George Coad was born at Saltash in September 1765. His father died when George was very young, leaving a widow and six children. His mother thereafter supported them, by taking in washing and by carrying letters to and from Plymouth. George seems to have been a quiet child who read the Bible every day and was often teased by his schoolmates because he would rather help his mother than play with them after school.
When he was twelve years old George went to sea. He was aboard HMS Ocean when she first saw action during the Battle of Ushant in 1778 and, later, when she was in a storm sufficiently violent that "the guns were thrown overboard, and the crew expected to perish". He was not an enthusiastic sailor, and was happy to be discharged when the ship was paid off.
For the next few years he was apprenticed to a shoemaker. Having served the full term of his apprenticeship, and hearing that shoemakers were needed in Bristol, George then left Saltash for a time. While in Bristol he visited churches and chapels of various denominations, finally joining the Wesleyan Methodists – a decision which would affect most of his life thereafter.
After his return home George regularly invited Methodist preachers to Saltash, providing them with food and the use of a room in his house for the duration of their stay. He earned his living as a letter-carrier, taking over from his mother what had now become a daily journey between Saltash and Plymouth. Five days a week he made this journey on horseback, but allowed his horse to rest on Saturdays, while on Sundays he would use the horse to convey a preacher to Saltash early in the morning and back again in the evening, walking to and from Plymouth with letters in the middle of the day. He continued this gruelling routine until his mother became concerned about his health and induced him to pay someone else to make the Sunday journey.
Methodism, still relatively new, was then meeting with much opposition from both the established clergy and the lay authorities, and George was threatened with the loss of his job unless he left the Methodists and stopped bringing them to Saltash. Instead of leaving the Methodists, he left the town, staying away for several months. He returned when matters had calmed down a bit, and continued on exactly as he had before. He also opened a Sunday school, which he ran for several years with the assistance of some friends.
Eventually George's constant activity wore him down and he fell ill with a fever which confined him to his house for several months. He never fully recovered his former health and, to make things worse, his income fell to the point where he had to sell his horse and once more make the twice-daily journey to Plymouth on foot. (Proving that a postman's lot has changed little in 200 years, "This extra labour was rendered more difficult by his being severely bitten in the leg by a dog.")
At this time George was considering becoming a missionary abroad but when he voiced this idea, after a public meeting at Landrake, he was advised "to content himself with doing all the good in his power to the bodies and souls of people at home". Accepting this as the will of God, he worked faithfully for many years at gaining new converts to his creed, distributing religious tracts wherever he went, establishing schools for the neglected children of the poor, and using his limited personal income to help people in distress.
By 1807 the Methodist congregation in Saltash, previously served by itinerant ministers on the Launceston circuit, had grown to the point that they needed their own chapel. To this end, George not only collected money but "bought a number of baskets and, while waiting for a boat on the Devon side of the passage, he and his nephew would fill the baskets with stones, take them across the water, and, having delivered the letters through the town, toil up the steep hill with the materials for building." He also helped with clearing the foundations and in any other way he could during the building of Saltash's first Methodist Chapel.
Towards the end if his life, in the early 1830s, George's health and strength finally failed him. He developed heart problems and had to give up the arduous work of letter-carrying. He retained his position as receiver of the post, but his income from this was very small. He had no savings to fall back on, having always spent every spare penny of his income on other people. Concerned friends made arrangements to provide for him by organising annual subscriptions from generous individuals, on both sides of the Tamar, who had long known and respected him. George still rose at four every morning and so, as his post master duties required him to be at home most of the day, he had leisure for reading, writing letters, and conversation. He continued to visit people in their homes whenever he was invited, and once a week would walk several miles to take tea with some of his richer friends.
After their mother's death, George's sister had been keeping house for him but then she also died. At the age of 72, George had (for the first time in his life) to start cooking and cleaning for himself. A niece called daily to help, but independant George objected that "She does too much. I like to be employed, and would pay any body to let me clean my own house." All too soon, however, George's increasing infirmity confined him permanently to his house. He continued to act as post master almost to the end of his life, but had to give up all his other activities, and his niece moved in with him for the last year and a half of his life.
During the last few days of his life, George was frequently delirious. At the very end he was conscious and rational, asking his sister to pray with him, which she did until he slipped away peacefully on the 2nd of August 1840. A long train of mourners attended his funeral three days later, and his remains were interred in the new burying-ground recently attached to the Methodist chapel which had been for so long dear to his heart.
The words of his biographer make a very fitting epitaph: "In personal appearance our late friend was somewhat remarkable. He was tall and large-limbed, though not corpulent; his cheeks purple, his eyes peculiar, his voice loud, and his manner abrupt. But his defects, whether of body, mind, or education, were lost in his excellencies; and by his simplicity, fidelity, and kindness, he became a favourite among all classes of people."
page updated 2016-06-07