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

By Jacob Shelton
(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.