William Poole, street fighter, political kingmaker, meat cutter and pugilist (1821-1855).
More than six feet tall and weighing 200 pounds, William Poole stood out in an age of small men. He began his career in the Bowery Boys, New York’s most important street gang. Unlike today’s gangsters, the Boys were working men–whether laborers or self-employed small businessmen like Poole, who was a butcher by profession as well as avocation. They were also, as Asbury wrote, “the most ferocious rough-and-tumble fighters that ever cracked a skull or gouged out an eyeball.” Here, too, Poole stood out, for he fought like a berserker.
By the mid-1850s, Poole had drifted into freelance political enforcing. His personal gang controlled the Christopher St. waterfront. Militant supporters of the Know-Nothing party (so called because its members answered all questions about the movement from outsiders with the phrase, “I know nothing”), Poole and his men bitterly opposed Irish-Catholic immigration, hating the immigrants as cheap labor competing for their jobs and loathing the politicians who pandered for the immigrant vote…
According to [Herbert] Asbury, his doctors found it unnatural that he should live so long after taking a bullet in the heart. Certainly he had time to compose his last words. He died with Hyer and other friends about his bed. They gave him a hero’s funeral, with thousands lining lower Broadway as a half-dozen brass bands and more than 5,000 men marched in his procession from Christopher St. to Whitehall St., whence his remains were ferried to Brooklyn. Asbury observed that new plays were hurriedly written and current productions revised so that as the curtain fell, the hero could drape himself in an American flag and cry out, “Good-bye, boys, I die a true American,” to thunderous applause. William Bryk
Poole was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, in an unmarked grave that was finally marked in 2003. He was portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis in the film version of Gangs of New York.