Around the year 1723, a German miller called Johann Peter Rockefeller, together with his wife and children, collected their belongings and headed for the United States. After initially arriving in Philadelphia, they settled on a farm in Amwell, New Jersey, acquiring a few properties over time. It was a modest start for a family that would, just over a century later, count one of the richest men in American history, John D. Rockefeller, among their number.
The man later known as “the oil titan” was born John Davison Rockefeller in 1839 in Richford, New York. He was the second child and first son of William “Bill” Avery and Eliza Davison Rockefeller.
Those first few years were spent in Richford. It was a small town with a schoolhouse church, but its sawmills, gristmills and whiskey distillery signaled its position as a growing industrial center.
In the early 1840s, Rockefeller’s father decided to relocate his family to the more dignified town of Moravia, some 30 miles north of Richford. The rest of the hard-drinking, hillbilly Rockefeller clan was left behind. Bucolic Moravia marked a halcyon period for young John, as he watched his father’s logging business boom.
The family was religious. Rockefeller was brought up a Baptist, and the Church was an institution that would impact Rockefeller’s life significantly. Not only was Rockefeller to become the Protestant work ethic incarnate, Baptist religious dogma also taught him the value of continuous self-improvement and honor.
However, in the spring of 1850, the family moved once more – this time to Owego on the Pennsylvania border – after Bill was accused of raping the young househelp. Bill himself was generally a shadowy figure during Rockefeller’s childhood. He was a distant traveling salesman who was often absent for months at a time.
In his absence, Eliza gave Rockefeller tasks around the house, and he matured rapidly. In fact, he was more of a father than a brother to his siblings.