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William Poole (July 24, 1821 – July 14, 1855), also known as Bill the Butcher, was the leader of the New York City gang Bowery Boys, a bare-knuckle boxer, and a leader of the Know Nothing political movement.
Poole was born in Sussex County, New Jersey to parents of English descent. In 1832, his family moved to New York City to open a butcher shop in Washington Market, Manhattan. William 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, Hudson & Christopher Streets and started the Washington Street gang.
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.
Poole's archenemy, John Morrissey, was an Irish immigrant and enforcer for Tammany Hall. Morrissey was also a popular 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".
Results of the boxing match were disputed, and Poole was against Morrissey being paid. In the boxing match Morrissey was knocked out but, instead of using a standard ten count, the Morrissey backers requested judgment by a call to the ring. Morrissey was up again by then. Morrissey's opponent, having knocked out Morrissey, had left the vicinity of the ring thinking he had won. Poole and Morrissey squared off in the ring to settle their dispute on July 26, 1854, at Amos Dock, New York. The New York Daily Times reported on the fight, and Morrissey's condition afterwards:
He presented a shocking spectacle, and scarcely could any of his friends recognize him. His eyes were closed and one of them was found to be gouged from one end of the socket, which injury will probably impair his sight for life. There were large bunches on all parts of his head. His face above and below the eyes is blackened by violent blows given on the bridge of his nose. There is a hole in his cheek, and his lips are chewed up in a frightful manner. He also sustained fearful injuries about his breast, arms, and back, where Poole kicked him with heavy cowhide boots after he helloed enough. So severe are Morrissey's injuries, that it is very doubtful whether he walks in the street for the next six months.View Full Article at Wikisource
Morrissey plotted revenge and on February 25, 1855, Lew Baker, a friend of Morrissey, shot Poole 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... View Full Article at Wikisource
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Poole died on March 8, 1855 from the gunshot wound. He died in his home on Christopher Street, leaving a wife and a son named Charles Poole. His last words were, "Good-bye boys; I die a true American." He was buried on March 11, 1855, in Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery in an unmarked grave. A tombstone was added in 2004; the grave is number 48 and 49, F/G 6(v).
Louis Baker took the brig Isabella Jewett which was headed for the Canary Islands. George Law, Sr., furnished the clipper ship Grapeshot to pursue Baker. It intercepted the Jewett on April 17, 1855. Baker was captured and brought back. He was tried three times for the murder but all three trials ended in a hung jury. Morrissey went on to open up several bars and accumulated $1.5 million, but was never accepted by American aristocracy. He later served as a state senator and died of pneumonia in 1878.
Poole was the inspiration for the character of William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting (portrayed by Daniel Day-Lewis) in Martin Scorsese's 2002 film Gangs of New York. Although the film's Cutting incorporates many aspects of Poole's character and history, he is depicted as living through the Civil War, being killed during the New York City Draft Riots of 1863, eight years after Poole's death.
The New York Times covered the events of Stanwix Hall almost every day for a month
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