The Strange Life of Michigan’s Only “King” of Beaver Island
All Hail King James Strang! First of his name, and RULER of Beaver Island in Michigan!
Oh, you've never heard of King Strang? Well then, let me tell you about Michigan's only royal ruler, and the strange life he led while in Michigan.
It's no secret that Michigan has a history of varying versions of Christianity within its shores. The Seventh-Day Adventist Church was founded in Battle Creek. But in the 1800s, another form of Christianity was making its way east out of Utah - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
James Strang and the Mormon Church
In 1844, James Strang was a prominent member of the church, and claimed he was appointed the successor of the Mormon Church after the death of Joseph Smith.
"(He) testified that he had possession of a letter from Smith naming him as his successor, and furthermore reported that he had been ordained to the prophetic office by an angel."
His organization, which became the "Strangite" variation of the Mormon Church, claimed he was the sole legitimate continuation of the Church of Christ, founded by Joseph Smith.
But Strang's claims were rejected by the church leaders, which included Sidney Rigdon and Brigham Young. This decision caused a split in the church, and Strang "took his talents" back to Michigan and Beaver Island, where crowned himself "King" of his own ecclesiastical monarchy.
"KIng Strang," Ruler of Beaver Island
He "reigned" for 12 years, beginning in 1844, and pulled nearly 12,000 followers away from the traditional Mormon Church, which had numbers right around 50,000 in Utah. And while Strang DID proclaim himself "King," he never claimed to be king of Beaver Island itself, or any other geographical entity.
"Instead, he claimed to be the king of his church, which he considered the true 'Kingdom of God,' which was prophesied in Scripture and destined to spread itself over all the earth."
He also never claimed sovereignty of Beaver Island over the United States, but it didn't keep him from exerting his power over inhabitants of the island, including those who weren't part of the Strangites.
On July 4, 1850, a drunken mob of fishermen vowed to "kill the Mormons" on Beaver Island, and drive them out. BUT, were "awed into submission" when Strang fired a CANNON at them, which hd had secretly acquired. He now ruled with fear over his "subjects" on the island, which didn't make him a lot of friends.
He was eventually accused of treason, counterfeiting, trespassing on government land, and theft by an excommunicated member of the Strangites. But successfully defended himself in court, avoiding any criminal convictions.
"King Strang" in Michigan State Government
Following the outcome, and some favorable press, he ran for, and WON a seat in the Michigan state Legislature to represent Manitou County. And despite two votes to challenge his position, "King Strang" was allowed to join State Congress.
While in office (and re-elected in 1855), he passed five bills, and was actually quite pivotal in organizing the upper portion of Michigan's lower peninsula into counties and townships. But he furiously fought the illegal practice of trading liquor to local Native American tribes. This made him an even bigger enemy of the non-Strangite residents of Beaver, and nearby Mackinac Island, who profited greatly from this trade.
On the evening of June 16, 1856, "His Majesty" was on the dock at St. James Harbor on Beaver Island, when he was shot in the back three times by excommunicated members of the Strangites, Thomas Bedford, and Alexander Wentworth.
Strang was grazed in the head by one bullet, hit in the cheek by another, and the final blow, a shot to his spine, which paralyzed him. Bedford and Wentworth immediately boarded the USS Michigan, a US Naval vessel docked at the harbor, and claimed sanctuary.
The whole deed was carried out in broad daylight, in full view of the crew of the USS Michigan, yet witnesses claim no effort to warn "The King" were made, sparking rumors that the captain, and the Michigan's crew were all in on the deed.
Strang was taken to Voree, where he lived and was cared for for three weeks. On July 9, 1856, he succumbed to his wounds at the age of 43.
As for Bedford and Wentworth, they were taken to the local sheriff, and transported to Mackinac Island for a mock trial. For their crimes, they were fined $1.25 each, and then released to praises from the locals.
Neither one was punished for their crime.
The end of a Michigan "Kingdom"
So that was it. After 12 years of ruling, and making a LOT of people up north angry, "King" Strang went down as not only the worst patriarch of the State of Michigan, but also the ONLY Patriarch to hold office.
Following his death, the Strangites mostly dissipated, though a few still operate autonomously in the country, numbered only at around 300 members.