The French bark Emilie, of Bordeau, having crossed the greater part of the Atlantic without mishap, was nearing land. Her destination was Norfolk, VA where she was to pick up a cargo. But thick and foggy weather had prevented Captain Sauvestre from taking observations for 24 hours and at sunset, 2 Dec 1845, he was not certain how close he was to land. By dead reckoning he figured that he was sufficiently far north to make Cape Henry and a sharp watch was kept throughout the early evening for its light.
At 8 p.m., not having seen the light, the Captain became apprehensive and decided to wear ship and stand off from shore until daybreak. However, as he gave the necessary commands the vessel struck so violently that her rudder, sternpost and part of her stern frame were tore off. She immediately sank in two and a half fathoms of water. Captain Sauvestre did not know it, but his vessel had stranded at a point near the boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina, less than 150 yards from shore.
Efforts were quickly made to get the launch overboard, but she was stove in before striking the water and soon sank alongside. All 10 hands then took refuge in the rigging as the vessel beneath them was constantly swept by tremendous breakers.
The next morning, the coast was shrouded in a dense covering of wave-borne spray so thick that they could not see shore. Their clothes soaked, the masts beneath them swaying wildly in the wind and threatening to fall each time a wave rolled over the deck, the men held on until mid-afternoon when one crewman climbed down, jumped into the tumultuous surf and attempted to swim to shore for help. He was drowned soon after striking out from the ship.
By then, the weather had cleared sufficiently for the coastline to be visible. All hands pitched in to make a raft from the sails and dangling spars. Once completed and launched, the remaining men took positions on the unwieldy craft. However, as the last man got on board, the line holding the raft to the wrecked ship parted. The raft was swept into the breakers and 6 of the men were washed overboard leaving the Captain, mate and one crewman who succeeded in holding their positions on the raft while it was driven through the breakers and washed up on shore. They were soon discovered by residents; all were in desperate shape, especially the mate who was not expected to live. The 6 men who were washed off the raft were drowned and later recovered from the surf.