Last week Ritchey and I visited the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort. This was not so much a research trip as a photography session! In a previous blog I wrote about Matthew Harris Jouett – the Mercer County native that became a famous portrait painter shortly after fighting in the War of 1812. Isaac Shelby, the first governor of Kentucky, was one of his subjects, and the portrait painted in 1820 hangs in the Hall of Governors of the history center.
This is Governor Isaac Shelby’s portrait, by Jouett. Since it hangs in the upper section it was rather difficult to get a good shot, without having glare from the lights. I think it a very good portrait by someone with very little formal training (Matthew Jouett studied with Gilbert Stuart for one year in Boston). The tie and cravat, with its multitude of ruffles, are interesting, but it is the face of Governor Shelby that captures our attention. He looks a very no-nonsense man – which I’m sure he was. There was no time for nonsense in those very early days of Kentucky, creating our state and keeping his citizens safe from Indian raids. This was after fighting the Indians earlier in Virginia and the Revolutionary War!
Isaac Shelby was governor from 1792-1796. He served a second term in 1812-1816, during the War of 1812. It was believed that no one else could lead us through to victory. Shelby actually led troops during the war, and was not always in the state. He gave battle beside William Henry Harrison, Commander of the American Northwest Army, and Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry.
Shelby was known as the old Indian fighter. He lived near Danville at his home called ‘Traveler’s Rest.’ He was escorted from Danville to Lexington, for his inauguration, by a detachment of Lexington horse troops – to his lodging at the Sheaf of Wheat Inn. This was before Frankfort became the state capital.
In his autobiography Shelby wrote only one line about his terms as governor, since he felt his military career was more important. But governorship and wars were not what Isaac Shelby truly wanted to do. He wanted to be a farmer and raise good cattle, living in the spot where he had pitched a tent at the age of twenty-five, in the wilderness of Kentucky!