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.


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  1. Loca4Rob says:

    That is awesome! I love that they installed a marker on the grave. Who did it? I loved the movie, Gangs of New York, but I honestly had no idea that Bill the Butcher was a real person. Thanks for the photo!

    • Jeff says:

      Yes I loveed the film too. I understand many purist New Yorkers are not happy with the screenplay. The events are scattered around and Bill’s death, his age, and even his family status are not accurately portrayed in the movie. I think the acting is amazing and they certainly robbed Daniel Day Lewis of a more than well deserved Oscar.

    • Fighten Price says:

      I didn’t either Rob, I also liked the fact that he was considered the most ferocious rough and tough tumble fighters that ever lived. It’s also cool that they had a headstone erected and placed on his grave in honor of the man.

  2. chris says:

    Who paid for the headstone?Martin Scorcese took up a collection in order to honor this pillar of society,thats who

  3. Holly Dolly says:

    I never knew he was a real person.It’s great they finally marked his grave.The Gangs of New York was a great movie.
    I really enjoy this site.

    • Fighten Price says:

      Holly Dolly
      I love this site as well. Anything to do with history usually fascinates me. But especially larger cities like Chicago and New York. It was a great movie and yes, we needed a Gravestone to honor someone like Bill the Butcher.

  4. Fighten Price says:

    Bill the Butcher must have been a fascinating man to know in person. An original Bowery Boy who went on to engage in Politics. not that that is a noble profession, lol, but quite a feat for a man like him I’m sure who rose from the streets.

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