The SHELL Family of South East Kentucky
The SHELL Family© of
Southeastern Kentucky

Samuel and Mary Ann (Polly) FRY SHELL appear to have arrived in Harlan County from Tennessee shortly before the 1830 census in which the household of Samuel SHELL appears. By early census records, Samuel was born between 1770 and 1780, possibly in Burke or Lincoln County in North Carolina. On 18 July 1805, in Lincoln County, North Carolina, he married, Mary Ann FRY, who was born about 1786 in North (or possibly South) Carolina. About 1810, the family migrated to Warren County, Tennessee, where most of their children were probably born.

Mary Ann is found alone in the 1850 census of Harlan County and it was originally thought that Samuel had died by this time but it is probable that he is the Samuel SHELL born about 1782 in North Carolina who is listed in the 1850 Letcher County household of Rachel MULLINS who was born about 1802 in Virginia. Rachel may be the female born 1800-1810 in Samuel's 1830 household and is possibly a daughter of Samuel and Mary Ann's. Traditional stories say that Samuel was shot during the Civil War.

Mary Ann FRY was the daughter of Nicholas FRY. She died 5 August 1877 in the part of Harlan that would become Leslie County in 1878. From further records we have what are thought to be the children of Samuel besides the older female, possibly Rachel MULLINS, just mentioned.

Elizabeth SHELL

Elizabeth Betty SHELL was born about 1806, probably in Lincoln County, North Carolina. She died 28 July 1896 and is buried in the Locust Grove Cemetery in Laurel County, Kentucky. Elizabeth appears to have married Hiram YOUNG before the SHELL family moved from the Warren County, Tennessee area to Harlan County, Kentucky, as their oldest daughter was born about 1827 in Tennessee. Hiram was born about 1805 in Hawkins County, Tennessee and may be the son of John and Sarah YOUNG. Hiram and Elizabeth remained in Harlan County until sometime after the 1840 census but had removed to Laurel County by 1850, when Hiram bought land there from Robert Wickliffe. Hiram died before 1880.
  1. Margaret YOUNG b ca 1827 TN, md 1845 Samuel HALL
  2. Samuel YOUNG d in the Mexican War, Co.K 3rd Regiment KY Vol Infantry, organized by Andrew F. Caldwell.*
  3. John K YOUNG b ca 1831 in Harlan, md 1855 Elizabeth Emily WATKINS
  4. Hiram H YOUNG b ca 1836 in Harlan, md 1856 to Amanda --?--
  5. Martha Jane YOUNG b ca 1840 KY, md 1861 Milton JONES
  6. Jeremiah S.M. YOUNG b ca 1843 in Harlan or Laurel, md three times
  7. William Henderson YOUNG b July 1846 in Laurel, md Sarah MORGAN
  8. Martin S.E. YOUNG b May 1849, md Nancy E STEEL
Carol Wyatt has sent us further information on Elizabeth and Hiram YOUNG: "Hiram and Elizabeth Shell Young also had a son, Samuel that died in the Mexican War. I don't have the records as yet. So I would have to guess on his age between Margaret and John K. Young, looking at the census 1840." In a follow-up message, Carol added "They marched Mexico City in Dec 1847 and remained in the vicinity until June 1848, when they returned and mustered out at Louisville on July 21, 1848. Samuel died sometime before 1848. Listed as a Private that died in the war. I had always known that Elizabeth Shell Young had a son that died in the war. She lived with her son William (my gg-grandfather) and often spoke of him. and carried the little knife he gave her before going to war in her apron pocket. As related from my grandma, who remembered Elizabeth."

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Catharine SHELL

Catharine SHELL was born 10 March 1807/9 and married William OSBORNE.
  1. Mary Ann OSBORNE born about 1832
  2. Rebecca OSBORNE born about 1835
  3. Andrew OSBORNE born about 1837
  4. Solomon OSBORNE born about 1839
  5. Louisa OSBORNE born about 1842
  6. William OSBORNE born about 1845
  7. Tabitha J OSBORNE born about 1849

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    Solomon SHELL

    Solomon SHELL was born about 1812 in Tennessee (his age varies from b ca 1810-1818 in the census records but his appearance on the tax lists places his birth at about 1812). In 1840, in Harlan County, he married Tabitha DIXON. Solomon and Tabitha were living in Clay County in 1850 but had returned to Harlan County by the taking of the 1860 census. Solomon and Tabitha were still living 21 Jan 1878 when they sign a deed in which their sons Nicholas and Henry give their part in their estate to their brother John D SHELL but neither Solomon nor Tabitha have been located in 1880. There are some discrepancies between the 1850 and 1860 households, the latter appears to be correct according to what other information is at hand. The names listed in the 1850 census are in ( ) after the names that appear to be correct.
    1. Louisa (Lawson) b ca 1841, probably md 1874 to John A DISHER
    2. Martha (Polly) b ca 1843, may have md Lihu GARRISON
    3. Mary Ann (Sally) b ca 1845
    4. John D b ca 1847 md 1867 in Harlan to Elizabeth NOLAN b ca 1848, fought in the Three Forks Battalion, Co.F, listed as having rheumatism in the 1890 Veterans Census
    5. William b ca 1849, appears to have died young
    6. Catharine b ca 1850 (after the census) md 10 Mar 1871 in Harlan to John DAY s/o William and Rinda (METCALF)
    7. Henry D b 6 Dec 1853 in Harlan md 1870 also in Harlan to Cordelia NOLAN, sister of his brother John's wife
    8. Nancy b 20 Dec 1854, probably died young as not listed in 1860 census
    9. Rebecca b ca 1856 may have md 1873 Lafayette NOLAN
    10. Nicholas b 1 Mar 1859
    Solomon and Tabitha's children lived in Harlan and Leslie Counties.

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    Polly Ann was born about 1816 in Tennessee. There are some uncertainties remaining about Polly Ann. It is thought that she married first to a CAWOOD, some sources say Joel or Joseph, and had at least two daughters by him. In the 1850 census, Polly is listed with five CAWOOD daughters but later records indicate that the three youngest are by her second husband, Jonathan OSBORNE. Jonathan and Polly had at least three more children, for a total of six.
    1. Esther CAWOOD born about 1837 md Francis HALL
    2. Nancy CAWOOD born about 1839 md William F OSBORNE s/o Enoch
    3. Susan OSBORNE born about 1843
    4. Julia A OSBORNE born about 1846
    5. Mary A OSBORNE born about 1849
    6. William OSBORNE born about 1851 md 1872 Sarah CLONINGER
    7. Jane OSBORNE born 12 Sep 1854
    8. Cameliza OSBORNE born about 1857
    Two more girls appear in the 1870 household but they may be granddaughters: Sarah born about 1862 and Nancy born about 1864. The placement of Polly Ann SHELL CAWOOD OSBORNE as a daughter of Samuel SHELL is probable but not certain.

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    George W. SHELL

    George W. SHELL was born about 1817 and died in 1867. He is listed in census records as an idiot and a pauper and county funds were drawn for his care as an idiot.

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    Rebecca SHELL was born about 1820 to 1824, census records are a little inconsistent. She was married first to John LEDINGTON and after his death she married Clem NANTZ as his second wife. In later life she is also believed to have married Reason SULLIVAN.
    • Catharine LEDINGTON born ca 1836 md 25 Dec 1852 George BURKHART s/o Jacob
    • Jeremiah LEDINGTON born ca 1840 md Sarah
    • James LEDINGTON born ca 1843
    • Silas NANTZ born ca 1846
    • George NANTZ born ca 1849 md 1869 Susan BAILEY d/o John J & Martha
    • Calvin NANTZ born ca 1853

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    John SHELL of Leslie County, Kentucky

    John SHELL is the most well known of the SHELL family of south eastern Kentucky having appeared at the 1919 state fair as purportedly one of Kentucky's oldest citizens. He is said to have been about 134 years old when he died in 1922 and to have many stories telling of his great age. These stories contradict themselves as do the facts in various census records. From all the available facts, he was only about 100 years old at his death, having been born about 1822 in Tennessee. His death certificate gives his birth date as 15 Sept 1809, but this is certainly too early and the information would have been given by a survivor, not John himself. He appears to have been a great storyteller and many stories have been told about him as well. It is certain that in 19 October 1844, in Harlan County, Kentucky, he married Elizabeth NANCE, born about 1822, and that he died 5 July 1922. He is buried in the Shell Burial Ground in the White Oaks area of Leslie County.

    He married second, sometime after 1900, to Elizabeth "Betsy" CHAPPELL. Betsy was the daughter of Clem Nantz, by his first wife. Clem's second wife was John's sister Rebecca. By his second wife, John had one son, James Albert SHELL born in 1915.

    John and Elizabeth NANCE SHELL had at least 12 children:

    1. Mary "Polly" Ann b ca 1844 md Eli HUFF
    2. William b ca 1847 d ca 1927 md 1868 Elizabeth HOSKINS
    3. (Andrew) Jackson b ca 1848, may have died young as not listed in the 1860 census
    4. Nicholas b ca 1850 md 1877 Dallia FRENCH
    5. Sarah b ca 1852 md 1872 Reuben CHAPPELL
    6. John P M b 24 May 1852 in Harlan md 1873 Minty FARLEY
    7. Martha b 12 Aug 1854 in Harlan probably md Lihu GARRISON
    8. Elizabeth b ca 1856 perhaps md 1873 William GRIFFETTS
    9. Abijah S "Bige" b 14 Dec 1858 in Harlan md Lucinda
    10. Silas B b ca 1862 md 1878 Nancy DUFF
    11. James McClellan b ca 1864
    12. Emily b ca 1866
    John's 1900 Leslie County household includes grandchildren Robert F SHELL b Mar 1893 and Mary HUFF b Jan 1880.

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    Nicholas SHELL

    Nicholas SHELL was born about 1827 in Tennessee and is listed in the 1850 census of Harlan County with wife Lydia and a son Silas, born about 1849. It is not known if this is the same wife as later records or if Silas died by 1860. It is possible that this wife and son left. The wife in 1860 is listed as Eliza and from birth records of two of the children, she is an IRVIN, daughter of Benjamin G. and Elizabeth IRVIN and was born about 1835 in Virginia. (Lydia was listed as born about 1832 in Kentucky).
      Children of Nicholas and Eliza IRVIN SHELL:
    1. John S SHELL born 31 August 1852 on Catrons Creek in Harlan Co., md 1876 Mary J YORK
    2. Rebecca SHELL born 2 May 1854 md 1875 John TURNER
    3. William SHELL born about 1856 md 1876 Nancy A YORK
    4. Elizabeth SHELL born about 1858 (died young? not in 1870 census)
    5. Solomon SHELL born about 1860
    6. Nicholas SHELL age 2 months at the 1860 census
    7. Mary Ann SHELL born about 1863
    8. Catharine SHELL born about 1864
    9. Sabra SHELL born about 1866

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    Joseph SHELL

    Joseph SHELL was born about 1837 in Tennessee. It is not known if he was a son of Samuel but he does appear in the 1860 Harlan census and there is a strong possibility of a family connection. He is not found in the 1850 or 1870 census of Harlan County but in 1860, he is listed with wife Rachel HOSKINS born about 1829, daughter of Reuben HOSKINS, and son William born about 1857 and daughter Mary Ann born about 1860.

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Additions and corrections welcome, email

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