Isaac Shelby State Historical Site

Entry to Traveler’s Rest. (Author Photo)

The American Revolution in the east has its share of founding fathers while war in the west has its share of legendary characters.  Few could claim to be both.  Isaac Shelby was born in western Maryland in 1750 and migrated with his family farther south and west in 1770, near Bristol Tennessee.  Shelby in Lord Dunmore’s War and became a surveyor for North Carolinian Richard Henderson’s Transylvania Company, created to secure land west of the Appalachians just before the American Revolution.  (Daniel Boone was the best known of Henderson’s surveyors).  

            When the Revolution broke out, Shelby served first with the Virginians and then accepted roles handling logistics for Virginians, Continentals, and North Carolinian units operating along the frontier. Organizational structures were fluid along the Appalachians, more often centered around communities and available manpower than formal state boundaries, and Shelby participated in a variety of actions against British and Loyalist forces in North and South Carolina.  The personal nature of the partisan conflict eventually led Shelby and others on the frontier, including John Sevier, to organize the so-called “Overmountain Men” in a pursuit of Loyalists led by British Major Patrick Ferguson.  The two sides eventually clashed in the Battle of King’s Mountain, a resounding victory for American forces in October 1780.

During the war, Shelby had served as a legislator in both Virginia and North Carolina, but eventually moved to Kentucky, then a county in Virginia. He settled on a claim he dubbed Traveler’s Rest, a two-story stone house with wings on each side and one of the finest homes in Kentucky when it was completed in 1786. Not long after he began working to separate the county from Virginia proper, which happened in 1792. Shelby became the Kentucky’s first governor, serving until 1796. During his term, Shelby led efforts to organize Kentuckians to support the federal campaign against Native Americans in the War of the Northwest Territory. By 1804, at least 42 enslaved people lived and worked at Traveler’s Rest.

Shelby Family Cemetery. Isaac Shelby’s marker is in the back right. (Author Photo)

            In 1812, Shelby was again elected governor and led efforts to organize Kentucky’s support for the western campaigns in the War of 1812.   He eventually took the field himself, leading volunteers northward in 1813 at the ripe old age of 63 and participating in the Battle of the Thames in Canada.  Eventually, he returned to Kentucky to serve the rest of his term, leaving office in 1816.  Shelby finally retired to Traveler’s Rest, where he died in 1826 after one of the most storied lives of the Revolution.  Shelby was buried in the family plot not far from the house, which burned in 1905.  The small cemetery is now a Kentucky State Historic Site not far from Danville, Kentucky.  It can be found at Isaac Shelby Road, Stanford, KY  40484.

Visitors should not proceed past the cemetery.  

2 thoughts on “Isaac Shelby State Historical Site

  1. Lorna Hainesworth

    As shown on the historical marker, this particular Traveller’s Rest is spelled with two “L”s. The one in South Carolina and the one in Montana have only one “L”.


  2. I’m not sure I understand your comment. As shown on the historical marker in the photo and the signage at the cemetery, Shelby’s home was spelled “Traveler’s Rest,” with one L. It’s also that way on the Kentucky Historical Society app. FWIW, Dan Morgan retired to a home in Virginia that he dubbed “Traveller’s Rest” with two Ls. Not too far away, in Kearneysville, WV, General Horatio Gates also had a home he called “Traveler’s Rest” with one L. Apparently, it was a popular name, regardless of how it was spelled!


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