County namesake Isaac Shelby

Published 4:06 pm Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On Feb. 7, Shelby County will celebrate the 192nd year of its formation by an act of the Alabama Territorial General Assembly in 1818.

Named for Isaac Shelby of Kentucky, Shelby County was originally part of Montgomery County. The land from which Shelby County was formed was part of the 23 million acres in Alabama and Georgia surrendered by the Creeks as a part of the treaty signed by General Andrew Jackson in Wetumpka on Aug. 9, 1814. The Fort Jackson Treaty ended the Creek War.

Born Dec. 11, 1750 in Frederick County, Md., Shelby moved to Virginia in 1773 and served as a lieutenant during Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774. Appointed in 1779, following an exploration of the Kentucky Territory, Shelby served as commissary supplier for the frontier militia, where he supplied boats to George Rogers Clark for a difficult expedition to the Illinois Territory to halt British-funded Indian attacks against American settlers.

Clark would be famed for this journey in which he captured British Lieutenant Colonel Henry Hamilton, known as “Hair Buyer” for his payments to Indian allies for American scalps.

A man of sound judgment, known for his diplomacy and self-control, Shelby was said to be a natural leader. His most notable accomplishment of the Revolutionary War was in leading American sharpshooters in the defeat of Major Patrick Ferguson at the Battle of King’s Mountain on Oct. 7, 1780.

After the battle at King’s Mountain, Shelby returned to Kentucky, marrying his childhood sweetheart, Susanna Hart, in Boonesborough on April 19, 1783. They had 11 children together.

Political fame would follow military fame as Shelby embarked on what would become a prominent career in politics, becoming Kentucky’s first governor in 1792. In 1812, he was again elected governor at the age of 61. The War of 1812 had just begun and, in 1813, Shelby organized and led a group of Kentucky militiamen to defeat the British at Thames, Canada, earning him a gold medal from Congress.

In 1817, President James Monroe asked Shelby to serve as the U.S. Secretary of War. Shelby declined because of his age. The following year, he joined Andrew Jackson in negotiating the “Jackson Purchase” with the Chickasaw Indians.

Shelby died of a stroke on July 18, 1826, at his Kentucky home, Traveller’s Rest, where he, his wife and several of their children are buried. Numerous counties throughout the country are named in his honor.

Catherine Cousins writes a weekly column about the history of our county. Cousins by e–mail at