William Rockefeller, Sr.
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|William Rockefeller, Sr.|
|Born||William Avery Rockefeller
November 13, 1810
Granger, New York, U.S.
|Died||May 11, 1906
Freeport, Illinois, U.S.
|Other names||Dr. William Levingston|
(m. 1837—1889; her death, separated c. 1855)
(m. 1856—1906; his death)
|Parents||Godfrey Lewis Rockefeller
William Avery "Bill" Rockefeller, Sr. (November 13, 1810 – May 11, 1906) was an American con artist who went by the alias of Dr. William Levingston. He worked as a lumberman and then a traveling salesman who identified himself as a "botanic physician" and sold elixirs. Two of his sons were Standard Oil co-founders John Davison Rockefeller (July 8, 1839 – May 23, 1937) and William Avery Rockefeller, Jr. (May 31, 1841 – June 24, 1922).
Bill Rockefeller was born in Granger, New York. He was the eldest son of businessman/farmer Godfrey Lewis Rockefeller (September 24, 1783, Albany, New York – September 28, 1857, Richford, New York) and Lucy Avery (February 11, 1786, Great Barrington, Massachusetts – April 6, 1867). Godfrey and Lucy had married on September 20, 1806 in Amwell, Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Bill was the third of ten children:
- Melinda Rockefeller (September 12, 1807 — May 2, 1880), married to William Harris
- Olymphia Rockefeller (April 20, 1809 — ?)
- William Avery "Bill" Rockefeller (November 13, 1810 — May 11, 1906)
- Norman Rockefeller (October 27, 1812 — January 20, 1905)
- Sally Ann Rockefeller (September 28, 1814 — March 3, 1884)
- Jacob S. Rockefeller (July 14, 1816 — August 14, 1892)
- Mary Rockefeller (February 18, 1819 — July 15, 1819)
- Miles Avery Rockefeller (July 27, 1821 — ?)
- Mary Miranda Rockefeller (June 17, 1824 — November 12, 1879)
- Egbert Rockefeller (February 8, 1827 — September 20, 1878)
The Rockefellers trace their patrilineal line to Goddard Rockefeller (born Gotthard Rockenfeller) (1590) of Fahr, today part of Neuwied, Germany. The first Rockefeller to settle in America (1723) was Johann Peter Rockenfeller (1710, Segendorf, Neuwied; 1787, Amwell Township, New Jersey), who changed his name to Rockefeller. Godfrey Lewis Rockefeller was a son of distant cousins William Rockefeller (1750—1793) and Christina Rockefeller (1754—1800).
Lucy Avery was born to Miles Avery and Melinda Pixley, New England Yankees of mostly English descent. She was descended by her father from Edmund of Langley's first marriage (through 5th Baron Audley's second marriage) and from Mary Boleyn's first marriage (through the 2nd Barons de la Warr).
Marriage and children
Rockefeller married his first wife, Eliza Davison (September 12, 1813 – March 28, 1889), a daughter of farmer John Davison and Cynthia Selover, on February 18, 1837 in Niles, Cayuga Co., NY. John highly opposed the union. Since Cynthia had died when Eliza was twelve, Eliza had been raised by her elder sister, Mary Ann Davison, and father John. Bill and Eliza were the parents of three sons and three daughters:
- Lucy Rockefeller (1838—1878), married Pierson Briggs
- John Davison Rockefeller, Sr. (1839—1937), married Laura Celestia "Cettie" Spelman (1839—1915)
- William Avery Rockefeller, Jr. (1841—1922), married Almira Geraldine Goodsell (1844—1920)
- Mary Ann Rockefeller (1843—1925)
- Franklin "Frank" Rockefeller (1845—1917) [twin]
- Frances Rockefeller (1845—1847) [twin]
Bill once bragged, "I cheat my boys every chance I get. I want to make 'em sharp." Although Bill abandoned the family while Lucy, John, and William Jr. were teenagers, he remained legally married to Eliza until her death. In 1856, having assumed the name Dr. William Levingston, he married Margaret Allen (1834—1910) in Norwich, Ontario, Canada. Bill and Margaret had no children together. Before leaving his first wife, he also had two daughters with his mistress and housekeeper Nancy Brown:
- Clorinda Rockefeller (c. 1838—?, died young)
- Cornelia Rockefeller (c. 1840—?)
Before marrying Eliza, Bill had been in love with Nancy. However, he ended up marrying Eliza since her father was to give her $500 when she married, and Nancy was poor.
After hearing rumors that the richest man in the world — then at the height of his notoriety as a monopolist — had a shameful family secret, the press went into a frenzy. Joseph Pulitzer offered a reward of eight thousand dollars for information about "Doc Rockefeller" who was known to be alive and living under a false name, but whose whereabouts were a family secret. Despite slender clues picked up from interviews with family members and an 18-month search, the journalists failed to track him down before he died, and the full story was not exposed until two years later.
Rockefeller had spent some time in Park River, North Dakota under the Levingston alias. He died on May 11, 1906, at the age of 95 in Freeport, Illinois and was buried there in Oakland Cemetery. John D. Rockefeller never publicly acknowledged the truth about his father's life as a bigamist, and Bill's grave marker was paid for out of his second wife's estate.