James Strang

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1856 daguerreotype of James Strang, taken on Beaver Island, Lake Michigan, by J. Atkyn, one of his assassins.

James Jesse Strang (March 21, 1813July 9, 1856) was a Mormon leader who established a Mormon sect after the murder of Joseph Smith, Jr.

After Joseph Smith, Jr.--founder of the Latter day saint movement--was murdered, there were several claimants to his role as leader and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There were other claimants to Smith's role, and eventually, Brigham Young as the head of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles led the majority of Latter-day saints to Utah. Although Strang was a recent convert to the fourteen year-old church, several prominent Mormons--including much of Smith's family--accepted Strang's claims for a period.

Strang's group was formally called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (notice, no hyphen and the different capitalization) but Strang's church and his followers were commonly called the "Strangites"

Strang and his associates settled for several years on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, where he was pronounced king. Strang was also a lawyer, land developer, news correspondent for the New York Tribune, and a scientist for the Smithsonian Institution.


Childhood and education

James Jesse Strang was born March 21, 1813, the middle of three children. He was raised as a Baptist by parents who had a good reputation. James' mother was very tender with him as a consequence of delicate health. She required him to render an account of all his actions and words while absent from her.

At 12 years old, Strang was baptised as a Baptist. He was known as an exceptionally intelligent child, "a dreamer of grandiose dreams—dreams of power, of royalty, and of fame" according to one biographer. He studied civil law, and was admitted to the bar in New York and other places where he resided. He became County Postmaster.

He became a Baptist minister, but joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in 1844. Strang quickly came into favor with Joseph Smith, though they'd known one another only a few months.

Succession as prophet

Following Smith's murder, Brigham Young, Strang, and several others claimed to be Smith's successor. A power struggle ensued, and Young eventually led the bulk of Smith's followers to Utah.

Strang's evidence for his leadership claim included a "Letter of Appointment" from Smith, postmarked a week before his death: "Nauvoo, June 19, 1844." Strang also testified that an angel appointed him as Smith's successor at about the same time Smith died; Smith and Strang were some 200 miles (320 km) apart at the time, and some witnesss reported that Strang made his announcemnt before news of Smith's murder was publicly available.

The letter from Smith to Strang is held at Yale University. Although the postmark and first page are legitimate, forensic analysis shows the second page—the one with text appointing Strang as Smith's successor—is of a different paper stock than the first page, suggesting it may have been forged.

The letter convinced most of Smith's family and several other prominent Mormons that Strang's claims were genuine. John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, Hiram Page, John E. Page, William E. McLellin, William Smith, Smith's first wife and widow, Emma Hale Smith, the sisters of Joseph Smith, William Marks, George Miller, and others, including Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Lucy wrote to Reuben Hedlock: %u201CI am satisfied that Joseph appointed J.J. Strang. It is verily so.%u201D(ibid) According to William Smith, all of Joseph Smith%u2019s family (excepting Hyrum Smith%u2019s widow), endorsed Strang; (Palmer, 211)

In all, about 12,000 Latter-day saints recognized Strang's claims. A smaller group followed him to Beaver Island in Lake Michigan.

Most of his initial followers, including those listed above, would leave Strang's church before his death. Some eventually followed Brigham Young, but Smith's immediate family never did, and many of them formed the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints a few years later.

Strang led his church for 12 years.

Visions, translating from plates, and revelations

Like Joseph Smith, Strang reported numerous visions, said he translated ancient metal plates using Urim and Thummim, and again like Smith%u2019s case, several witnesses asserted they had inspected said plates and thought them genuine.

Unlike Smith, however, Strang offered his plates to the curious public for examination. C. Lantham Sholes of the %u2018%u2019Southport Telegraph%u2019%u2019 examined the plates and the arae they were said to have been uncovered. Sholes offered no opinion of the metal plates, but described Strang as %u201Chonest and earnest%u201D and opined that Strang%u2019s followers ranked %u201Camong the most honest and intelligent men in the neighborhood.%u201D(Palmer, 209).

Strang's translation of the metal plates was transcribed by Samuel Graham, and published as Book of the Law of the Lord, said to be the original law as it was given to Moses.

Strang also translated other items, including a small plate unearthed according to directions given in a vision, and the Plates of Laban described in the Book of Mormon. He received a number of revelations, including his own appointment as king and continuing the plural marriage established by Smith

Coronation as king

Again, Similar to Smith (who was " crowned a king in Nauvoo",[1] (http://www.utlm.org/onlinebooks/changech17.htm) ) Strang was to fulfill the office of king as described in the Book of the Law of the Lord. He was crowned in 1850 by his counselor George J. Adams, and ruled for several years. He had five wives.

As a result of his coronation, Strang was accused of treason, and was brought to trial in Detroit, Michigan. His trial defense brought him considerable favorable press, which he leveraged to run for, and win, a seat on the Michigan state legislature in 1853. He was reelected to that office in 1855.


On June 20, 1856, two men shot Strang from behind, and escaped on board the USS Michigan. Several witnesses on board the ship did nothing to help Strang, who was wounded twice in the head, and once in the ribs. He lived until July 9.

Few additional facts are well-documented, but some speculate that the U.S. government played a role in his murder, as the killers were able to escape by boarding the U.S.S. Michigan.

After Strang's death

Most of the members later joined the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ, which was established four years after Strang's death.


Palmer, Grant H, %u2018%u2019An Insider%u2019s View of Mormon Origins%u2019%u2019, 2002, Signature Books, ISBN 1560851570

External links

Preceded by:
Joseph Smith, Jr.
President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite)
James J. Strang
No successor to date

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