Bill The Butcher A.K.A. William Poole: Bio, Facts, & Trivia You Didn't Know

By | September 19, 2020

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(Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

More than the inspiration for Daniel Day Lewis's character in Gangs Of New York, William Poole, also known as "Bill the Butcher," was a larger-than-life presence in New York City during the 19th century. The big, burly, bare-knuckle brawler led one of the most fierce gangs of the era, the Bowery Boys, before heading up a xenophobic political movement called the Know Nothing Party. Poole's life was filled with tall tales, but we'll try to separate the myth from the man and get to the bottom of this barbaric New York character.

Jersey Boy

He may be intrinsically tied to New York City, but William Poole was born in New Jersey on July 24, 1821. When Poole was 10 years old, he and his family moved to New York City, where his father ran a butcher shop. Poole took over the business when his father retired and became a member of the Howard Volunteer Fire Engine Company #34 on Hudson and Christopher Streets, and between these two ventures, he garnered considerable esteem from the people of Manhattan.

Interestingly, Poole's carnivorous profession wasn't the (sole) basis of his nickname. He was called "Bill the Butcher" because he was a ruthless bare-knuckle boxer who took pleasure in turning his opponents into bloody cuts of meat who used to be men. He was most fond of gouging out his opponents' eyes, leaving them covered in viscera.

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(Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons)

The Bowery Boys

New York City was rife with gang violence in the 19th century, and the Bowery Boys were responsible for an overwhelming share of it. Poole was a heavy hitter within the anti-Irish, anti-Catholic, locals-only gang, well known for staking out the ballot box to prevent the Irish from voting by any means necessary and leading the Bowery Boys in a series of street fights against an Irish gang known as the Dead Rabbits. The Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys feuded for years, battling on a weekly basis in the streets of the Five Points section of the city.