Morrisey and Poole

John Morrissey and William “Bill the Butcher” Poole were the heads of their respective gangs, the Dead Rabbits and the Bowery Boys. Morrissey, an Irishman, was affiliated with Tammany Hall while Poole was an enforcer for the Know-Nothing party, a nativist organization that was against the influx of Catholic immigrants. Their rivalry came to a head on February 25, 1855. According to the New York Times, “About 9 o’clock on Saturday evening, John Morrissey and a gang of ruffians entered a saloon at No. 579 Broadway, called Stanwix Hall where they met Bill Poole”. They fought until the owner of the bar called the police who broke it up. However, the assailants ”returned to Stanwix Hall just after midnight, where they again encountered Poole and made a murderous attack upon him.” Upon his death bed, Poole was claimed to have said, “I think I am a goner. If I die, I die a true American; and what grieves me most is, thinking that I’ve been murdered by a set of Irish – by Morrissey in particular.”1 Although it would seem that violence and gang life would create an unpopular perception of him, it was the opposite. “As many as a quarter of a million people jammed the streets of lower Manhattan to pay their last respects to the dead butcher. …The crowd surpassed those that turned out for Andrew Jackson’s or Daniel Webster’s or Henry Clay’s obsequies.”2

  1. “THE PUGILISTS’ ENCOUNTER.; Post-Mortem Examination-Coroner’s Investigation. DEATH OF WILLIAM POOLE.” New York Times, March 9, 1855,
  2. Elliot J. Gorn, “Good-Bye Boys, I Die a True American”: Homicide, Nativism, and Working-Class Culture in Antebellum New York City” The Journal of American History (September 2, 1987): 399-410,

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