The American Revolution in North Carolina

Isaac Shelby

First in VA Militia
Captain in the Washington District/County Regiment of Militia - 1776-1779
Major in the Washington County Regiment of Militia - 1779
Colonel over the Sullivan County Regiment of Militia - 1779-1783

For those intrepid pioneers who settled along the Holston River in what was the expanding Watauga Settlement of the 1760s and 1770s, there was no question to themselves that they were Virginians, no matter from where they originated. However, the NC/VA State Line had not been surveyed that far westward, and as the settlement grew, a few settlers began to consider that they just might, indeed, actually be living in North Carolina. By the time that the American Revolution erupted, many in this area admitted that they lived in what they called the "Squabble State."

During 1776, Isaac Shelby was commissioned as a Captain under Col. William Christian in the Virginia Militia. From August to December of 1776, Col. William Christian led a large group of VA and NC Militia on an expedition against the Cherokee on the western side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Similar expeditions were led on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains by Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford (NC) and Maj. Andrew Williamson (SC). Capt. Issac Shelby marched with Col. William Christian in the Cherokee Expedition of 1776.

On 12/23/1776, the NC General Assembly created the Washington District on the western side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and many of those in the Holston River settlements were now North Carolinians, but most did not agree - they continued to consider themselves as Virginians. Although Capt. Isaac Shelby, and his father, Col. Evan Shelby, Sr. had been commissioned as officers in the VA Militia, by the end of 1776, they were "de facto" officers in the North Carolina Militia.

In the 1830s, many survivors of the American Revolution submitted applications for a federal pension as authorized by new federal laws. Many men who claimed they lived in the Holston River settlements asserted that they served under Capt. Isaac Shelby between 1776 and 1779. Some knew that they lived in North Carolina. Most continued to believe that they had lived in Virginia all that time. Most "official records" indicate that Isaac Shelby was a Captain of VA Militia and a Commissary for VA Militia between 1777 and 1779. But, many pensioners later asserted that he was considered by many to be a Captain of NC Militia during this same timeframe. Many available records clearly show that where he lived was proven to be North Carolina territory when the NC/VA State Line survey was completed in 1779.

In the Fall of 1779, Isaac Shelby was commissioned as a Major under Lt. Col. John Sevier in the Washington County Regiment of Militia. It was not long until the NC General Assembly created Sullivan County, and many within the legislature already knew about Isaac Shelby and his keen military intellect.

On 10/30/1779, the NC General Assembly established Sullivan County out of Washington County, and soon thereafter they commissioned Isaac Shelby as the Colonel/Commandant over the newly-created Sullivan County Regiment of Militia. Col. Isaac Shelby retained this position until the end of the war (assumed, records incomplete).

When the British seized Charlestown, SC in May of 1780, Col. Isaac Shelby was called upon to bring his regiment to help out against the enemy in South Carolina. He led the Sullivan County Regiment of Militia against the British and Loyalists at the battles of Thicketty Fort, SC (7/26/1780), Wofford's Iron Works, SC (8/8/1780), Musgrove's Mill, SC (8/18/1780), Kings Mountain, SC (10/7/1780), Hudson's Ferry, SC (7/27/1781), Moncks Corner #4, SC (10/16/1781), and Fair Lawn Plantation, SC (11/27/1781).

Isaac Shelby was born on December 11, 1750, in Hagerstown, Maryland. In 1773, he moved to the Holston settlements on the western frontier of what most perceived to be in Virginia. In 1774, Isaac Shelby served under his father, Evan Shelby, Sr., in Lord Dunmore's War. Following that, he explored the territory of Kentucky. In July 1776, Shelby was appointed captain of a militia company. In 1777, he was appointed commissary of supplies for frontier militia and performed the same service in 1778 for the Continental Army.

In 1779, he supplied boats to George Rogers Clark and was elected to the Virginia Legislature. In 1779, he was commissioned by North Carolina Governor Richard Caswell as a Colonel of the NC Militia. In September 1780, he joined the pursuit of Major Patrick Ferguson and was instrumental in Ferguson's defeat at the Battle of Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780. In 1781, he served under Brig. Gen. Francis Marion (SC). In 1781, Isaac Shelby was elected to the North Carolina Legislature.

Shelby moved to the territory of Kentucky and soon married. In April 1792, he was a member of the convention which framed Kentucky's first constitution. In May 1792, he was elected the first governor of Kentucky, but was not reelected in 1796 because the state constitution barred anyone from serving consecutive terms as governor. In 1812, Shelby was again elected governor. He personally led Militia volunteers and fought at the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813. In 1818, he was commissioned with General Andrew Jackson to negotiate an Indian treaty. On July 18, 1826, a stroke killed Shelby while he was at his home Traveller's Rest.

Click Here for a decent online biography of Isaac Shelby provided by

Click Here for another brief online biography of Isaac Shelby provided by

Click Here for photos and a brief writeup about Isaac Shelby's gravesite in Kentucky.

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