Isaac Shelby, soldier, statesman, and surveyor, was Kentucky’s first governor. He served from 1792 to 1796 and was re-elected in 1812. Shelby came to Kentucky in 1774 when he was hired by the Transylvania Company to survey the new Kentucky territory. In exchange for his services as a surveyor, Shelby was given his choice of land in the new territory and chose the surrounding land, which he called Traveller’s Rest.
In 1783, Shelby married Suzanna hart, daughter of Capt. Nathaniel hart, one of the first settlers in Kentucky and one of the owners of the Transylvania Company. After their marriage, Isaac and Suzanna began building their home on the land Shelby had claimed several years before. Traveller’s Rest was designed by Isaac Shelby and is thought to have been one of the first stone houses in Kentucky. The main wing was two stories high with single story wings extending from either end, one containing the master bedroom and the other the kitchen.
Traveller’s Rest was accidentally burnt in 1905 when the current owner tried to smoke a wasp nest out of the attic. An engineer on a passing train saw the blaze and blew his whistle to alert the neighbors. However, the lack of water and a shortage of people to fight the fire resulted in the destruction of the house. Shelby was a prominent member of the early Kentucky society. He was a member of the constitutional conventions which lead to Kentucky’s statehood. Shelby was a trustee of Transylvania Seminary, Kentucky’s first college, and chairman of the board of trustees of Centre College in Danville. He was one of the founders of Kentucky Society for Promoting Useful Arts, which supported agricultural education and promoted the distribution of materials on the most innovative farming techniques.
Shelby’s military record was well known. He fought in the Revolutionary War at the famous Battle of King’s mountain and in the War of 1812 where he led a regiment to the rescue of Kentucky troops during the Battle of the Thames near Detroit. He achieved some fame for his performance during the battle that people from Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky stood along the roadside to catch sight of the hero upon his return to Kentucky.
Even after his official retirement from politics in 1816, Shelby was asked to serve as Secretary of the War by President Monroe; however he declined. In 1817, he was commissioned by Andrew Jackson to negotiate with the Chickasaw Indians for purchase of the lands west of the Tennessee River. Shelby remained active in political affairs until his death at Traveller’s Rest in 1826 at the age of 76. Shelby, his wife Suzanna, several of their children and close family relatives are buried here. The original kitchen can be seen from a distance, on private property, when visiting the cemetery. In May 1938, complete restoration of the Shelby burial ground was undertaken by Judge and Mrs. Samuel M. Wilson of Lexington, Kentucky, Miss Susanna Preston Shelby Grigsby and Colonel Evan Shelby. During this restoration, the stone wall surrounding the burial ground and the individual markers were restored by the Lexington Granite Company. The Traveller’s Rest slab, dated 1820, was removed from the original wall and reset in the present wall.
In September, 1991, the Kentucky Department of Parks completed major restoration of the Isaac Shelby Cemetery. The restoration included stabilization, resetting, cleaning and conservation treatments of the existing grave markers and identification of the unmarked gravesites. The wall surrounding the cemetery was also restored by cleaning, recapping and tuck-pointing of the stone.
Isaac Shelby Cemetery State Historic Site Directory
1. Ms. Nancy Nelson, d. morning of Aug. 25 (27), 1815- in her 23rd year.
2. Ann K. Nelson, b. Sept. 20, 1813, d. Aug. 11, 1814.
3. Catherine Shelby, infant- b. April 19, 1801, aged 1 mo, 15 days. Foot-stone: C.S.
4. Margaret Ann Nelson, b. Jun. 27, 1820, d. April 3rd 1821.
5. Isaac Shelby, b. Sept. 30, 1820, d. March 19, 1821, aged __ mo, 19 days.
6. John Shelby, b. March 5, 1797, d. October 11, 1815- aged 18 years.
7. Isaac Shelby Nelson, b. Apr. 1815, d. February 13, 1818.
8. Susan Shelby, b. Feb 18, 1764, d. June 19, 1833.
9. Isaac Shelby, b. Dec. 11, 1750, d. July 18, 1826.
10. I.S. McD______(date wholly obliterated)
11. Sarah L. McDowell, d. May 5, 1827, aged 8 yrs. Foot-stone: S.L.M.
12. Alfred McDowell, d. August 16, 1827 aged two years. Foot-stone: AM
13. Sally Ann McDowell aged 2 years. Foot-stone: S A M
14. Joseph Weisiger Shelby, son of Evan & Nancy Shelby, aged 23 years, died Apr. 23, 1852.
15. Nancy Wilcox Warren Shelby, b. Nov. 22, 1791, died Dec. 30, 1849, aged 58 years
16. Emma Knight, dr. of John W. & Mark Shelby, b. Feby.___, 1844, d. Feb. 15, 1848.
17. Lucien, son of John W. & Mary Shelby, b. 2-th July 18__, d. Feb 1, ___.
18. (unmarked foot-stone only)
19. Letitia Shelby, dr. of Evan Shelby, b. Feby. 12, 182_, d. December __, _____.
20. Isaac Shelby, son of Evan Shelby, d. June 15, 1829 in 17th year. Foot-stone: I S
21. Isaac Shelby, b. Apr. 25, 1828, d. Dec. 2, 1848.
Alfred Shelby, b. Nov. 12, 1831, Dec. 24, 1848, “only sons of Alfred Shelby and Virginia Hart.”
22. Sarah Virginia (Shelby), Born on 12th April 18__, Died on 11th June 18__.
23. Alfred Shelby, d. Dec. 1, 1832 aged 28.
24. In memory of five f the nine children of Susanna Preston Shelby and John Warren Grigsby.