1997-2010, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved.

Thomas Jefferson Rusk

Thomas Jefferson Rusk

1st Secretary of War of the Republic 1836
Battle of San Jacinto

Brigadier-General of the Republic 1838-1839

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Republic 1839-1840

President Statehood Convention 1845

US Senator State of Texas 1846-1857

(Photo from The Old Stone Fort, Nacogdoches)

Thomas J. Rusk was the son of stonemason John and Mary Sterritt Rusk and had siblings David, Esther Sterritt, Mary, Nancy, Jane and Rachel. John Rusk immigrated to America from Ireland in 1791. Thomas J. Rusk's mother was a native of the Pendleton District of SC where the Steritte family was prominent in the region. She was known to be a pious and intelligent mother who began her children's education at her knee with the Bible as textbook. At his birth, the family was renting a house from statesman John C. Calhoun in SC, which is now the site of Clemson College. Stonemason John Rusk built the nearby Old Stone Church. Tom Rusk grew to manhood at the family home on Cane Creek near the current town of Walhalla. According to biographer R.T. Jaynes, Rusk grew up in a district which was the home of numerous Revolutionary War heroes, the area's political creed was "Free Trade, State's Rights, Liberty or Death" which may have influenced the young Thomas Jefferson Rusk. John C. Calhoun about 1824 took interest in the young Rusk, encouraged him to study law, tutored him some, loaned him books and helped him land his first position in the office of William Gresham, Pendleton District Clerk. In nearby Clarksville, HabershamCo, GA, Rusk began law practice in 1825, where his uncle John Sterritte lived and other influential Sterritte family members.

There in 1827, Rusk met and married Mary F. Cleveland who was the daughter of General Benjamin Cleveland. Her father was the son of John Cleveland who was the oldest son of Col. Benjamin Cleveland. John Cleveland as a lieutenant at the Battle of Kings Mountain earned the nickname "Devil John" for his fearlessness in battle. Records in Clarksville, HabershamCo, GA show that Rusk practiced law there for at least nine years where in 1832 he had a least nine cases that went to trial and was a land owner. A deed from Carter Allen of 18 Oct 1830 shows that for $1000 he obtained a 1/8 share to a gold and mineral mine. This and related investments turned out to be worthless, the managers fled with the money to Texas, thus the reason for Rusk coming to Texas in pursuit. He followed them to Nacogdoches where he found that they had lost his money gambling. In Nacogdoches, Rusk became interested in the politics and troubles of Texas, remained there and began a law practice. In Dec 1835, his wife and children, John Cleveland and Cicero joined him in Nacogdoches. Additional sons Benjamin Livingston, Thomas Jefferson Jr. and Alonzo died in infancy. Mr. and Mrs. Rusk had additional children Tom and Helena. Mrs. Rusk died of tuberculosis 23 Apr 1856 at age 47. Thomas Rusk and wife are buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Nacogdoches at the foot of a granite marker erected by the State of Texas.

Brother of Thomas Rusk, David Rusk, immigrated to Texas in 1836 and served in Capt. Arnold's 1st Infantry Company, 2nd Volunteer Regiment at the Battle of San Jacinto. He was sheriff of NacogdochesCo, TX 1840-1846 and married Elizabeth Reid there 26 Jan 1843.


Mary F. Cleveland Rusk. From Thomas Jefferson Rusk by Jaynes.

The subject of this article is Mary F. Cleveland. In 1827, she became the wife of Thomas Jefferson Rusk. Her family was most ancient. She traced her ancestry back for seven generations to Alexander (1) Cleveland and Alexander (2 ) Cleveland of Yorkshire, England. Alexander (2) Cleveland emigrated to America, and settled in Prince William County, Virginia, on the famous Bull Run River. His descendants have taken a most important part in the history of America. He died on the plantation of his son, John (3) Cleveland, in Orange County, Virginia, about 1770 within three days of the death of his wife at the age of 111 years. His wife Milly Presley also died at the house of her son, John (3) Cleveland, at the age of 103 years. John (3) Cleveland married Martha Coffee. She was a relative of Jesse Coffee, one of the Executors of Colonel Ben (4) Cleveland's will, and after who in the "Coffee Road" leading now from Wallhalla to Westminster via Double Cabins was named. In 1797-8 Jesse Coffee acquired a tract of 650 acres of land lying on both sides of Conneross creek on which he made his home for many years. The "Coffee Road" ran by the grist mill on this tract. John (3) Cleveland and his wife lived to a good old age, and died at their home on Blue Run River in Orange County, Virginia, leaving five sons, John (4) Cleveland, born 1730; Benjamin (4) Cleveland, born May 26, 1738; Robert (4) Cleveland, born 1744; Jeremiah (4) Cleveland, born 1746; Larkin (4) Cleveland, born 1748; and two daughters, Mary (4) Cleveland, born about 1733 and Daughter (4) Cleveland, born about 1736, married Gillespie, of Virginia. Colonel Benjamin (4) Cleveland, a commander at the battle of King's Mountain, married Mary Graves, of all excellent family of Culpeper County, Virginia. Their children were Jemima (5) Cleveland; Absalom (5) Cleveland and John (5) Cleveland. About 1769, Colonel Benjamin (4) Cleveland removed from Virgiilia and settled in North Carolina near the foot of the Blue Ridge in what is now Wilkes County. He later removed to a place, known as the "Round-About" on the Yadkin river, fifteen miles below Wilkesboro. He lived there until after the Revolutionary War, when he moved to the Tugaloo and Chauga valley, where the State of Georgia (1784) granted him a tract of 3,000 acres on both sides of the Tugaloo and Chauga rivers. At that time Georgia claimed Keowee and ard Seneca rivers tp be the line between the two States. The Cleveland family is very large and the name for more than a century has been known in almost every State of the Union. It appears that there are two branches--the Northern and Southern. The Northern branch traces back to Moses (1) Cleveland who came from Suffolk County, England about 1635 and settled in Middlesex County, Mlassachusetts. President Cleveland was a descendant of Moses (1) Cleveland. It is believed that Moses (1) Cleveland and Alexander (1) Cleveland were brothers, or at least of near kin. So closely do the Southern Clevelands, in feature, resemble the New England Clevelands, that it is probable that their ancestors were near relatives. Their physiological appearance, the strong will and direct way of doing things which characterized President Cleveland were the most proininent features of the Southern family, of which Col. Benjamin Cleveland was the conspicious head. His record as a soldier and the great part he took in the Battle of King's Mountain are well known. His son, John, also fought at King's Mountain as a Lieutenant in his Uncle Robert's Company of his father's Regiment. On account of his fearlessness he was dubbed "Devil John."

John (5) Cleveland, about 1774-5 married Mrs. Catherine (Slocum) Montgomery in Wilkes County, North Carolina. They had two sons and four daughters as follows: Benjamin (6) Cleveland, born June 13, 1783; Mary Graves (6) Cleveland, born about 1785, married Abednego Franklin; Absalom (6) Cleveland died unmarried and childless; Catherine (6) Cleveland married Colonel Wellborn of Tennessee; Eliza (6) Cleveland and Martha (6) Cleveland. Absalom (5) Cleveland eldest son of Colonel Ben (4) Cleveland, had one son and six daughters as fellows: John Cleveland: Meeky, who married B. F. Martin; Betsy, who Imarried Gideon Smith; Sallie, who married first Hudson Greenwood and afterwards a Yowell; Lucy who married Micajah Bryant; Genny, who married Moses Shannon and Polly, who married Thomas Harbin, commonly known as "Chauga Tom" who later became the owner of the nicest of Colonel Cleveland's lands on the Chauga river. Many descendants of this branch of the Cleveland family are in this and other States. John (5) Cleveland died on the Tugaloo river in Franklin County, Georgia. Benjamin (6) Cleveland, and son of John (5) Cleveland, married Argin Blair of Franklin County, Gzorgia, in 1802. She was the eldest diaughter of Colonel James Blair, a famed Revolutionary soldier. Their children were: John (7) Cleveland, died aged 21 years, unmarried. Mary F., sometimes called Polly, (7) married Thomas J. Rusk in 1827. Died July 29, 1856. Catherine (7) Cleveland; Anil (7) Cleveland, married first, Alexander Smith and after his death she married a Hoyle. James (7) Cleveland, died age 21 years, unmarried.

For many years Benjamin Cleveland was a prominent citizen of Habersham County, Georgia, wbich he represented in the legislature for twenty years. He was on officer in the Creek Indian War, Major and Commandant of a Regiment under Generals John Floyd and Newman at battles of Autossee, Alabama, November 29, 1813, Calibee Swamp and others, in the war of 1812. He was a large land owner and also a merchant at Clarkesville. In the mercantile business he had as his partner for several years, his son-in-law, Thomas J. Rusk. He was a man of large means and gave much to charity. It is said of him that he was known in times of scarcity to haul corn twenty-five miles or more and either give or sell it to poor neighbors on credit at cost. He died June 23, 1858. His widow went to Mississippi where she died in 1867 as the home of her son-in-law, Hoyle. Her remains were brought to Clarkesville and buried beside her husband.

From The Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas by John Henry Brown. Thomas J. Rusk was born in Pendleton District, SC, December 5th, 1803. He early attracted the attention of John C. Calhoun, under whose counsels he was educated and studied law. He then settled in Georgia, rose rapidly at the bar, married an accomplished daughter of Gen. Cleveland and moved to Nacogdoches, Texas, in the winter of 1834-35. In personal appearance he was of tall and commanding presence, had a dark, ruddy complexion, deep set and benevolent eyes, and kindly and engaging features instinct with sensibility and reflecting the noble soul within. A single glance won every heart, and the whole people took him on trust. Without desire or effort upon his part, he became the leader of the people of the old municipality of Nacogdoches in the first faint stirrings of a bloody revolution. The convention which declared Texas an independent Republic met at Washington, on the Brazos, March 1, 1836. Rusk was there as a delegate from Nacogdoches and his name is affixed to the declaration. Thence till his death in 1857, his history formed a large and inseparable part of that of Texas.

By David G. Burnet, the President ad interim from March to October, 1836, he was made Secretary of War, and later was sent forward to the army and was a leading actor at the battle of San Jacinto. When Gen. Houston retired early in May in search of medical treatment in New Orleans Rusk was made Commander-in-Chief of the army, and, at its head, followed the retreating Mexicans to Goliad. There he called a halt, caused the bones of Fannin's four hundred and eighty massacred men to be collected and interred, and over the remains of the martyred dead delivered an address that moistened the cheeks of every man in the motley group of half-naked, half-starved and ill-armed volunteer soldiers, who with him performed these last sad rites. For a few months he remained in command of the army; then returned to his home in Nacogdoches, where he was elected to the first Congress of the Republic. By that body he was elected a Brigadier-General of the Republic and as such in October, 1838, fought and defeated a large body of Indians at the Kickapoo village in East Texas. In July 1839, be commanded a portion of the troops in the Cherokee battles of July 16 and 17. In the same year he was elected by Congress, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Republic, and held the first term at Austin in the winter of 1839-40. Under the Republic the Chief Justice and the District Judges composed the Supreme Court. He held the position for a time, then resigned it and devoted himself to the practice of law, in which he had but a single rival in East Texas, in the person of his friend, Gen. J. Pinckney Henderson. He loved the freedom of retirement and had no taste for office-seeking or office-holding. However, in 1845, when a convention was called to form a constitution for Texas as a proposed State of the Union, he was unanimously elected a delegate from Nacogdoches. When the convention assembled on the fourth of July, he was unanimously elected its president, and when the Legislature, under its new constitution, assembled on the 16th of February, 1846, he was elected by the unanimous vote, of both the Senate and House, to be one of the two first Senators from the State of Texas to the Congress of the United States, his colleague being Gen. Sam. Houston. In 1843 he had been elected Major-General of the Republic.

Together, they took their seats in March, 1846---together, by the re-election of each, they sat eleven years, till the melancholy death of Rusk in 1857. Together, they represented the sovereignty and defended the rights of Texas together, they shed luster on their State---together, they sustained President Polk in the prosecution of the Mexican War---together, they, each for himself, declined a pro-offered Major-Generalship in the army of invasion in Mexico---together, they labored to give Texas the full benefit of her mergence into the Union in regard to mail routes, frontier protection and custom house facilities--together, they labored in behalf of the compromises of 1850, the adjustment of the boundary of Texas and sale (as a peace offering), of our Northwest Territory to the United States---and together, they sought to encourage the construction of a transcontinental railway, on the parallel of thirty-two degrees north latitude from the Mississippi river and the Gulf of Mexico, through Texas, to the Pacific Ocean, an achievement that found its final accomplishment December 1, 1881, twenty-four years after the death of Rusk. For several years Gen. Rusk was elected to the honorable position of president pro-tem of the United States Senate and presided with a dignity and impartiality that commanded the respect and esteem of every member of that body. In 1851, with a select band of friends, he traversed Texas from east to west on the parallel of thirty-two degrees to see for himself the practicability of a railway route, and became thoroughly satisfied of its feasibility and cheapness. He was a wise man in his day and generation, a just man in all the relations of life, a true patriot, a husband and father tender to weakness, a friend guileless and true, an orator persuasive and convincing, a soldier from a sense of duty, in battle fearless as a tiger, in peace gentle as a dove; ambitious only for an honorable name, honorably won, and regarded as dross the tinsel, display and pomp of ephemeral splendor. In a word, Thomas J. Rusk was a marked manifestation of nature's goodness in the creation of one of her noblest handiwork. When he died Texas mourned from hut to palace, for the whole people, even the slaves, wherever known to them, loved him. Would that I could reproduce a few sentences from the eulogy upon him by that peerless son of Texas, the late Thomas M. Jack, before a weeping audience in Galveston. But my copy of it is among the treasures lost in the late war.

Fidelity to truth bids the statement---so painful to a whole commonwealth---that this noble citizen, patriot and statesman, died by his own hand, at his own home, in Nacogdoches, in the summer of 1857. His cherished and adored wife, to whom he was not only attached with rare devotion, but for whom he had a reverence as remarkable as beautiful, had died a little before. His grief, quiet but unappeasable, superinduced melancholy. A ravenous carbuncle at the base of the skull racked his brain, and, in a moment of temporary aberration, he took his own life, by shooting himself with a gun, and his soul went hence to a merciful God.

Secretary of War Rusk's Report on the Battle of San Jacinto

Sir: I have the honor to communicate to you a brief account of a general engagement with the army of Santa Anna at this place, on the 21st instant. Our army, under the command of General Houston, arrived here on the 20th instant. The enemy, a few miles off at Washington, appraised of our arrival, committed some depredations upon private property, and commenced their line of march to this point. They were unconscious of our approach until our standard was planted on the banks of the San Jacinto. Our position was a favorable one for battle. On the noon of the 20th, the appearance of our foe was hailed with enthusiasm. The enemy (marched in good order, took a position in front of our encampment, on an eminence within cannon-shot, where they planted their only piece of artillery, a brass nine-pounder; and then arrayed their cavalry and infantry a short distance on the right, under the shelter of a skirt of woods. In a short time they commenced firing upon us; their cannon in front, their infantry on the left, and their cavalry changing their position on the right. A charge was (made on the left of our camp by their infantry, which was promptly repelled by a few shots from our artillery, which forced them to retire. I have the satisfaction of stating that only two of our men were wounded, one very slightly, the other, Col. Niell, of the artillery, not fatally.

The attack ceased; the enemy retired and formed in two skirts of timber, and remained in that position, occasionally opening their fire upon us, until just before sunset, when they attempted to draw off their forces. The artillery and cavalry were removed to other points. Colonel Sherman, with sixty of our cavalry, charged upon theirs, consisting of upward of one hundred, killing and wounding several. Their infantry came to the assistance of their cavalry, and opened upon us an incessant fire for ten or fifteen minutes, which our men sustained with surprising firmness. Too much praise can not be bestowed upon those who were engaged in this charge, and termination with less loss. Two of our men were severely wounded, but none killed. This terminated the movements of the day.

Early next morning, about nine o'clock, the enemy received a reinforcement of 500 men, under the command of General Martin Perfecto de Cos, which increased their force to fourteen or fifteen hundred men. It was supposed that an attack upon our encampment would now be made; and, having a good position, we stationed our artillery, and disposed of the forces, so as to receive the enemy to the best advantage. At three o'clock, however, the foe, instead of showing signs of attack, was evidently engaged in fortifying. We determined, therefore, immediately to assail him; and, in half an hour, we were formed in four divisions; the first, intended as our right wing, composed of the regulars under Colonel Millard, and the second division, under command of Colonel Sidney Sherman, formed our left wing. A division, commanded by Colonel Burleson, formed our center. Our two six-pounders, under the command of Colonel Hockley, Captains Isaac N. Moreland and Stillwell, were drawn upon the right of the center division. The cavalry, under the command of Colonel Mirabeau B. Lamar, formed upon our right. At the command to move forward, all the divisions advanced in good order and high spirits. On arriving within reach of the enemy, a heavy fire was opened, first with their artillery on our cavalry. A general conflict now ensued. Orders were given to charge. Colonel Sherman's division moved up, and drove the enemy from the woods occupied by them on their right wing. At the same moment, Colonel Burleson's division, together with the regulars, charged upon and mounted the breastworks of the enemy, and drove them from their cannon, our artillery, the meanwhile, charging up and firing upon them with great effect. The cavalry, under Colonel Lamar, at the same time fell on them with great fury and great slaughter. Major-General Houston acted with great gallantry, encouraging his men to the attack, and heroically charging, in front of the infantry, within a few yards of the enemy, receiving at the same time a wound in the leg.

The enemy soon took to flight, officers and all, some on foot and some on horseback. In ten minutes after the firing of the first gun, we were charging through the camp, and driving them before us. They fled in confusion and dismay down the river, followed closely by our troops for four miles. Some of them, took the prairie, and were pursued by our cavalry; others were shot in attempting to swim the river; and in a short period the sanguinary conflict was terminated by the surrender of nearly all who were not slain in the combat. One half of their army perished; the other half are prisoners, among whom are Gen. Santa Anna himself, Colonel Almonte, and many other prominent officers of their army. The loss of the enemy is computed at over six hundred slain, and above six hundred prisoners; together with a caballado of several hundred mules taken, with much valuable baggage. Our loss, in point of numbers, is small, it being several slain and fifteen wounded. This glorious achievement is attributed, not to superior force, but to the valor of our soldiers and the sanctity of our cause. Our army consisted of 750 effective men. This brave band achieved a victory as glorious as any on the records of history, and the happy consequences will be felt in Texas by succeeding generations. It has saved the country from a yoke of bondage; and all who mingled in it are entitled to the special munificence of government, and the heart-felt gratitude of every lover of liberty.

The sun was sinking in the horizon as the battle commenced; but, at the close of the conflict, the sun of liberty and independence rose in Texas, never, it is to be hoped, to be obscured by the clouds of despotism. We have read of deeds of chivalry, and perused with ardor the annals of war; we have contemplated, with the highest emotions of sublimity, the loud roaring thunder, the desolating tornado, and the withering simoon of the desert; but neither of these, nor all, inspired us with emotions like those felt on this occasion. The officers and men seemed inspired by a like enthusiasm. There was a general cry which pervaded the ranks: "Remember the Alamo!" "Remember La Bahia!" These words electrified all. "Onward!" was the cry. The unerring aim and irresistible energy of the Texas army could not be withstood. It was freemen fighting against the minions of tyranny and the results proved the inequality of such a contest.

In a battle where every individual performed his duty, it might seem invidious to draw distinctions; but, while I do justice to all in expressing my high admiration of the bravery and gallant conduct of both officers and: men, I hope I may be indulged in the expression of my highest approbation of the chivalrous conduct of Major James Collinsworth in almost every part of the engagement. Colonel Hockley, with his command of artillery; Colonel Wharton, the adjutant-General, Major Cooke, and in fact all the staff officers; Colonels Burleson and Somervill on the right, Colonel Milliard in the center, and Colonel Sherman, Colonel Bennett and Major Wells on the left, and Colonel Lamar on the extreme right, with the cavalry, led on the charge and followed in the pursuit with dauntless bravery.

All have my highest approbation. With such men, sustained as we shall be by the patriots and lovers of liberty in our mother country, hateful depotism cannot find a resting place for the sole of his foot on the beautiful plains of Texas! A volume would not contain the deeds of individual daring and bravery. Each captain has been required to make a report, and I hope justice will be done to all the brave spirits who mingled in the glorious achievement of yesterday.

My aid-de-camp, Dr. Wm. Motley (late of Kentucky), fell near me, mortally wounded, and soon after his spirit took its flight to join the immortal Milam and others in a better world. I have the honor to be, very respectfully yours,
Thomas J. Rusk, Secretary of War. 
P.S.--Since writing the above, General Cos has been brought in a prisoner by our cavalry.

[Archival reports indicate that Texans, killed, wounded and with the army on San Jacinto, April 20, 21, 1836: 1 mortally wounded on 20th, 2 severely wounded on 20th, 8 killed or mortally wounded on 21st, 32 wounded on the 21st. Names of 900 soldiers are on the monument at San Jacinto and 232 additional names, being sick, guards and etc. ---1132

Material captured at San Jacinto: 900 English muskets, 300 sabers, 200 Pistols, 300 mules, 100 horses, $12,000 in silver.  Provisions, clothing, tents, paraphernalia for officers and men; Mexicans captured, and prisoners: 630 killed (including 1 general, 4 Colonels, 3 lieutenant-colonels, 5 captains, 12 lieutenants). 208 wounded (including 5 colonels, 3 lieutenant-colonels, 2 second lieutenant-colonels, 7 captains). 730 prisoners (including President-General Santa Anna, General Cos, Colonel Almonte, Colonel Bringas, Colonel Ocepeces, Colonel Portilla, Colonel Delgado). 75 escaped, including an officer who carried the news to General Filisola the night of April 21st and Filisola began his flight that night. Approximately 1,715 men in Mexican forces].

To Thomas J. Rusk, Esq.:  In the name of the Republic of Texas, the president of the republic of Texas by and with the advice and consent of the cabinet, reposing special confidence in your patriotism, valor, conduct and fidelity, do by these presents constitute and appoint you a brigadier general in the army of the Republic of Texas, and for Texas, and for repelling every hostile invasion thereof. And we do also enjoin and require you to regulate your conduct in every respect by the rules and discipline adopted by the United States of North America in time of war or such laws as have been or may hereafter be adopted by this government; and punctually to observe and follow such orders and directions from time to time as you shall receive from your superior officers. And we do hereby strictly charge and require all officers and soldiers under your command, to be obedient to your orders, and diligent in the exercise of their several duties. This commission to continue in force until the end of the next session of congress or during the will of the government and no longer. Done at headquarters on Buffalo Bayou the 6th day of May, A. D. one thousand eight hundred and thirty-six and of the independence of Texas the first.  David G. Burnet. By: Mirabeau B. Lamar, Secretary of War.

1997-2010, Wallace L. McKeehan, All Rights Reserved