Macartney (McCartney), George (1626–91), merchant and customs official, was the only son of Bartholomew McCartney of Auchinleck, near Kirkcudbright, Scotland, and his wife Catherine, daughter of George Maxwell of Orchardton. George spelt his name as McCartney, but the form ‘Macartney’ was adopted by his sons and is generally applied to him retrospectively. He was a merchant burgess of Kirkcudbright in 1649 but moved to Belfast in the same year. He became a freeman in 1652 and a burgess in 1659. His rapid success in trade soon resulted in his becoming one of the most prominent townsmen of Belfast. He became sovereign (mayor) for the first time in 1662 and served (in all) seven terms. In 1663 he provided and fitted out a new town house for corporation meetings, over his premises in the high street.
Belfast was part of the great estate of the earls of Donegall, and Macartney seems to have enjoyed the support and patronage of the 1st earl of Donegall (qv). As sovereign of Belfast, he was also a JP for Co. Antrim, but it was presumably the earl's influence that led to his appointment as high sheriff of Co. Antrim in 1671. Macartney had married Janet, daughter of Quentin Calderwood, soon after his arrival in Belfast. Donegall appears to have extended his patronage to Macartney's sons, helping the older, James, in his career at the bar, and standing as godfather to the younger, Arthur.
The date of Janet's death is unknown, but Macartney remarried c.1670. He probably met his second wife, Elizabeth Butler (granddaughter of Henry Butler of Rawcliffe, Lancashire), in London, where three of her brothers were merchants. The Butler family was partly Roman catholic, but she and Macartney were members of the Church of Ireland. Macartney continued to prosper although his direct involvement in trade declined. He invested in iron works and in the Belfast sugar refinery, and leased four corn mills and a tuck mill from Lord Donegall. His estate in and around Belfast was said to be worth £400 a year in 1689, and he also retained the family estate at Auchinleck. In 1680, before finally relinquishing the office of sovereign with its courtesy title of ‘esquire’, he registered his coat of arms in Dublin. By 1685 he was living in a substantial mansion house which he had built near his mills on the outskirts of the town.
Not all Macartney's fortune was honestly made. In 1683 he became surveyor-general of the customs of Ulster through the influence of his brother-in-law, Sir Nicholas Butler, one of the commissioners of customs in London, and the earl of Longford (qv), son-in-law of his old patron Lord Donegall. However, in 1685 it was discovered that false papers were being routinely issued by the Belfast custom house to enable ships to avoid the restrictions of the navigation acts. Macartney was dismissed. Since standards of honesty were low in the revenue service, this suggests that he was involved in fraud on a grand scale. Nevertheless he had powerful patrons, and was appointed collector at Belfast in 1688.
In 1688 James II (qv) issued new charters to the Irish towns to gain control of the corporations which elected members of parliament. Macartney was named as one of the new burgesses who were expected to cooperate with the Jacobite government. However, he supported the protestant Northern Association, and became captain of a troop of horse which he raised at his own expense. This troop was the first to proclaim William and Mary in Ireland, and in March 1689 Macartney was ‘with many others forced to leave the kingdom in a great hurry’. He fled to Scotland with his family. He had been replaced as collector in December 1688 and his successor accused him of embezzling the revenue. Like many other collectors he had handed over revenue to the protestant forces, but his previous dismissal gave credence to the charge of fraud and much of his property in Belfast was seized by Jacobite officers. At the same time, his recusant connections, and the fact that Sir Nicholas Butler had been appointed a privy councillor of James II, left him open to charges of Jacobitism.
Macartney returned to Belfast, where he died 23 May 1691. The charge of Jacobitism had been speedily dismissed but he was not cleared of financial malpractice till 1695. He left five surviving children by his two wives. The eldest, James (c.1651–1727) became MP for Belfast, and a justice of the king's bench and of common pleas. The youngest, George (1672–1757), was MP for Belfast and grandfather of Earl Macartney (qv).