William Rockefeller, Sr.
William Avery "Bill" Rockefeller, Sr. (November 13, 1810 – May 11, 1906) was the father of American oil tycoon and billionaire, John Davison Rockefeller (July 8, 1839 – May 23, 1937) and William Avery Rockefeller, Jr. (1841–1922), who both founded the Standard Oil company.
Rockefeller was born in Granger, New York to Godfrey Lewis Rockefeller (September 24, 1783/1784, Albany, New York – September 28, 1857, Richford, New York) and wife (m. 1806) Lucy Avery (February 11, 1786, Great Barrington, Massachusetts – April 6, 1867), married on September 20, 1806 in Amwell, Hunterdon County, New Jersey. He was one of 10 children:
- Melinda Rockefeller (September 12, 1807 – May 2, 1880), married to William Harris
- Olymphia Rockefeller (April 20, 1809–??)
- William Avery Rockefeller, Sr (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 (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 William and Christina Rockefeller.
Lucy Avery was born to Miles Avery and Malinda 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
Bill married his first wife, Eliza Davison (September 12, 1813 – March 28, 1889), daughter of John Davison and Cynthia Selover, on February 18, 1837 in Niles, Cayuga Co., NY. They were the parents of three sons and three daughters:
- Lucy Rockefeller (1838—1878), married to Pierson Briggs
- John Davison Rockefeller, Sr. (1839—1937)
- William Avery Rockefeller, Jr. (1841—1922)
- Mary Ann Rockefeller (1843—1925)
- Frances Rockefeller (1845—1847)
- Franklin Rockefeller (1845—1917)
Although Bill abandoned the family while John was a teenager, he remained married to Eliza until her death. In 1856, having assumed the name William Levingston, he married Margaret Allen (ca 1835–??) in Norwich, Ontario, Canada, without issue. While still married to his first wife, he had two daughters (Clorinda Rockefeller and Cornelia Rockefeller) by still another woman named Nancy Brown, whom he kept as a live-in mistress together with his wife in a small household in Richford, New York.
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 eighteen month search, the journalists failed to track him down before he died, and the full story wasn't exposed until two years later.
Bill Rockefeller had spent some time in Park River, North Dakota under the Levingston alias. He died on May 11, 1906, 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.