from The Bristol Herald Courier
Sunday November 3 1963
The Story of John Shelby The Younger Brother
By Gordon Aronhime
The quirk of fate that kept John Shelby from fame is one that many have experienced over the centuries. He had an older brother in this case the famous General Shelby. In most such instances the younger brother is known as so and so’s younger brother. Even this meager dosage of fame was withheld from John Shelby. Almost no one has ever heard of him. This is most unfortunate for he was a man of considerable distinction and he had children who although they did not reach the peaks of prominence their first cousins achieved were certainly brilliant additions to the frontier.
It is thought that John Shelby was born in 1724. He was not the second, but may have been the fourth child born to Evan and Catharine Shelby who lived near the market town of Tregaron in Cardiganshire, Wales. The Shelby family were staunch members of the Anglican church and attended St. Caron’s church in Tregaron. John was but ten or eleven when his parents gathered up their seven children and brought them to America.
They settled in what is now Franklin County, Pa. Soon after they moved to what is today Maryland’s 'Washington County. The elder Evan Shelby died on 19 May 1750. His son John had already married Sarah daughter of other Welsh settlers David and Katherine (Davis) Davis. Some persons confusing the marriage of John Shelby, Jr. with the daughter of David and Louisa (Looney) Brigham have insisted that the elder John Shelby’s wife was Louisa Looney, but this was the mother-in-law of his eldest son.
John Shelby, the General’s brother, joined his brother Evan’s militia company and they served Evan as Captain and John as a soldier under General Forbes in the French and Indian War in 1758. Later perhaps in 1759 John Shelby was commissioned a Lieutenant of the militia.
John and Sarah Shelby and their children continued to live on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border until the decade of 1770-80. In December, 1770 the elder brother Evan Shelby moved to the Holston. No one knows where General Shelby lived first when he came out to our section. He did not buy the Sapling Grove Tract (Bristol) until-two full years later.
John Shelby came out to our region in November or December of 1772 traveling along the route in a caravan as was done then for protection with Isaac Baker. It is a curious thing that when General Shelby bought the land on which Bristol now stands he shared it with Isaac Baker each taking 973 acres of this 1946 acre tract. Evan Shelby likewise bought one fourth of the tract of land some four or five miles away called The Hazel Lands on which John Shelby who bought three-fourths of' it lived the balance of his life. It is impossible not to wonder why the brothers Shelby did not buy the tract of land on which Bristol stands and live there as neighbors.
The Hazel Lands is a beautiful name for a tract and the land itself is equally beautiful. It is the land that is partly owned today by the Morton family on Holston River a few miles above the mouth of Paddle Creek and below Beidlemans. The price paid for the land was 350 pounds or about $1,750. The property covered almost two square miles. When John Shelby came to this tract of land which he and everyone else in those days supposed to be in Virginia he found three men living on it. One was John Cox ,Sr. (ancestor of the late Governor John Isaacs Cox and of Mrs Homer A. Jones, Sr.), Valentine Little and one William Blevins. The Shelbys bought the rights to the tract of land from all these people, but the Blevins family refused to move. Twenty-five years later John Shelby was still trying to eject Blevins from the land.
It should be remembered that prior to running the line between Carolina (Tennessee) and Virginia in 1779 everything on the north side of Holston River-was thought to be in Virginia and all south of the river in North Carolina (later Tennessee). This was seldom disputed When the land was found later on to actually be in Tennessee the government of Tennessee honored the grant that had been made by the colonial government of Virginia for the land.
This same situation prevailed on the great 3,500 acre tract from which 4,500 acres was sold that stretches along Reedy Creek north of Kingsport— the so-called Pendleton Tract. As late as 1796, John Shelby wrote a letter to the Preston family at Christiansburg complaining rather bitterly that he had been 25 years trying to get peaceful possession of his land from the Blevins family. This was brought about how-ever before the year 1800 though exactly when we cannot say since the records at Blountville were burned during the Civil War.
John Shelby served during the Revolution as a Captain in the Washington County Virginia militia of which his elder brother Evan was the full Colonel and commander (under -the County Lieutenant or military commander who was Arthur Campbell). Before that he had been offered a position as Lieutenant in the Fincastle militia Washington County being struck off from Fincastle in 1776. We do not know whether or not he accepted the offer of the commission of lieutenant m the Fincastle militia in 1774, but it is probable that he did.
The military career of John Shelby during the Revolution was limited. The only expedition that he commanded of which we have positive proof came in the Spring of 1778 when he headed an expedition to the Clinch River. This is attested to by the pension statements of three men who served under him.
There is bound to be much confusion over the records concerning John Shelby’s military career since he had a son named John and so did General Shelby. Also the records sometimes merely say "Captain Shelby" and General Shelby himself-prior to 1776 was a Captain and-subsequent to that date or of that date four of his sons Isaac Moses, Evan, and James Shelby were captains!
Naturally when the home of John Shelby was found to be in Tennessee (North Carolina) by the running of the line of 1779 he resigned his commission. There is not any real proof that he held any military commission under the Sullivan County militia command.
The known children of John and Sarah Shelby, though not necessarily in order of birth are as follows: John Jr., David, Thomas, Isaac (not to be confused with his very distinguished cousin Isaac first Governor of Kentucky) Evan, Catherine, and Louis Levisa.
Catherine Shelby married her first cousin Evan Shelby- (son of General Evan) - and after being widowed by the Indians in 1793 again married this time to one Samuel May.
David born in 1763 married Sarah daughter of the celebrated Colonel Anthony Bledsoe. It was David who became first clerk of the court of Sumner County Tennessee.
Thomas and Isaac Shelby were both Sheriffs of Sullivan County. Thomas in 1800 or 1802 and Isaac in 1796.
John Shelby, Jr. married the daughter of David and Louisa (Looney) Brigham. It was David Brigham who gave the land to the county for the building of Blountville. John Jr. was a man of distinction, but just how much is difficult to say since it is not always possible to separate the achievements of himself son of the General. We do know that this John Shelby, Jr. was one of the first trustees of the Town of Blountville.
Those wonderful ladies in Washington who wear shiny ribbons across their bosoms the Daughters of the American Revolution polished off John Shelby Senior in 1794, but in spite of their assertion of the date of his death the good Welsh stock of the Shelby family was able to withstand such an onslaught for John Shelby did not die the same year is his brother General Evan. Unfortunately we do not know the date of death of either John Shelby Senior or of his wife Sarah. We only know that Sarah was living as late'as 1787 and that John Shelby though well past 80 at the time was living in 1806. We do not know where, much less when, John Shelby died, but there is very likelihood that he died in 1808 or 1809. It was then that the children began to sell off parcels of the Hazel Land Tract and move away. It is very likely indeed that John Shelby lies buried in that overgrown tangle of honeysuckle above Blevins Branch known as the Blevins Cemetery, his grave unmarked except for a huge limestone field rock.
Less than six miles due north of this overgrown cemetery is East Hill Cemetery. There under an iron slab and in a carefully tended grave, lies the dust of General Evan Shelby. The role of John Shelby as the obscure brother extends even to the grave.