Meeting Isaac Shelby

Re-enactor to portray
first governor of Kentucky

The program is scheduled
for April 1 in Shelbyville

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. – Isaac Shelby was a larger-than-life character from the annuals of history that doesn’t often get the credit he deserves. Upon becoming a state in 1792, a city and county (Shelbyville and Shelby County) in Kentucky were named for this illustrious man who became the states first governor.

Mel Hankla

Photos provided

Living history
interpreter Mel Hankla (above) of Jamestown
has been portraying
Isaac Shelby (below
portrait) for the last
several years.

Isaac Shelby

Isaac Shelby was the third child born on Dec. 11, 1750, to Letitia Cox and Evan Shelby Jr. Born along the Potomac River near Hagerstown, Md., Shelby was destined to be a leader in military and political affairs.
“Isaac Shelby was equally at home on the fields of battle or in the halls of government,” said Mel Hankla of Jamestown, Ky. Hankla, a living history interpreter, will present “Isaac Shelby – Frontiersman, Military Hero, and Politician” at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 1, at the Stratton Center in Shelbyville.
“Shelby was known for his common sense, diplomacy, and self-control, making him a likely choice to lead the transformation of Kentucky from primitive wilderness into American statehood,” said Hankla, 53.
Although Isaac Shelby is not a Kentucky Humanities Council presentation, Hankla has portrayed many characters through the Kentucky Humanities Council in the past, including Gen. George Rogers Clark and Simon Kenton. Isaac Shelby is being sponsored by the Painted Stone Settlers Inc. of Shelbyville. It is a local non-profit group of living history interpreters and history buffs.
“The Painted Stone Settlers are all about teaching history,” said club president Kathy Cummings. “Last year, we presented a highly successful presentation of Daniel Boone in April at the Stratton Center. We decided to repeat a similar program this spring.”
This program is free to the public and will include a question and answer session after the presentation. Light refreshments will be available, in addition to an art show.
Realizing that there are many events vying for people’s time and that not everyone can attend the groups’ annual September event, the Long Run Massacre Re-Enactment, the Painted Stone Settlers decided a special spring performance might be more appealing to some individuals.
Cummings said that when discussion began about who to feature with the presentation, “Isaac Shelby, first governor of Kentucky, was an obvious choice. He was prominent not only in the settling of this land beyond the mountains, but also in the formation and governing of the state.”
Shelby had a strong sense of patriotism that was more than likely instilled in him by his father. Evan Shelby Jr. served with distinction in the French and Indian War (1754-1763). The family moved to western Virginia in 1772, and Shelby became a lieutenant in his father’s company of the Virginia Colonial Militia of Fincastle County by the time he was 23 years old.
On Oct. 7, 1780, Shelby led American sharpshooters to victory at the Battle of King’s Mountain, defeating the British. “Not only was Isaac Shelby important to Kentucky, but he was instrumental in procuring our independence from Britain during the Revolutionary War, and also in keeping the Liberty and Freedom that we enjoy in America today by being a part of the War of 1812,” Hankla said.
After the Battle of King’s Mountain, Shelby returned to Kentucky and married his childhood sweetheart, Susannah Hart, on April 19, 1783, at Fort Boonesborough. The couple reared 10 children. In 1786, Shelby completed a stone house on his Lincoln County farm, better known as Traveler’s Rest.
Shelby was a member of the 1792 convention that drew up Kentucky’s first constitution, and was elected its first governor. He took office on June 4, 1792. After serving his four-year term, he declined re-election and retired to Traveler’s Rest.
When the War of 1812 began, Kentucky again called on 62-year-old Shelby to serve a second term as governor. Once in office, he immediately took action by organizing and leading an army of Kentuckians that ultimately defeated the British at the Thames River in Ontario, Canada, in 1813. He triumphantly returned to Kentucky a hero.
Plans are under way in several states for the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, said Cummings. “As more and more focus comes to bear on the War of 1812, we thought that learning more about Isaac Shelby and his role in Kentucky history would be the best choice for our spring presentation.”
Members of the Sons of the American Revolution (SAR), Isaac Shelby Chapter will also be in attendance. Members will provide a brief speech about the SAR and a Color Guard ceremony before the main presentation.

• To learn more about Mel Hankla’s performances, visit: www.AmericanHistoricServices.com. To learn more about the Painted Stone Settlers Inc., visit: www.PaintedStoneSettlers.org. For more information on the Isaac Shelby presentation, contact Kathy Cummings at (502) 228-3746.

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