As noted, in 1825 New York City had commissioned Morse to paint a portrait of Lafayette, then visiting Washington, DC. While Morse was painting, a horse messenger delivered a letter from his father that read, "Your dear wife is convalescent". The next day he received a letter from his father detailing his wife's sudden death. Morse immediately left Washington for his home at New Haven, leaving the portrait of Lafayette unfinished. By the time he arrived, his wife had already been buried.
Heartbroken that for days he was unaware of his wife's failing health and her death,he decided to explore a means of rapid long distance communication.