Jesse Truesdell Peck, the youngest of ten children of Luther Peck, was born on April 4, 1811 on a farm in Middlefield, Otsego County, New York. He was educated at Cazenovia Seminary and became a minister in the Methodist Church. He married Persis Wing on October 13, 1831, and in the following year he joined the Oneida Conference. In 1837, Peck became the head of the Gouverneur Wesleyan Seminary in New York. He moved on to head the Troy Conference Academy in Poultney, Vermont. In 1848, thanks to his fine record and his strong dedication to the Methodism, Peck was chosen to be the tenth president of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, despite having no formal college education himself.
During his presidency, Peck met with some trouble, being unpopular with the students and often finding himself the butt of student jokes and pranks. The most famous of these pranks had Peck being detained in an insane asylum in Staunton, Virginia, to which he had traveled for a church conference; Moncure Conway, class of 1849, later confessed to being the ringleader. Another prank found Peck locked in a railroad boxcar overnight, while a still more malicious act resulted in his dog being shot dead. In 1851, the students banded together in protest against the decision by the faculty to deny them permission to attend the funeral of a local merchant. Facing suspensions and expulsions, the students were aided in this crisis through the mediation of alumnus James Buchanan, who happened to be in town at the time. On top of all of these problems with the students, Peck proved to be an inadequate fundraiser for the College as well, and the school's financial situation worsened accordingly. In June 1851 he announced his intention to leave the institution at the end of the following academic year, citing his belief that he was ill-suited to the tasks associated with the job.
During the Civil War, Peck moved with his wife to California because of her failing health. He later returned to New York, and in 1870 he was a presiding officer of the state Methodist Convention in Syracuse. In 1872, he became a bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He also became one of the founders of Syracuse University in 1870, and was one of four subscribers of $25,000 to endow this new institution. Jesse T. Peck served as president of Syracuse University’s Board of Trustees from 1870 to 1873, and he remained a member of the Board until his death in 1883.