1850 : Strang Crowned King James on Beaver Island

July 8, 2024 all-day

James Jesse Strang courtesy of the Beaver Beacon

In 1843, James Jesse Strang settled in Burlington, Wisconsin, and became a member of the Mormon Church. When the founder of Mormonism Joseph Smith was murdered in 1844, Strang claimed to be his successor. While most of Smith’s followers moved west under the leadership of Brigham Young, others moved to Wisconsin under the leadership of Strang, who had proclaimed himself a prophet in communication with God.

To protect this Mormon utopia from outside influence and persecution, Strang and his nearly 3000 followers eventually settled on Beaver Island, located off of Michigan’s northwestern coast. Strang’s autocratic tendencies reached their zenith on July 8, 1850, when he was crowned King in an elaborate ceremony on the island – thereafter ruling the area as a divine monarch.

The US government arrested and attempted to convict King Strang of treason, trespass, and other crimes in 1851, but he was acquitted.

In 1853, the large Mormon constituency in the area elected Strang to the state legislature, a post that allowed him to increase his control of the “kingdom.”

By 1855 Strang had made numerous enemies. His unconventional Christian beliefs and polygamous marriages offended many. His strong-armed tactics towards the Island’s non-Mormon community worried local non-Mormon government officials in Northwestern Michigan and made implacable enemies among those displaced from Beaver Island. And the Federal government viewed Strang’s assertion of secular authority as a threat.

In 1856, two disaffected followers shot Strang. Though the King clung to life for another three weeks, he eventually died without a successor and his followers were rounded up at gunpoint, stripped of nearly all their possessions, and shipped off Beaver Island to various Great Lakes ports in what has been called by one historian, “the most disgraceful day in Michigan history.”

For more information see Robert P. Weeks, King Strang: a Biography of James Jesse Strang, Ann Arbor, Five Wives Press, 1971. Available for loan via MelCat at participating libraries.

Mary C. Graham and Marian J. Matyn, “Millard Fillmore, George C. Bates, and James Jesse Strang: Why Michigan’s Only King Was Tried in Federal Court”, The Court Legacy, Vo. IX, No. 2, June 2003.

Source: Michigan Historical Calendar courtesy of the Clarke Historical Library at Central Michigan University. The Clarke Historical Library has the largest publicly available collection of Strangite papers documenting James Jesse Strang and his followers, the Strangite Mormons, notably Wingfield Watson, and Mormon history of Beaver Island in the papers of Helen Collar. The Clarke also has extensive publications on/by the various branches of the Mormon church, polygamy, Beaver Island history, and the history of the Mormon faith in the U.S. Check the Clarke website http://clarke.cmich.edu or the CMU Library catalog and type in “Strangite” in the search box for further information.

An Overview of Beaver Island’s History courtesy of the Beaver Beacon.

Image may contain: text that says 'masterpieee." TALE -Nathaniel UTOPIAN MURDER KING of Philbrick REAMERS THE FRONTIER SCHEMERS TRUE BELIEVERS, PROPHETS, AND THE AMERICAN MONARCH CONFIDENCE "Ludierously enjoyable. -Dave Eggers MILES HARVEY AUTHOR OF THE NATIONAL BESTSELLER หขอ The Island of Lost Maps'

Leave a Reply