27 October 1822 – 5 May 1871
George was born in County Armagh in Ireland to Scottish Protestant parents. He came to the US as a teenager. He first settled on the East Coast, showing up on the 1850 census living in Baltimore and working in sales (possibly as a storeowner or manager). By that time, he and Julia Hamilton McKee had married (in 1847), and they had two sons together.
Julia appears to have come from both money and social prominence, her family having roots going back to before the American Revolution. On all census accounts I could find, the family lived with servants, so while it’s unclear if George arrived from Ireland with money, his marriage to Julia and good job certainly set him up well in the years after his arrival.
In 1854, the family moved to Chicago, where George was Assistant Postmaster (later Superintendent). By 1860, the couple had five children and at least two servants in the household. It was shortly after this that George made the proposal that would become his claim to fame — send mail by the railway to speed up delivery. It took several years and getting a bill passed in Congress, but by 1864, the idea was implemented, changing and speeding-up long-distance mail delivery nationwide. Rail was the primary way such mail was moved until air freight took over many decades later. George is credited as the founder of the US Railway Mail Service and was promoted to run the service when it became an official part of the Post Office Department during Ulysses S. Grant’s administration.
By 1870, the couple had seven children living at home (only one a daughter), two servants, and it appears two railroad employees living in their household. According to George’s obituary, the couple had 8 surviving children at the time of his death, and based on Julia’s later census responses, they had one more child together who died in childhood (likely the “Baby Armstrong” mentioned on the 1860 census).
Sadly, George passed away in 1871 at just 48 years old. He had been suffering from ill health for some time — “acute inflammation of the liver” according to the Chicago Tribune — and died at home.
Julia remarried in 1875 and eventually she and her husband — who also appears to have worked for the post office — moved to the DC area. After retirement, the couple went to live with Julia’s only daughter Maud and her family in Pennsylvania. When Julia died in 1912, she was buried at Arlington National Cemetery where her second husband, a Civil War veteran, would later join her under a massive monument. As her second marriage lasted more than 40 years versus the 24 she shared with George, this is understandable.
At least one of George’s sons — his junior — is also buried at Rosehill, I think on the same lot, but I didn’t take enough photos to confirm that and findagrave.com is also unclear on who else is buried nearby.
Please visit my Instagram for any questions or comments on this post!