Isaac Shelby served as the first and fifth Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Kentucky. Shelby was the right man at the right time, his political insight and his participation and military leadership in America’s Colonial Wars was of paramount importance in the organization and development of the Commonwealth and her militia.
Before his settling in Kentucky, he had served in the state legislatures of Virginia and North Carolina. He also served as a soldier in Lord Dunmore’s War, the American Revolutionary War, and as Governor of Kentucky would serve in the War of 1812. Governor Shelby led Kentucky Troops in the Battle of the Thames, an action that would end hostilities in the Old Northwest Territory during the War of 1812. For his gallantry at the Battle of the Thames he was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in March 1818.
Isaac Shelby was born on December 11, 1750, in the Colony of Maryland, near Frederick (now Washington) County, Virginia. The third child and second son of Evan and Letitia
Shelby. The family was of the Presbyterian faith, of which Isaac would remain his entire life. He educated at the colony’s local schools and worked on the family plantation and occasionally worked as a surveyor. He was appointed first surveyor and then deputy sheriff of Frederick County at the age of eighteen.
Due to family financial troubles the Shelby family moved to the Holston region of Southwest Virginia (now Bristol, Tennessee), in December 1770, where they built a fort and established a trading post.
Shelby’s military service began during Lord Dunmore’s War (May-October 1774), a border dispute between the Colony of Virginia and the Shawnee and Mingo Indian Nations. Shelby was commissioned a Lieutenant in the Virginia militia by Colonel William Preston, serving as second in command in his father’s Fincastle County Company at the Battle of Point Pleasant, on October 10, 1774, where young Shelby distinguished himself by his skill and gallantry. The victorious militiamen erected Fort Blair on the site of the battle. They remained stationed there, with Shelby as second-in-command, until July 1775 when Lord Dunmore ordered the fort destroyed, fearing it might become useful to colonial rebels in the growing American Revolution. Today, the Battle of Point Pleasant is honored as the first engagement of the American Revolution, and the only major battle of Lord Dunmore’s War.
After his unit was disbanded, Shelby surveyed for the Transylvania Company, a land company that purchased much of present-day Kentucky from the Cherokees in a deal later invalidated by the government of Virginia. After fulfilling his duties with the Transylvania Company, he rejoined his family in Virginia, but returned to Kentucky the following year to claim and improve land for himself. After falling ill, he returned home in July 1776 to recover. Back in Virginia, fighting in the American Revolutionary War was underway, and Shelby found a commission from the Virginia Committee of Safety appointing him Captain of a company of Minutemen. In 1777, Virginia governor Patrick Henry appointed Shelby to a position securing provisions for the army on the frontier. He served a similar role for units in the Continental Army in 1778 and 1779. With his money, Shelby purchased provisions for John Sevier's 1779 expedition against the Chickamauga, a band of Cherokees who were resisting colonial expansion.
Shelby was elected to represent Washington County in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1779. Later that year, he was commissioned a Major by Governor Thomas Jefferson and charged with escorting a group of commissioners to establish a frontier boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina. Shortly after his arrival in the region, North Carolina Governor Richard Caswell made him magistrate of newly formed Sullivan County and elevated him to the rank of Colonel of the Sullivan County Regiment.
Shelby was surveying lands in Kentucky in 1780 when he heard of the colonists' defeat at Charleston. He hurried to North Carolina, where he found a request for aid from then-Lieutenant Colonel Charles McDowell to defend the borders of North Carolina from the British. Shelby assembled three hundred militiamen and joined McDowell at Cherokee Ford in South Carolina. On the morning of July 31, 1780, he surrounded the British stronghold at Thickety Fort on the Pacolet River with 600 men. He immediately demanded a surrender, but the British refused. Shelby brought his men within musket range and again demanded surrender. Though the fort likely would have withstood the attack, the British commander lost his nerve and capitulated. Without firing a shot, Shelby's men captured 94 prisoners.
Following the surrender of Thickety Fort, Shelby joined a band of partisans under Lieutenant Elijah Clarke. This unit was pursued by British Major Patrick Ferguson. On the morning of August 8, 1780, some of Shelby's men were gathering peaches from an orchard when they were surprised by some of Ferguson's men on a reconnaissance mission. Shelby's men quickly readied their arms and drove back the British patrol. Soon, however, the British were reinforced, and the colonists fell back. The pattern continued, with one side being reinforced and gaining an advantage, followed by the other. Shelby's men were winning the battle when Ferguson's main force of 1,000 men arrived. Outmanned, they retreated to a nearby hill where British musket fire could not reach them. Now safe, they taunted the British, and Ferguson's force withdrew from the area. Thus ended the Battle of Cedar Springs.
General Charles McDowell then ordered Shelby and Clarke to take Musgrove's Mill, a British encampment on the Enoree River. They rode all night with two hundred men, reaching their location about dawn on August 18, 1780. The colonists had estimated the enemy force was of comparable size, but an advance scout brought word there were approximately 500 British soldiers in the camp who were preparing for battle. Shelby's men and horses were too tired for a retreat and they had lost the element of surprise. He ordered his men to construct a breastwork from nearby logs and brush. In half an hour the makeshift fortifications were complete, and twenty-five colonial riders charged the British camp to provoke the attack. The British pursued them back to the main colonial force. Despite being outnumbered, the colonists killed several British officers and put their army to flight.
Shelby and Clarke elected not to pursue the British fleeing the Battle of Musgrove Mill. Instead, they set their sights on a British fort at Ninety-Six, South Carolina, where they were sure they would find Major Ferguson. However, while enroute, Shelby and his men were met with news of General Horatio Gates’ defeat at the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780. With the backing of General Charles Cornwallis, Ferguson could ride to meet Shelby with his entire force, so Shelby retreated over the Appalachian Mountains into North Carolina.
Following the colonists’ retreat, an emboldened Ferguson dispatched a paroled prisoner across the mountains to warn the colonists to cease their opposition or Ferguson would lay waste to the countryside. Angered by this act, Shelby and Colonel John Sevier began to plan another raid on the British. Shelby and Sevier raised 240 Over Mountain Men each and were joined by William Campbell with 400 from Washington County, Virginia, and McDowell with 160 men from Burke and Rutherford counties in North Carolina. The forces mustered at Sycamore Shoals on September 25, 1780. The troops crossed the difficult terrain of the Blue Ridge Mountains and arrived at McDowell’s estate, “Quaker Meadows” near Morganton, North Carolina, on September 30, 1780. Here, they were joined by Colonel Benjamin Cleveland and Major Joseph Winston with 350 men from Surry and Wilkes counties.
The combined force pursued Ferguson to Kings Mountain, (present day Blacksburg, South Carolina) where he had fortified himself, declaring “God Almighty and all the rebels out of hell” could not move him from it. The Battle of Kings Mountain commenced October 7, 1780. Shelby had ordered his men to advance from tree to tree, firing from behind each one; he called this technique “Indian play” because he had seen the Indians use it in battles with them. Ferguson ordered bayonet charges that forced Shelby's men to fall back on three separate occasions, but the colonists dislodged Ferguson’s men from their position. Seeing the battle was lost, Ferguson and his key officers attempted a retreat. The colonists were instructed to kill Ferguson. Simultaneous shots by Sevier’s men broke both Ferguson's arms, fatally pierced his skull, and knocked him from his mount. Seeing their commander dead, the remaining British soldiers waved white flags of surrender.
Kings Mountain was the high point of Shelby’s military service, and from that point forward his Over Mountain Men dubbed him “Old Kings Mountain”. The North Carolina legislature passed a vote of thanks to Shelby and Sevier for their service and ordered each be presented a pair of pistols and a ceremonial sword. Shelby did not receive these items until he requested them from the legislature in 1813.
As the colonists and their prisoners began the march from Kings Mountain, they learned that nine colonial prisoners had been hanged by the British at Fort Ninety-Six. This was not the first such incident in the region, and the enraged colonists vowed they would now put a stop to the hangings in the Carolinas. Summoning a jury from their number – which was legal because two North Carolina magistrates were present – the colonists selected random prisoners and charged them with crimes ranging from theft to arson to murder. By evening, the jury had convicted thirty-six prisoners and sentenced them to hang. After the first nine hangings, however, Shelby ordered them stopped. He never gave a reason for this action, but his order was obeyed nonetheless, and the remaining "convicts" rejoined their fellow prisoners.
The Kings Mountain victors and their prisoners returned to McDowell's estate, early on, the morning of, October 10, 1780. From there, the various commanders and their men went their separate ways. Shelby and his men joined General Daniel Morgan at New Providence, South Carolina. While there, Shelby advised Morgan to take Fort Ninety-Six and Augusta, because he believed the British forces there were supplying the Cherokee with weapons for their raids against colonial settlers. Morgan agreed to the plan, as did General Horatio Gates, the supreme commander of colonial forces in the region. Assured that his plan would be carried out, Shelby returned home and promised to return the following spring with 300 men. On his way to Fort Ninety-Six, Morgan was attacked by Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and gained a decisive victory over him at the Battle of Cowpens.
Upon his return home, Shelby and his father were named commissioners to negotiate a treaty between colonial settlers and the Chickamauga. This service delayed his return to Greene, but in October 1781 he and Sevier led 600 riflemen to join Greene in South Carolina. Greene had thought to use Shelby's and Sevier's men to prevent Cornwallis from returning to Charleston. However, Cornwallis was defeated at the Siege of Yorktown, shortly after Shelby and Sevier arrived, and Greene sent them on to join General Francis Marion, “The Swamp Fox” on the Pee Dee River. On Marion's orders, Shelby and Colonel Hezekiah Maham captured a British fort at Fair Lawn near Moncks Corner on November 27, 1781.
While in the field, Shelby was elected to the House of Commons of the North Carolina General Assembly. He requested and was granted a leave of absence from the Army to attend the legislative session of December 1781. He was re-elected in 1782 and attended the April session of the legislature that year. In early 1783, he was chosen as a commissioner to survey preemption claims of soldiers along the Cumberland River.
Shelby returned to Kentucky in April 1783, settling at Boonesborough. On April 19, 1783 Isaac married Susannah Hart daughter of General Nathaniel and Sarah
Hart and to this union eleven children were born.
On November 1, 1783, the family moved to Lincoln County, near Knob Lick, and occupied land awarded to Shelby for his military service. Shelby was named one of the first trustees of Transylvania Seminary (later Transylvania University) in 1783, and on December 1, 1787, founded the Kentucky Society for the Promotion of Useful Knowledge.
Shelby began working to secure Kentucky's separation from Virginia as early as 1784. That year, he attended a convention to consider leading an expedition against the Indians and separating Kentucky from Virginia. He was a delegate to subsequent conventions in 1787, 1788, and 1789 that worked toward a constitution for Kentucky. During these conventions he helped thwart James Wilkinson’s scheme to align Kentucky with the Spanish. In 1791 Shelby, Charles Scott and Benjamin Logan were among those chosen by the Virginia legislature to serve on the Board of War for the district of Kentucky. Shelby was also appointed High Sheriff of Lincoln County. In 1792, he was a delegate to the final convention that framed the first Kentucky Constitution.
Kentucky Statehood and First Term as Governor
June 4, 1792 – June 7, 1796
With Kentucky statehood, the organization of the militia was a major priority and concern, due to the continued threat of attack by Native Americans on Kentucky settlements. The following information pertaining to the Governor’s role as Commander-in-Chief of the Commonwealth and the militia is extracted from the 1792 Constitution of Kentucky, which took effect on June 1, 1792.
Article II: Executive.
He [The Governor] shall be Commander-in-Chief of the army and navy of this Commonwealth, and of the militia, except when they shall be called into the service of the United States.
The free men of this Commonwealth shall be armed and disciplined for its defense. Those who conscientiously scruple to bear arms shall not be compelled to do so, but shall pay an equivalent for personal service.
The field and staff officers of the militia shall be appointed by the Governor, except the battalion staff officers, who shall be appointed by the field officers of each battalion, respectively.
The officers of companies shall be chosen by the persons enrolled in the list of each company, and the whole shall be commissioned during good behavior, and during their residence in the bounds of the battalion or company to which they shall be appointed.
On June 4, 1792, Isaac Shelby was inaugurated in Lexington, Kentucky. The following article which appeared in the
of June 9
describes what transpired during the state’s first inauguration:
On Monday, the fourth inst. the day appointed for the meeting of the legislature, Isaac Shelby Esq. Governor of this commonwealth, arrived in town from his seat in Lincoln County. He was escorted from Danville, by a detachment of the Lexington troop of horse, and met a few miles from town by the county lieutenant, the troop of horse commanded by captain Todhunter and the Trustees of the town. The light infantry company commanded by captain Hughs were paraded at the corner of main and cross streets; and received him as he passed with military honours—after attending him to his lodging the horse and infantry paraded on the public square, and after firing alternately fifteen rounds gave a general discharge in honour of his Excellency.
This ceremony was followed by a speech from the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, John Bradford, and a response from Governor Shelby.
Shelby’s initial term in office was involved with issues concerning choosing a permanent state capital, protecting Kentucky from Indian attack, and financing the militia which provided that protection.
Militia discipline was enhanced under the new State government, when the legislature speedily enacted a statute designed to make Kentucky's militia structure conform to the recent Federal Militia Act of 1792, which provided for the arrangement of the militia of the several states into divisions, brigades, regiments, battalions, and companies. The age limits fixed for militia duty, including all able-bodied white males, was from eighteen to forty-five years. None were exempt from militia duty except ministers of the gospel. The geographical divisions established in this act were fixed as follows:
Be it enacted by the General Assembly that this State shall be divided into two Divisions, viz, all that part lying South of the Kentucky River to compose the first Division; and the residue of the State lying North of the said River to compose the second Division; and the said Divisions shall be divided into Brigades as follows, the Counties of Jefferson, Shelby, Nelson, Washington and Logan to compose the first Brigade; the counties of Lincoln, Madison, and Mercer to compose the second Brigade; the counties of Fayette and Woodford to compose the third Brigade and the counties of Scott, Bourbon and Mason to compose the fourth Brigade; which Divisions and Brigades shall be officered agreeable to the above recited Act: and shall be divided into Regiments as follows: the Counties of Jefferson and Shelby to form the first Regiment, a Battalion in each County; that part of the County of Nelson lying Northwest of the Beech Fork including Bards Town as far up as the Washington line to form the second Regiment; the residue or the said County including Logan County to form the third Regiment, a Battalion in each County; the County of Washington to form the fourth Regiment; the County of Mercer the fifth; the County of Lincoln the sixth; the County of Madison the seventh; the County of Fayette to be divided into three Regiments; all that part of the County lying between the roads leaving from Lexington to Limestone and Tates Creek to form the eighth Regiment; all lying between the said Tates Creek road and the road leading to General Scott's, including the Town of Lexington to form the ninth Regiment; and the residue of the said County to form the tenth Regiment; the County of Woodford to form the eleventh Regiment; the County of Scott to form the twelfth Regiment; all that part of the County of Bourbon lying between the road leading from Lexington to Paris and from thence, to the Blue Licks to compose the thirteenth Regiment, the residue of said County lying above said roads and including the Town of Paris to form the fourteenth Regiment; and the County of Mason to form the fifteenth Regiment.
And each Regiment shall be divided into Battalions and the Battalions into Companies, and the bounds of each Battalion and Company shall be ascertained by the Field Officers of each Regiment.
And as is directed by the Constitution, the officers of Companies shall be chosen by the Persons enrolled in each Company.
Be it enacted that the Militia Companies within the several Counties in the State shall on the twenty-first day of July next meet at some convenient place in the bounds of their respective Companies, and by ballot choose a Captain, Lieutenant and Ensign, balloting for the Captain first, and so on in order until the whole are elected, and if there are more candidates than one for any office, and neither have a majority of votes on the first ballot, the two highest in the vote shall be again balloted for, and if each should have an equal number of votes, they shall continue to ballot for the same until one is elected.
The Commanding Officer of each Battalion shall appoint some fit person in each Company to superintend the election for officers who shall without delay transmit to such Commanding Officer the names of the persons elected and the number of votes that each person so elected shall have, who shall immediately transmit the same to the Colonel, who shall without delay send the same to the Governor; and if anyone of the Candidates or any other person supposes that the person returned is not duly elected or that any undue influence hath been made use of to gain his or their election, such Candidate or other person or persons, shall immediately at the close of the election or within three days thereafter give notice thereof to the Superintendent or to the Commanding Officer who shall cause the same to be enquired into and if it shall appear to such Commanding officer, that the person or persons complained of is not fairly elected, he shall order another election and the name of the person or persons so elected shall be transmitted as aforesaid.
And the Officers commanding Battalions shall as soon as possible after the bounds of each Battalion is ascertained appoint an Adjutant to the respective Battalions.
This act became operative at once, and under it and on the same day Governor Isaac Shelby appointed the following staff officers; Benjamin Logan, Major General of the 1
Division; Charles Scott, Major General of the 2
Division; John Hardin, Brigadier General of the 1
Brigade; Thomas Kennedy, Brigadier General of the 2
Brigade; Robert Todd, Brigadier General of the 3
Brigade; and Benjamin Harrison, Brigadier General of the 4
Brigade. Over the next few days, the Governor made field officer appointments.
The continued threat of Indian attack to Kentucky and other western territorial lands led to the appointment of General “Mad” Anthony Wayne as commander of the Legion of the United States, in April 1792. Wayne’s main objective was to put an end to the Indian wars in the northwest. In August 1794, his efforts culminated in the victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, in which nearly half of the participants were Kentucky Militia. This battle ended Native hostiles in Kentucky.
During his administration Shelby ran into some controversy during what is known as the Citizen Genet Affair. Shelby and several prominent Kentuckians were approached by the French to start a war with Spain. Basically, over trading rights and use of the Mississippi River. While the move was popular with many in Kentucky at the time, to was not viewed as acceptable for a state to become involved in international politics by the federal government. Throughout the affair Shelby played the role of moderator and was able to keep the State neutral during the discussions.
During the last year of Shelby’s term, he authorized the widening of the Wilderness Road from Cumberland Gap to Crab Orchard (most of which is now U.S. Highway 25E) to allow better access for wagon travel.
Having successfully dealt with the major challenges and issues involved in forming a new state government, Shelby left the state safe and financially sound. Kentucky's constitution prevented a governor from serving consecutive terms, so Shelby retired to Traveler’s Rest, his Lincoln County estate, at the conclusion of his term in 1796. For the next 15 years he tended to affairs on his farm. He was selected as a presidential elector in six consecutive elections, but these were his only appearances in public life during this period.
There was dissatisfaction with Kentucky’s 1792 Constitution because of the use of Kentucky’s electoral college, which elected the governor and members of the Kentucky State Senate rather than by popular vote. This was one of the reasons for the adoption of the Kentucky Constitution of 1799.
Second Term as Governor and the War of 1812
August 24, 1812 – September 5, 1816
Prior to Shelby’s second term in office a second constitution had been adopted and put into effect in 1799, the following is extracted concerning the governor’s role as commander-in-chief and the militia of Kentucky:
Article III: Concerning the Executive Department.
He [the Governor] shall be commander-in-chief of the army and navy of this Commonwealth, and of the militia thereof, except when they shall be called into the service of the United States; but he shall not command personally in the field, unless he be advised so to do by a resolution of the General Assembly.
The freemen of this Commonwealth (negroes, mulattoes, and Indians excepted) shall be armed and disciplined for its defense. Those who conscientiously scruple to bear arms shall not be compelled to do so, but shall not be compelled to do so, but shall pay an equivalent for personal service.
The commanding officers of the respective regiments shall appoint the regimental staff; brigadier-generals, their brigade-majors, their aids; and captains, the non-commissioned officers of companies.
A majority of the field officers and captains in each regiment shall nominate the commissioned officers in each company who shall be commissioned by the Governor:
That no nomination shall be made unless two at least of the field officers are present; and when two or more persons have an equal and the highest number of votes, the field officer present who may be highest in commission shall decide the nomination.
Article VI: General Provisions.
. . . All militia officers shall reside in the bounds of the division, brigade, regiment, battalion, or company to which they may severally belong.
. . . All commissioned militia officers, shall hold their respective offices during good behavior. . .
Sixteen years had elapsed since Shelby had served as the Commonwealth’s Governor. Gabriel Slaughter was the favorite choice for governor of Kentucky in 1812. Only one impediment to his candidacy existed. Growing tensions between the United States, France, and Great Britain threatened to break into war. With this prospect looming, Isaac Shelby's name began circulating as a possible candidate for governor. Shelby assured Slaughter that he had no desire to do so unless a national emergency that required his leadership emerged.
The situation with the European powers grew worse, and on June 18, 1812 the United States declared war on Great Britain, beginning the War of 1812. Cries grew louder for Shelby to return as Kentucky's chief executive. On July 18, 1812, less than a month before the election, Shelby acquiesced and announced his candidacy.
Shelby won the election, by more than 17,000 votes. When he took the oath of office, he became the first Kentucky governor to serve non-consecutive terms.
Preparations for the war dominated Shelby's second term. Two days before his inauguration, he and outgoing governor Charles Scott met at the state house to appoint William Henry Harrison, commander of the Kentucky militia. This was done in violation of a constitutional mandate that the post be held by a native Kentuckian. Already commander of the militias of Indiana and Illinois, Harrison picked up Kentucky volunteers at Newport Barracks in northern Kentucky before hurrying to the defense of Fort Wayne in the Indiana Territory.
Shelby pressured President James Madison to give Harrison command of all military forces in the Northwest. Madison acceded, rescinding his earlier appointment of James Winchester. On the state level, Shelby revised militia laws to make every male between the ages of 18 and 45 eligible for military service; ministers were excluded from the provision. Seven thousand volunteers enlisted, and many more had to be turned away.
Kentuckian’s confidence in the federal government’s war planning was shaken by the disastrous Battle of Frenchtown and River Raisin Massacre in January 1813, in which many Kentucky soldiers died. Shelby vowed to personally act to aid the war effort should the opportunity arise and was authorized by the legislature to do so. In March 1813, General William Henry Harrison requested another 1,200 Kentuckians to join him at Fort Meigs in northwest Ohio. Shelby dispatched the requested number, among them was his oldest son James, under General Green Clay. The reinforcements arrived to find Fort Meigs under siege by a combined force of British and Indians. Clay’s force was able to stop the siege, but many of them, under the command of Colonel William Dudley were captured and massacred by Indians, in what has become known as Dudley’s Defeat. Initial reports put James Shelby among the dead, but he was later discovered to have been captured and released in a prisoner exchange.
On July 30, 1813, General Harrison again wrote Shelby requesting volunteers, and this time he asked that Shelby lead them personally. Governor Shelby was, by the Kentucky Constitution, unable to lead troops in the field, a resolution had to be passed by the legislature authorizing him to take command of the Kentucky troops.
A RESOLUTON requesting the Governor to take the command of the Militia when called into the service of the United States.
WHEREAS the constitution of this commonwealth, makes the governor thereof commander in chief of the militia and navy, except when they are called into the service of the United States, but prohibits him from commanding in the field, unless he shall be advised so do by a resolution of the General Assembly, and this being a crisis in which the military talents and experience of our country ought to be exerted in the field,
by the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, That his Excellency the governor, be advised and requested, (if it shall meet his approbation) to take the command of the militia called into service from this State, whether in or out of the same, at any time within the term for which he was elected.
Shelby raised a force of 3,500 volunteers, double the number Harrison requested. Future Kentucky governor John J. Crittenden served as Shelby’s aide-de-camp. Now a Major General, Shelby led the Kentucky volunteers to join Harrison in the campaign to secure the Northwest Territory.
As Harrison’s army advanced on Fort Detroit, Michigan Territory, British forces retreated into Canada. The fort had been in the hands of the British since General William Hull’s surrender the previous year. When General Duncan McArthur took possession of the fort on September 29, 1813, it renamed Fort Shelby in honor of the governor. The British under the command of General Henry Proctor and their Native allies under the leadership of the great Shawnee Chief, Tecumseh, began a retreat to the east, closely followed by Harrison’s army. This chase culminated in the decisive American victory on November 5, 1813, at the Battle of the Thames in Upper Canada.
In Harrison’s after-action report of the battle to Secretary of War John Armstrong, Jr., he said of Shelby:
At the age of sixty-six, as preserving all the vigor of youth, the ardent zeal which distinguished him in the Revolutionary War, and the undaunted bravery which he manifested at King’s Mountain.
I am at a loss to how to mention [the service] of Governor Shelby, being convinced that no eulogism [sic] of mine can reach his merit.
Soon after his return to Kentucky Shelby appointed the first Kentucky Colonel, Charles S. Scott, one of his officers on the campaign, was appointed an Aide-de-Camp on the governor’s staff, with the rank of Colonel. This tradition has been carried on by Governors of Kentucky to this day.
After the battles on Lake Erie and the Thames the Americans had British prisoners of war to deal with. The decision was made to bring the prisoners to Kentucky, enlisted soldiers and sailors were taken to Newport Barracks and the officer corps brought to Frankfort. The initial housing of some of the British officers in the comfort of Weisiger’s Inn at Frankfort, so incensed the local residents that one evening they began forming a lynch mob to march on the inn. Governor Shelby was warned of the imminent danger to the federal prisoners and immediately formed a detail of special officers to move the prisoners to the safety of the penitentiary. Shelby and his officers were able to move the British out the stable gate just before the arrival of the angry mob, which soon dispersed without incident.
Life After Public Service
Upon leaving the office of governor in 1816, friends of Shelby suggested he run as President James Monroe’s Vice-Presidential candidate, but he quickly declined. President Monroe offered Shelby the post of Secretary of War, but he declined because of his age. Already a founding member of the Kentucky Bible Society, Shelby served as vice-president of the New American Bible Society in 1816. He was a faithful member of Danville Presbyterian church, but in 1816, built a small nondenominational church on his property.
On March 24, 1818, the 1
Session of the 15
Congress voted to present Gold Medals to Generals Harrison and Shelby in national appreciation for their distinguished conduct at the Battle of the Thames. The following resolution was approved:
Gold Medal to Generals Harrison and Shelby
Mr. Dickerson, agreeably to notice given yesterday, asked leave to introduce a resolution offering the thanks of Congress to Major General William Henry Harrison and Isaac Shelby, late Governor of Kentucky, for their distinguished bravery and good conduct in capturing the British army under command of Major General Proctor, at the battle of the Thames, in Upper Canada, on the 5
of October 1813:
Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the thanks of Congress be and they are hereby presented to Major General William Henry Harrison, and Isaac Shelby, late Governor of Kentucky, and through them to the officers and men under their command, for their gallantry and good conduct in defeating the combined British and Indian forces under Major General Proctor, on the Thames, in Upper Canada, on the fifth day of October, one thousand eight hundred and thirteen, capturing the British army, with their baggage, camp equipage, and artillery; and that the President of the United States be requested to cause two gold medals to be stuck, emblematical of this triumph, and presented to General Harrison and Isaac Shelby, late Governor of Kentucky.
In the fall of 1818, he accompanied Andrew Jackson in negotiating the Jackson Purchase with the Chickasaw Nation. He also served as the first president of the Kentucky Agricultural Society in 1818 and was chairman of the first board of trustees of Centre College at Danville in 1819.
In 1820, Isaac Shelby was stricken with paralysis in his right arm and leg. He died of a stroke on July 18, 1826, at his home in Lincoln County, and was buried on the grounds of his estate, Traveler’s Rest. The state erected a monument over his grave in 1827. In 1952 the Shelby family cemetery was given to the state government and became the Isaac Shelby Cemetery State Historic Site. In 1976, Traveler’s Rest was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Isaac Shelby’s Lasting Legacy
Shelby's patriotism is believed to have inspired the Kentucky state motto: “United We Stand, Divided We Fall”. He was fond of “The Liberty Song”, a 1768 composition by John Dickinson, which contains the line “Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all, By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.”
Centre College began awarding the Isaac Shelby Medallion in 1972, and since then, it has become the college's most prestigious honor. Those awarded the Medallion exemplify the ideals of service to Centre and dedication to the public good that were embraced by Shelby during his time at Centre and in Kentucky.
Nine states have a county named after Shelby, as do numerous cities and military installations. Additionally, numerous Kentucky Highway Historical markers placed around the state honor Shelby and his service to the state, however there is a Kentucky Marker located outside the Commonwealth, at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. When the camp was under construction in 1917, the name of Kentucky’s first governor was selected for the camp. During both World Wars the camp has served as a training site for Kentucky National Guard soldiers of the 38
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...75th Troop Command
...Joint Force Headquarters
......Child and Youth
......KY Youth ChalleNGe
......Recruiting and Retention
......Resilience, Risk Reduction & Suicide
......State Partnership Program
......Survivor Outreach Services
...Diversity, Equality and Inclusion
......Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month
......Black History Month
......Hispanic Heritage Month
......Women's History Month
...Governor of Kentucky
...Harold L. Disney Training Center
...Sexual Harassment/Assault Response
...Thunder over Louisville
...Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center
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