William Poole (July 24, 1821 – March 8, 1855), also known as Bill the Butcher, was the leader of the Washington Street Gang, which later became known as the Bowery Boys gang. He was a local leader of the Know Nothing political movement in mid-19th-century New York City.

William Poole
Bill Poole.jpg
Born(1821-07-24)July 24, 1821
DiedMarch 8, 1855(1855-03-08) (aged 33)
Cause of deathMurder by gunshot wound
Resting placeGreen-Wood Cemetery, Kings County, New York
Other namesBill the Butcher
OccupationButcher, fireman, criminal gang leader, politician
Known forNativist leader of the Bowery Boys, a street gang of Know Nothings and volunteer firemen; murdered by supporters of his political rival, John Morrissey of Tammany Hall
Washington Street Gang
Founded byWilliam "Bill the Butcher" Poole
Founding locationWashington Market, Manhattan
Years active1840s
TerritoryWashington Market, Manhattan
Membership (est.)?
Criminal activities?
Bowery Boys
Founded byWilliam "Bill the Butcher" Poole
Founding locationBowery, Manhattan, New York City
Years activemid-19th century
TerritoryBowery, Manhattan, New York City
EthnicityNon-Irish, European-American
Membership (est.)?
Criminal activities?
RivalsDead Rabbits, Plug Uglies

Early lifeEdit

Poole was born in Sussex County, New Jersey to parents of English descent.[1] In 1832, his family moved to New York City to open a butcher shop in Washington Market, Manhattan. Poole trained in his father's trade and eventually took over the family store. In the 1840s, he worked with the Howard (Red Rover) Volunteer Fire Engine Company #34, on Hudson and Christopher Streets, and started the Washington Street Gang which later became the Bowery Boys. During this period in New York fires were a huge problem for the city. Volunteer fire groups, such as the one Poole was in, were important for keeping fires under control. These firefighting groups were closely tied with street gangs and were seen as a public service provided by those groups. There were rivalries between the fire companies to put fires down in the neighborhood. One of the strategy that Bowery Boys used to ensure that other fire engine companies could not put out the fires was once hearing the alarm sound a Bowery Boy would find the nearest fire hydrant to the fire and flip over an empty barrel over the fire hydrant and sit on the barrel, so it could not be seen or used. The Bowery Boy would sit on the barrel until his own fire engine arrived; however, fights over the fire hydrant would break out, and sometimes the Bowery Boys had no time to actually extinguish the fire.[2]


William Poole was a large man, he weighed over two hundred pounds and was about six feet tall. He was known for his brutal boxing style, "he was well known as being a notoriously dirty fighter, not averse to biting off noses, gouging out eyeballs, or beating a man to jelly."[3] He fought in many fights that were considered illegal due to the brutality of bare-knuckle boxing. He was also a known skilled knife fighter, as a result of his profession as a butcher. Poole was a known gambler and a heavy drinker. He closed his family's butcher business in the 1850s and opened a drinking saloon, known as the "Bank Exchange."[3]

Street GangsEdit

Street gangs in New York were fluid in their membership and name as they merged and found new leaders. The most well-known of these was the Bowery Boys, which Poole created from his Washington Street gang with a collection of many different smaller street gangs. Other key gangs included in the Bowery Boys were the American Guards, Atlantic Guards, True Blue Americans, and the Order of the Star Spangled Guard. These gangs were composed of Nativists who were opposed to encroachment of Irish based gangs due to immigration caused by the Great Potato Famine. Street gangs, like the Bowery Boys, "were bound by ethnic ties or nativist belief; the members tended to be deeply patriotic, and a common thread was the belief that the country was pretty well full, so that newcomers were not welcomed."[2] Poole's gang was located close to the Five Points neighborhood, where many immigrants settled. Five Points is located in today's lower Manhattan, specifically Chinatown. Waves of Irish and German immigrants called the Five Points neighborhood home and their first stop on their American journey. Due to the large number of Irish immigrants, they too created their own street gang. The Dead Rabbits were an Irish membership gang and their biggest rival was Poole's Bowery Boy gang. Much of the tension that were between the two gangs was based on racial background and territory, "for years the Bowery Boys and the Dead Rabbits waged a bitter feud, and a week seldom pass in which they did not come to blows, either along the Bowery, in the Five Points section."[2] Both gangs were primarily brawlers and street fighters, another reason why William Poole was a well-known fighter, and most of their battling was done in open spaces. Poole made a lot of alliances that supported his ideology and street gang, but so did the Dead Rabbits. One of the most noted female brawler was known as Hell-Cat Maggie. She fought alongside the Dead Rabbits during the early 1840s against rival nativist gangs, especially the Bowery Boys. She was said "to have filed her front teeth to points, while on her fingers she wore long artificial nails, constructed of brass."[2]

Poole's political viewsEdit

William Poole opposed Tammany Hall because they advocated and were built up with non-Native-born government officials. The Tammany Hall gang were also actively protecting Irish voters from Poole's gang, Bowery Boys, who he sent out to beat them up as a way to prevent them from registering. He was also active in the Know Nothings political movement, which was an American nativist political party. The purpose of the political party, according to the New Orleans True Delta, "[T]he object of the 'Know Nothings' are twofold – part religious, part political; and the ends aimed at the disenfranchisement of adopted citizens, and their exclusion from office, and perpetual war upon the Catholic religion."[3] Originally, the Know Nothings were known as the Native American Party, but changed their name in 1855. And there were specific qualification that must be met to gain membership in the Know Nothing political party. One, the person applying for entry must "be a native born citizen, of native born parents and not of the Catholic religion".[3] The goal was to organize native-born Protestants to defend and preserve their traditional religion and political values.

Bill Poole portrait from a tobacco company boxer profile card, circa late 1880s

Attack at Florence's HotelEdit

As a well-known gang leader and pugilist, Poole was frequently involved in fights, brawls, and other confrontations. The New York Daily Times reported the following on October 23, 1851:

A Brutal Outrage in Broadway. We learn that at an early hour yesterday morning, two noted pugilists entered Florence's Hotel, corner of Broadway and Howard street, and without any provocation seized the bar-keeper and beat his face to a jelly. It appears that Thomas Hyer, William Poole, and several others entered the above hotel, and while one of the party held Charles Owens (the bar-keeper) by the hair of his head, another of the gang beat him in the face to such an extent that his left eye was completely ruined and the flesh of his cheek mangled in the most shocking manner. After thus accomplishing the heartless act, all of them made an effort to find Mr. John Florence, the proprietor of the hotel, with a view of serving him in the same manner, but not succeeding in their latter design, they found the hat of Mr. Florence and wantonly cut it into strips, and trampled it under their feet.

The desperadoes then left the house, and in the meantime Mr. Owens was placed under medical attendance, and in the course of a short time he proceeded to the Jefferson Market Police, in company with Mr. Florence, where they made their affidavits respecting the inhuman outrage, upon which Justice Blakeley issued his warrants for Hyer, Poole, and such of the others who were concerned in the affair, and the same were placed in the hands of officer Baldwin for service. Since the above was written we have been reliably informed that the affray originated from the fact of the barkeeper having refused them drinks, after they had been furnished with them twice in succession.

Dispute with John MorrisseyEdit

Poole's arch rival, John Morrissey, was an Irish immigrant and worked for the political machine at Tammany Hall. Morrissey was also a popular bare-knuckle boxer and challenged Poole to a match. Though the two men were of differing ethnic backgrounds and political parties, the initial grounds for their dispute may have arisen from an earlier bet by Poole on a boxing match at Boston Corners on October 12, 1853, in which Poole had placed his bet on Morrissey's opponent, "Yankee Sullivan". The results of the boxing match were disputed, and Poole was against Morrissey being paid. In 1854 a fight was arranged between Morrissey and Poole, which Poole won.[4]

Shooting and deathEdit

Morrissey plotted revenge and on February 25, 1855, Lewis Baker and Jim Turner, friends of Morrissey, shot Poole in the leg at Stanwix Hall, a bar on Broadway near Prince, at that time a center of the city's nightlife. The New York Daily Times reported on February 26, 1855 the following:

Terrible Shooting Affray in Broadway – Bill Poole Fatally Wounded – The Morrissey and Poole Feud – Renewal of Hostilities – Several Persons Severely Wounded. Broadway, in the vicinity of Prince and Houston Streets, was the scene of an exciting shooting affair about 1 o'clock yesterday morning, which is but a repetition of a similar occurrence that transpired a few weeks ago under Wallack's Theatre between Tom Hyer, Lewis Baker, Jim Turner and several other noted pugilists... William Poole was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery, Kings County, New York.

View Full Article at Wikisource

Several days after the shooting, on March 8, 1855, Poole died in his home on Christopher Street at the age of 33. Poole was survived by his wife and son, Charles Poole. The feud with Morrissey had been very public and The New York Times covered the events of Stanwix Hall almost every day for a month. A local newsman reported Poole's last words were, "Good-bye boys; I die a true American."[3] He was buried on March 11, 1855 in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery with thousands of spectators.

Lewis Baker quickly fled New York, with the help of James E. Kerrigan, a twenty-four year old 1853 Democratic nominee for councilman. Kerrigan was an Irish-American and expressed sympathy for Baker. The Times "called Kerrigan one 'of the principle accessories to the murder of Poole and the flight of Baker."[5] It intercepted the Jewett on April 17, 1855, and Baker was arrested for the murder of William Poole. He was tried three times for the murder of Poole but all three trials ended in a hung jury and walked away a free man. Morrissey went on to open up several bars and accumulated $1.5 million. He later served two terms as a state senator and two more terms in the House of Representatives. Morrissey died in 1878 and his burial site is in Troy, New York.[3]


Daniel Day-Lewis played a heavily fictionalized version of Bill the Butcher, renamed William Cutting, in the 2002 Martin Scorsese film Gangs of New York. The chief differences between the historical Poole and the cinematic "Butcher": while Poole died before the Civil War, the fictional character is still alive and leading his street gang in 1863. The character is slain in an epic street battle at the end of the film.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ [1] Archived 2007-08-25 at the Wayback Machine Herbert Asbury website
  2. ^ a b c d Asbury, Herbert (1927). The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the Underworld. New York: Vintage Books. p. 29.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Stanway, Eric (2019). Bill the Butcher: The Life and Death of William Poole. San Bernardino: EUM Books. p. 155.
  4. ^ "Prize Fight in New York". The Lancaster Ledger. Library of Congress. 9 August 1854. p. 2. Retrieved 28 November 2018.
  5. ^ Anbinder, Tyler (2010). Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, and Became the World's Most Notorious Slum. New York: Free Press. p. 275.
  • Charlton T. Lewis, Harper's Book of Facts, New York, 1906
  • Herbert Asbury, The Gangs of New York, New York, 1928
  • Mark Caldwell, New York Night: The Mystique and Its History, New York, 2005
  • Seth F. Abrams and Rose Keefe, The Killing of Bill the Butcher: William Poole and the Battle for Old New York, New York, 2010

Selected coverage in the New York Daily TimesEdit

  • New York Daily Times, Volume 1, Number 0031, Thursday, October 23, 1851, page 1 "Boxing"
  • New York Daily Times, Volume 3, Number 0646, Thursday, October 13, 1853, page 1 "hotel"
  • New York Daily Times, Volume 3, Number 0892, July 28, 1854, page 4 "Boxing teaser"
  • New York Daily Times, Volume 3, Number 0892, July 28, 1854, page 8 "Boxing"
  • New York Daily Times, Volume 4, Number 1074, Monday, February 26, 1855, page 1, "Shooting"
  • New York Daily Times, Volume 4, Number 1084, Friday, March 9, 1855, page 1, "Coroner's Inquest"

Selected coverage in the Brooklyn EagleEdit

Brooklyn Eagle, March 10, 1855 (partial)
Brooklyn Eagle, March 20, 1855
  • Brooklyn Eagle, March 20, 1855, page 2, "The Poole murder"
  • Brooklyn Eagle, March 20, 1855, page 3, "The death of bully Poole"
  • Brooklyn Eagle, March 24, 1855, page 3, "Grand jury"

Selected coverage in the New York TimesEdit

  • New York Times, March 9, 1855, page 1, "The Pugilist's Encounter"
  • New York Times, March 10, 1855, page 1, "The Death of William Poole"
  • New York Times, March 12, 1855, page 1, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"
  • New York Times, March 12, 1855, page 4, "The Funeral of Poole"
  • New York Times, March 13, 1855, page 1, "The Poole Murder"
  • New York Times, March 17, 1855, page 1, "The Poole Murder"
  • New York Times, March 19, 1855, page 1, "The Poole Murder"
  • New York Times, March 24, 1855, page 3, "The Kissane Trial"
  • New York Times, April 16, 1855, page 3, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"
  • New York Times, May 16, 1855; page 1, "Baker Arrested!"
  • New York Times, May 17, 1855; page 4, "The Poole Murder—What is to come of it?"
  • New York Times, November 28, 1855, page 7, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"
  • New York Times, November 29, 1855, page 3, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"
  • New York Times, December 1, 1855, page 2, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"
  • New York Times, December 3, 1855, page 2, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"
  • New York Times, December 4, 1855, page 7, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"
  • New York Times, December 5, 1855, page 3, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"
  • New York Times, December 6, 1855, page 2, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"
  • New York Times, December 7, 1855, page 3, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"
  • New York Times, December 8, 1855, page 3, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"
  • New York Times, December 10, 1855, page 2, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"
  • New York Times, December 11, 1855, page 2, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"
  • New York Times, December 12, 1855, page 3, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"
  • New York Times, December 13, 1855, page 7, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"
  • New York Times, December 14, 1855, page 1, "The Stanwix Hall Tragedy"

External linksEdit