Among the men from Chambers County and Liberty County who served with distinction during the War Between the States, there are many unsung heroes, men who sacrificed sometimes all they had or even life itself in order to protect their homeland. Among this vast list of heroes we find the name of Captain William Icet of Cove. What separates Mr. Icet from others who served is the fact that he was a Confederate blockade runner, part of the romantic group of sailors, boatmen and ship owners who tried to get their cargoes past the Union Blockading Squadron.
Most sources tell us that William Icet was born in Canada, along about 1822. Although the circumstances of his early years are not well documented, he did not appear to stay in Canada long. One family story suggests that he actually grew up in Maine and left home when he was around fifteen years of age. As this story goes, both of William’s parents were French. But he lost his father at an early age, after which his mother remarried – and William left home because he did not get along with his stepfather. Another story handed down suggests that young William spent some of his early years in Virginia. Whatever the case, he made his way to Galveston and appears to have settled in Cove during the early 1850s. It was during this same time period that he met his wife, Mary Elizabeth Blanchett, -- sometimes pronounced Blanchett, and sometimes Blonchey -- who was born on November 4, 1834 reportedly in Paris, France. Another family legend is that the Blanchett family came to Galveston from France, and it was there that William and his wife first met. Whatever the case, William in 1854 purchased some 500 acres of land at Cove on the east side of Old River, and just north of Old River Lake. He purchased this tract of land from George Ball of Galveston, paying the huge sum of $450 for the whole tract of land. Located as it was on Old River and Old River Lake, this property would serve him well in years to come.
Local historian Kendon Clark provides the following biographical information about Captain Icet’s service during the war:
“Already a seaman, Icet and his brother-in-law Constant Blanchett, entered Confederate service in 1861 as sailors in the Confederate States Navy. Among their earlier duties was service aboard the "Royal Yacht," the Southern flagship commanded by Thomas Chubb which patrolled the waters of Galveston and Trinity bays in 1862. The two men were captured by Union forces in 1864 and held as prisoners-of-war in New Orleans, then occupied by the Yankees. They were finally released in February 1865 as part of a prisoner exchange. Apparently having spent a period a time with Confederate blockade-runners prior to their capture both Icet and Constant Blanchett went into this dangerous duty full time after their release. Running weapons, ammunition and other supplies from sympathetic European ports, they employed the practice of hauling their cargo inside the centers of hollowed-out logs on the vessels for the risky business of dashing through the Union blockade off of Southern shores to deliver the badly-needed armament and supplies to the Confederacy. In March of 1865, Captain Icet wrote his wife at Cove from the blockade-runner port of Bagdad, Mexico: "I liv[e] in hopes that this Summer will Ende the ware [war] so that I can get home once more for I am hartley tired of this way of Living amonge strangers and without a house . . ." In the same letter, Icet directed those at home to send any correspondence by couriers, rather than through the postal system ''as it mite [might] not Look well for a British Subject as we all are at Present. .." This statement likely reveals the fact that Icet, much like others in his situation, had acquired British citizenship while at port in Europe, thereby protecting himself from piracy charges should his blockade-running vessel be captured by the Union navy on the high seas. This practice appears to have been a quite common practice among Confederate blockade-runner crewmen. After the cessation of hostilities that summer, Icet returned home to Cove and set about building an enterprise upon the banks of Old River, which in time included a shipyard and ways, cotton gin and mill. In this endeavor, he became one of the most successful businessmen of the region. Following his death, his sons continued to operate the shipyard for a number of years. They, ironically enough, once received commendation from the United States Navy for the superior quality of vessels they had constructed. Some of these were purchased by the government.”
Prior to the War Between the States, William Icet had married Mary Emily Blanchett, who had been born in Paris, France on November 4, 1834 and was a daughter of Victor Blanchett. She died in about 1869, shortly after having given birth to her last child. Captain William Icet died in his mill shed at Cove on August 14, 1899. Both he and his wife are buried in the Old Icet Cemetery on the south bank of Icet Gully at Cove. William and Mary Emily Icet had eight children: Katherine C. "Kate" [born in 1855] , who married Charles Hankamer; Clorissa M. [born about 1857], who died young; Mary Emily [born 1859] who married George R. Maley; William Steaven or Willie” [born 1860], who married Alice Overland; Henry Constant [born 1863], who married Armilda Griffith; Daniel Martin or Dan [born 1866], who married Helen Grace Williams; and finally Clara [born about 1868]; and Peter [born 1869]. Icet’s wife died while delivering their youngest child in 1869. Both the babies, the two youngest children, died in 1872 when Clara was four and Peter was two.
A boathouse operated by Captain William Icet on the banks of Old River in Chambers County is shown in this sketch made from memory by an Icet descendant. Icet built and repaired boats in the latter part of the 1800s and also ground corn and tanned hides.
In Kendon Clark's book, Diamond in the Rough, a History of Cove, Texas, 1824-1941, he writes of Icet:, "Icet constructed a shipyard and quays on the west bank of the river about a half mile north of its confluence with Old River Lake. He built vessels primarily for freight and commercial use, but was capable of building any sort of craft a seaman might order. He employed a number of ship carpenters at his establishment through the years to enable him to keep up with his workload. Workers from far and wide came under the employ of Icet, especially during the early years of the yard's operations. One such employee was Benjamin Daniels of Kentucky, a carpenter at the Icet Shipyard in 1870. Icet's sons, Henry, William Jr., and Daniel, took much of the burden off the elder Icet as they entered their teenage years and prepared for manhood. Henry began work at the shipyard at age ten, and after the senior Icet retired from the business his sons kept the enterprise at work."
If you have not purchased any of Kendon Clark's historical writings, I encourage you to do so. He is a gifted historian and writer, true to historical accuracy. We have a few of his books for sale at the museum and, I am sure, more are available through Kendon.