Who was James Strang?

Broad introduction to start:

Historian Robin Jensen talks about those who stepped forward claiming leadership of the Church after the death of Joseph Smith.

“King of Beaver Island”:

FAIR Mormon has a detailed entry on James Strang here.  Included are images of Strang’s Letter of Appointment and other parts of this history.

Brett McDonald discusses the period around Joseph’s death, as well as more contemporary claims.

The Deseret News highlights a few details about James Strang here and below:

“One of those was James J. Strang, a man who had been baptized four months before the martyrdom of Joseph and his brother Hyrum. Although Strang was subsequently excommunicated from the LDS Church, he continued proselyting followers who gathered to Voree, Wisconsin, on the banks of the White River. ”

Historical plaque on a marker at the site where Voree, Wisconsin was once located. It is a map of the settlement. | Kenneth Mays

“At one point, his followers included three former members of the Quorum of the Twelve and other prominent members. But, according to Leonard Arrington in “Brigham Young: American Moses,” “Most of Strang’s backing evaporated …and at no point did he represent a numerically significant challenge to Brigham’s leadership.”

William Smith, Hiram Page (both Apostles), and others who gravitated toward Strang were themselves previously disaffected from the LDS Church.  And these previous Latter-day Saints didn’t stay long with Strang.

Most of Strang’s followers, in fact, left him when it became evident Strang himself was a polygamist.  Much of Strang’s attraction was because of his anti-polygamy, anti-Brigham rhetoric.

Book Review: The Polygamist King – James J. Strang | The ...

Strang moved his colony from Voree to Beaver Island, Wisconsin, at the northern end of Lake Michigan in 1849. Glen M. Leonard writes in “Nauvoo, a Place of Peace, a People of Promise” that the number of Strang’s followers there peaked at about 500.

Strang was shot, allegedly, by upset followers in 1856. He was taken back to Voree and there clung to life for a short while before passing away in a home that still stands.”

Rick Bennett at Gospel Tangents does great interviews to allow greater insight into this faith tradition.

After Joseph was martyred, James Strang claimed to have a letter from Joseph Smith putting him in charge of the LDS Church.  Among other topics, Dr. Michael Quinn tells why he believes the letter was an “absolute forgery”.

Dan Peterson wrote a lengthy article on the topic in 2011 here.  Highlights below:

Image result for strang's vorhees plates

“Though little remembered today, James Jesse Strang campaigned seriously to lead the LDS Church after Joseph Smith’s 1844 assassination.

When the general membership rejected the obscure new convert’s claim that a secret letter had appointed him as Joseph Smith’s successor, Strang started his own sect, ultimately headquartered on Beaver Island, Mich. Like Joseph, he eventually claimed to have translated ancient metal plates and provided 11 corroborating eyewitnesses.

By 1856, when he himself was murdered, he had several thousand followers, including members of Joseph Smith’s family, former apostles and Book of Mormon witnesses.

That some Book of Mormon witnesses credited Strang argues for their sincerity, incidentally: Had they been knowing perpetrators of a fraud with Joseph Smith, they would likely have been far more skeptical of Strang.”

Image result for strang's vorhees plates

Strang claimed he was visited by an angel and found brass plates.

The 18 “Plates of Laban,” likewise of brass and each about 7.5 by 9 inches, were first mentioned in 1849 and were seen by seven witnesses in 1851. These witnesses’ testimony was published as a preface to “The Book of the Law of the Lord,” which Strang said he derived from the “Plates of Laban.” (He appears to have begun the “translation” at least as early as April 1849. An 84-page version appeared in 1851; by 1856, it had reached 350 pages.) Strang’s witnesses report seeing the plates, but mention nothing miraculous. Nor did Strang supply any additional supporting testimony comparable to that of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon.

Image result for strang's vorhees plates

One of the witnesses to the “Plates of Laban,” Samuel P. Bacon, eventually denied the inspiration of Strang’s movement and denounced it as mere “human invention.” Another, Samuel Graham, later claimed that he had actually assisted Strang in the creation of the plates.

“We can hardly escape the conclusion,” writes Quaife, “that Strang knowingly fabricated and planted them for the purpose of duping his credulous followers” and, accordingly, that “Strang’s prophetic career was a false and impudent imposture.” A more recent biographer, Roger Van Noord, concludes that “based on the evidence, it is probable that Strang — or someone under his direction — manufactured the letter of appointment and the brass plates to support his claim to be a prophet and to sell land at Voree. If this scenario is correct, Strang’s advocacy of himself as a prophet was more than suspect, but no psychological delusion.”

Summary from Peterson:

Thus, Strang’s plates were much less numerous than those of the Book of Mormon, his witnesses saw nothing supernatural and his translation required the better part of a decade rather than a little more than two months. (Quite unlike the semi-literate Joseph Smith, Strang was well-read. He had been an editor and lawyer before his involvement with Mormonism.) Perhaps most strikingly, unlike the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, some (at least) of Strang’s witnesses later denied their testimonies.

The contrasts work very much in Joseph Smith’s favor.

Southern Methodist University

SMU’s James Strang Papers (a box in their archives) has a lengthy biography here.  Abstract below:

James J. Strang became the leader and “king” of a schismatic Mormon group based in Voree, Wisconsin, and Beaver Island, Michigan, often referred to as the Strangites, shortly after the death of Joseph Smith in 1844. The Strang collection contains letters (addressed primarily to Strang and his family members), essays by Strang and various members of his church, a tithing book and other documents regarding church business, miscellaneous printed matter, and correspondence involving his descendants.

James Jesse Strang's letter of appointment from the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University

Most scholars believe Strang’s “Letter of Appointment” — claimed to be written by Joseph Smith — is a fraud.  You can see the letter, currently at Yale, here (and in image above).


From the Society of Strang Studies:  Who was James Strang?