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Born in Frederick County, Maryland near Hagerstown, he was the son of Eaan and Letitia (Cox) Shelby. The family moved to western Virginia in 1772 and ran a trading post. He was a lieutenant in Lord Dunmore's War in 1774. The next year he surveyed land in Kentucky and settled there in 1776. Governor Patrick Henry appointed him to secure provisions for the army on the frontier the next year. He was elected to the Virginia legislature in 1780.
Shelby led the Americans to victory at the Battle of Cowpens in 1781. He settled in North Carolina and was elected twice to its legislature. In 1783, he returned to Kentucky where he married Susannah Hart. He was named a trustee of what became Transylvania University.
When Kentucky became a state, he was elected its first governor. One of his chief concerns was securing Federal aid to defend the frontier. He also worked for free navigation on the Mississippi River. He retired to his farm in Lincoln County, Kentucky. In 1812, he once more ran for governor and was victorious. Upon leaving office in 1816, President James Monroe offered him the post of Secretary of War but he declined. He died at his home in Lincoln County.
- Sylvia Wrobel and George Grider. Isaac Shelby: Kentucky's First Governor and Hero of Three Wars. 1974.
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Charles Scott | width="40%" style="text-align: center;" |Governor of Kentucky
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