Thomas Jefferson Rusk was born on December 5, 1803 in Pendleton District, South Carolina to John and Mary (Sterritt) Rusk. He was influenced by John C. Calhoun to study law and practiced in Georgia, where he met and married Mary F. Cleveland in 1827. In Georgia, he made some unwise investments and lost some money. Those responsible headed west to Texas and T. J. Rusk followed them, eventually settling in Nacogdoches, Texas, without recovering his investment.
He met Sam Houston and other leaders who opposed the Mexican government, and in the fall of 1835 he organized a company of volunteers at Nacogdoches and joined the Texas troops near San Antonio. From that time on, we devoted himself wholly to the achievement of Texas independence. He was a colonel in the Siege at San Antonio, and a member of the convention which declared the independence of the republic.
He was appointed Secretary of war, but resigned after a few weeks. He was elected to the Second Congress of the Republic, serving from September 25, 1837 to May 24, 1838. He was elected chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court on December 12, 1838 and served until June 20, 1840. He commanded Texas troops in expelling the Cherokee Indians from Texas.
In January, 1843, Rusk was elected major general of the militia and returned to law practice with James Pickney Henderson when his term of office was finished.
In February, 1846, Rusk and Sam Houston were elected to the United States Senate, where he served until his death on July 29, 1857. He died by a self-inflicted gun wound at his home in Nacogdoches. He never fully recovered from the death of his beloved wife, Mary. He is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.