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In the spring of 1848, the recently promoted Commodore Charles Wilkes and his youngest son, Edmund, traveled south to investigate the estate of his uncle, William Renwick, who had left behind an interest in a gold mine near Charlotte, North Carolina.
Jack was still away at sea.
The Commodore's wife, Jane Renwick Wilkes, was on her way to Newport, Rhode Island, with daughters Janey and Eliza. During the journey Jane injured her leg and after months of suffering, succumbed to tetanus on August 18, 1848.
Her death devastated the family. Charles Wilkes purchased this home in Washington, D.C., after his wife's death. It had belonged to former First Lady Dolley Madison, who had lived there until her death in 1849. Today it is a National Historic Landmark.
Five years later, Jack described his grief at the loss of his mother to Jeanie in a letter.