Originally from New Jersey, his parents moved to New York City in 1832 to open a butcher store in Washington Market. Poole learned his father’s trade and eventually took over the family store. In the 1840s Poole started the Washington Street Gang and became an infamous member of the Bowery Boys, a New York City Gang.
Poole became known for his bare-knuckle boxing and for being a leader of the Know Nothing political movement. The movement was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by German and Irish Catholic immigrants, who were often regarded as hostile to republican values and controlled by the Pope in Rome.
Poole was the inspiration for the character of William, “Bill the Butcher” Cutting in Martin Scorsese’s film Gangs of New York. Although Scorsese took creative license with the character, incidents from newspaper clippings such as The Brooklyn Eagle and The New York Daily Times were taken from Poole’s life.
Poole met his demise when he was shot by a rival at Stanwix hall, a popular bar located near the corner of Prince and Broadway on February 26th, 1855. He died over a week later, in his home on Christopher Street. His last words allegedly were, "Good-bye boys; I die a true American." Three days later on March 11, Poole was interred in an unmarked (later marked in 2004) grave in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn.