Strang, James Jesse, 1813-1856

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1813-03-21
Death 1856-07-09
English

Biographical notes:

Leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Strangites).

From the description of Legal documents, 1849. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 367397492

From the guide to the Documents in the Case of John W. Archer vs. James J. Strang and John Cole, 1849, (L. Tom Perry Special Collections)

Mormon religious leader.

From the description of Collection, 1846-1944 1846-1856(bulk). (Southern Methodist University). WorldCat record id: 17927225

Mormon leader on Beaver Island, Michigan.

From the description of James Jesse Strang papers, 1851-1852. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 34422302

James Jesse Strang (1813-1856) was the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ (Strangites), and claimed to be the successor of Joseph Smith.

From the description of James Jesse Strang papers, 1846-1956. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 367390313

Leader of the "Strangite" group of the Mormon Church.

From the description of Transcription, ca. 1850. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122495154

James Jesse Strang (1813-1856), founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite).

From the description of James Jesse Strang collection, 1835-1920. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702126705

Religious leader and founder of the Mormon sect, the Strangites. He was shot on Beaver Island, Michigan, where he had established a Strangite community, and died in 1856.

From the description of A testimony to the Nation : Buffalo, New York, 1850 Apr 6. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702161187

From the description of A testimony to the Nation : Buffalo, New York, 1850 Apr 6. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 80436410

From the description of Manuscript of Michilimackinac, ca. 1854. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 80551557

From the description of Manuscript of Michilimackinac, ca. 1854. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702150337

James J. Strang (1813-1856), son of Clement and Abigail Strang, founded Strangite religion and movement, very influential religious leader.

From the description of Legal documents, 1849. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 79694688

James J. Strang was born in Cayuga County, New York in 1813. He grew up in western New York, where he taught school, edited a newspaper and practiced law. In 1843 he moved to Burlington, Wisconsin, where in 1844 he established the nearby Mormon community of Voree. About 1848-1849 he moved his headquarters to Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, where he flourished as a Mormon prophet and self-appointed king, until he was assassinated in 1856.

From the description of James Jessee Strang papers, 1831-1836. (Detroit Public Library). WorldCat record id: 288411356

James J. Strang and his followers are generally considered a schismatic group of Mormons. Strang, of course, regarded his organization, called "the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite)," to be the true continuation of Mormonism after the death of Joseph Smith. At its height, Strang’s movement boasted a membership of 12,000. In order to place this collection of Strangite material in historical perspective, what follows is a brief overview of Strang’s life, his involvement with the Mormon Church and the rise and fall of his own group.

Born on March 21, 1813 in Scipio, New York, to Clement (1788-1880) and Abigail James Strang (1793-1873), James J. Strang was the second of three children. He attended school until the age of twelve. As a young man, he worked periodically on his father’s farm, served as the county postmaster, and edited a local newspaper, the Randolph Herald . He also studied law, gaining admission to the New York state bar at age 23. Prior to his conversion to Mormonism, he served as a Baptist minister.

In 1836, Strang married Mary Perce (1818-?) and thus began his first known tie with Mormonism. His wife’s sister was married to Moses Smith, a Mormon. Strang, then, was apparently aware of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at least as early as 1836, though he did not convert to Mormonism until 1844, shortly after he had moved close to his wife’s relatives in Burlington, Wisconsin. At that time, Strang and Aaron Smith, a brother of Moses, visited Nauvoo, Illinois, then headquarters of the Mormon Church. On February 25th he was baptized by Joseph Smith, who immediately "called" him to investigate possible sites for Mormon settlements along the White River near Burlington.

Strang sent a written report of his findings to Joseph Smith on May 24, 1844, but if Smith ever read the letter, there was no time for him to react to its contents. On June 27, 1844, both Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by an angry mob. According to Strang, in the very minute Smith died, an angel appeared to him (Strang), anointing him with oil and ordaining him "to the rulership of the Saints on Earth." He also claimed that Joseph Smith had written a "Letter of Appointment" nine days before his death naming Strang as his successor and revealing a new gathering place for the saints at Voree, Wisconsin. A message relating Strang’s claim was immediately sent to Nauvoo. Believing the "Letter of Appointment" a forgery, members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles – the most senior level of Church leadership following Smith’s death – excommunicated Strang.

Strang then "proceeded to develop a rear attack" by writing letters to groups of Saints preparing to depart for the West with Brigham Young, the most senior member of the governing quorum. In one such case, Strang debated with Reuben Miller for four hours in Ottawa. Convinced of Strang’s claims, Miller then traveled to Nauvoo with a message from Strang to the Apostles to stop their plans for the exodus West and their pretensions to authority. He also insisted that they present themselves for trial in Voree before April 7th. Brigham Young simply ignored the message.

According to Strang, an angel visited him on September 1, 1845, revealing to him a set of ancient records. Twelve days later, he took four followers to a hill and dug up a small set of plates made of brass. Strang and several of the faithful met to handle the plates. He announced that they contained a record of an ancient Native American ruler, one Rajah Manchore of Vorito. Known as the Voree Plates, the book spoke of a "forerunner" (Joseph Smith) and a "mighty prophet" (James J. Strang).

Meanwhile, those Saints who believed in Strang’s claims gathered in Voree, where Strang set up his leadership by patterning the basic organization of his church after the one instituted by Joseph Smith. Tithing was required as early as 1845, and by 1846 the saints were commanded to build a house for the prophet and a temple for God. In January 1848, Strang instituted the "Order of Enoch" a communitarian-based economic system in which members consecrated their earthly goods to the church. By the end of the year, 150 people had joined the Order, also called the "United Order," but the movement soon declined.

Though Strang sought to replicate some of Smith’s teachings in his church, he did not adopt all of them. At first, he vehemently denounced Joseph Smith’s practice of plural marriage, contending that the practice was an innovation of the "Brighamites" under Brigham Young. People who had left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in disgust over the introduction of polygamy flocked to Strang’s organization when they heard he had denounced it. By 1848, however, Strang reversed his views. On July 13, 1849, he married a second wife, Elvira Eliza Field (1830-1910). He eventually married three more women, including Betsy McNutt (1820-1897) in 1852 and two cousins, Sarah (1837-1923) and Phoebe Wright (1836-1914), in 1855, for a total of five wives. Unhappy with Strang’s changed views regarding polygamy, some members repudiated Strang and subsequently became instrumental in establishing the "Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints," another, ultimately more successful, offshoot of the church Smith established. (Today, this church is called the Community of Christ.)

Meanwhile, Strang’s followers faced many problems, including an acute shortage of available land for immigrating Strangites to occupy. Also, internal problems and defections continually plagued the church. In 1847, Strang began resettling his followers on Beaver Island near the northern end of Lake Michigan, where they established a town they named Saint James. By early 1850, Voree, Wisconsin, was nearly emptied of Strangites, and Beaver Island had become the new gathering place, home to more than 250 church members. In an elaborate ceremony, Strang had himself crowned "king" of his church on June 8, 1850.

That year was a momentous one for Strang, who announced in a conference the following month that the Lord had asked him to translate another ancient record, called "The Record of Laban" – apparently a reference to a set of brass plates mentioned in the Book of Mormon as being in the possession of a man named Laban. This record, Strang said, contained the original law given to Moses. Clad in bright red robes for the conference, he informed the people that these scriptures would verify the permanent establishment of the Kingdom of God, with Strang occupying the throne. Strang called this book, published in 1851 and reprinted in an enlarged edition in 1856, The Book of the Law of the Lord .

As the number of church members on Beaver Island increased, hostility toward the Strangites arose among the local inhabitants. Island residents began beating and robbing Strangites, and a drunken mob vowed to kill all of them or drive them from the island. They also accused the saints of appropriating land and money by force. In February 1851, Peter McKinley, a prominent merchant on the island, and Eri J. Moore, a disaffected member of Strang’s church, accused Strang and his followers of a whole host of crimes, including cutting timber on federal land, tampering with the delivery of mail, and counterfeiting. The accusers publicized their claims, pressing for Strang’s arrest. In March, George C. Bates, the U.S. District Attorney for Michigan, wrote Attorney General John J. Crittenden and asked him how to handle the complaints of McKinley and Moore. Reports of the alleged crimes subsequently reached the ears of President Millard Fillmore, who authorized legal action against Strang. Based on the reports he received, Fillmore assumed Strang and his followers would resist arrest so he sent a contingent of marines along with Bates, U.S. Marshal Charles Knox, and eight deputy U.S. marshals. In May, this group arrived at Beaver Island. Strang and thirty others were detained and accused of criminal activity, but only four men (including Strang) were taken to Detroit for trial. Strang and more than twenty-three of his followers were indicted for trespass, obstructing the U.S. mail system, and counterfeiting. The federal case against Strang for interfering with the mail soon unraveled, however, and the jury reached a verdict of not guilty. Strang and the others were set free in July, and all other charges were dropped on September 29, 1851.

The following year, to counteract persecution, as well as what he believed was the bias of law enforcement and judicial officials, Strang cleverly arranged his election to the State Assembly of Michigan from Newaygo District. He kept his candidacy secret until just before the election. Then, with his adherents voting as a bloc, Strang won the election and took his place in the legislature.

Rather than reducing hostility toward Strang and his church, this incident increased it. Considerable opposition arose even among his followers, and in June 1856, two disgruntled members of his church shot him several times. He lingered for three weeks, dying on July 9, 1856. Angry mobs drove Strang’s shocked and leaderless followers off the island shortly thereafter, and the church members scattered. Though remnants of his organization remain to the present day, it never fully recovered.

Sources:

Fitzpatrick, Doyle C. The King Strang Story: a Vindication of James J. Strang, The Beaver Island Mormon King . Lansing, Michigan: National Heritage, 1970.

Jensen, Robin Scott. "Gleaning the Harvest: Strangite Missionary Work, 1846-1850." MA Thesis. Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, August 2005. url: http://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/ETD/image/etd956.pdf

Morgan Dale L. "A Bibliography of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints [Strangite]." Western Humanities Review 5 no. 1 (winter 1950-51): 42-114.

Quaife, Milo M. The Kingdom of Saint James: a Narrative of the Mormons . New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930.

Van Noord, Roger. King of Beaver Island: The Life and Assassination of James Jesse Strang . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

From the guide to the James J. Strang papers Mss 0017c., 1836-1944, (DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University)

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Subjects:

  • Mormons
  • Persecution
  • Mormons--Legal status, laws, etc
  • Mormons--Correspondence
  • Civil Procedure and Courts
  • Mormons--Wisconsin
  • Correspondence
  • Indians of North America
  • Material Types
  • Mormons--Michigan
  • Politics, Government, and Law
  • Tithes--Mormon Church
  • Mormon Church--History--Sources

Occupations:

not available for this record

Places:

  • United States (as recorded)
  • Michigan (as recorded)
  • Michigan (as recorded)
  • Voree (Wis.) (as recorded)
  • Beaver Island (Mich.) (as recorded)
  • Nauvoo (Ill.) (as recorded)
  • St. James (Mich.) (as recorded)
  • Mackinac Island (Mich. : Island) (as recorded)
  • Walworth County (Wis.) (as recorded)
  • Missouri (as recorded)
  • Beaver Island (Mich.) (as recorded)
  • Wisconsin (as recorded)
  • Beaver Island (Mich.) (as recorded)
  • Beaver Island (Mich.) (as recorded)
  • Michigan (as recorded)
  • Missouri (as recorded)
  • Beaver Island (Mich.) (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Illinois (as recorded)
  • St. James (Mich.) (as recorded)
  • Voree (Wis.) (as recorded)
  • Walworth County (Wis.) (as recorded)
  • Mackinac Island (Mich. : Island) (as recorded)
  • Beaver Island (Mich.) (as recorded)
  • Michigan (as recorded)
  • Woolworth County (Wis.) (as recorded)
  • Beaver Island (Mich.) (as recorded)
  • Michigan (as recorded)
  • Beaver Island (Mich.) (as recorded)
  • Michigan (as recorded)
  • Michigan (as recorded)
  • Illinois (as recorded)
  • Michigan (as recorded)
  • Beaver Island (Mich.) (as recorded)