Who was James Jesse Strang?
Over the years, scholars and sensationalizers have wrestled with this question. Three answers are given below, from two typical online encyclopedias, from Terry Pepper, and from Warren Post.
From Terry Pepper:
The early days
Strang converts to Mormonism
The struggle for control
Strang even produced a document that he claimed was written by Smith some time before his death, stating that Strang was to be Smith's successor. While the document may have swayed a few fence-sitters into the "Strangite" camp, it was not sufficient to the beliefs of the majority. Thus, Young won the struggle and assumed leadership of the Church. Young immediately excommunicated Strang, and soon thereafter led his followers to Utah.
Strang and his group of dissident followers went to Voree Wisconsin (later to become known as Spring Prairie.) Strang took leadership of his new Church to heart, and quickly tightened his grip over his followers, decrying material possessions, forbidding the eating of meat, and tightly holding the sexual morality of his followers to the highest standards.
After publicly revealing this vision to his followers on September 13, 1845, four of his most trusted elders accompanied him to a location beneath an oak tree deep in the woods, at which point Strang informed them that it was the spot beneath which the secret was buried. The four men later reported that "the tree was surrounded by a sward of deeply rooted grass, such as is usually found in the openings, and upon the most critical examination we could not discover any indication that it had ever been cut through or disturbed."
Proceeding to dig, eventually discovering an earthenware case, the witnesses further reported "We examined as we dug all the way with the utmost care. We say, with utmost confidence that no part of the earth through which we dug exhibited any sign or indication that it had been moved or disturbed at any time previous. The roots of the tree stuck down on every side very closely, extending below the case, and closely interwoven with roots from other trees. None of them had been broken or cut away. No clay is found in the country like that of which the case is made."
Opening the clay case, it was found to contain six mysterious brass plates, which were taken as being of divine origin.
This revelation sealed Strang's status as a "Prophet and a Seer of God" in the eyes of his followers, and their zealous dedication to their leader increased immeasurably. When the influx of gentile (non-Mormon) settlers into the Voree area threatened to disrupt their lifestyle, Strang set-out to identify a safe refuge for his flock.
Arriving in Northern Michigan, Strang began to search in the Charlevoix area, eventually identifying Beaver Island with it's secluded harbor, lush forests and abundant fishing as "where I will come to build up my kingdom."
The move to Beaver Island
Strang erected a large log temple, owned a commercial boat and saw mill, which was used to saw lumber for housing for the island's growing Mormon population. Strang then founded a newspaper "The Northern Islander," and published books and pamphlets defending his right of Divine rule.
Friction continued to increase between gentile and Mormon, fueled by Strang's suffocation of the whiskey trade in the area, and his sudden open embracing of polygamy as a "Divine requirement" of his followers. Many scuffles broke-out between the two factions, leading to the "War of Whiskey Point," won by Strang's followers when they fired a cannon into an unruly gang of rebels assembled at the trading post. As a result of such altercations, by the early 1850's most of the gentile population on Beaver Island abandoned their homes for new lives on the mainland.
Going too far?
Strang's control of his disciples began to widen beyond matters spiritual. Many consider his edict that women begin wearing bloomers, as opposed to the customary long skirts of the time, to have been a major component in the resentment that led to his eventual downfall.
By 1851 Strang and his entourage managed to hold all the political offices on nearby Mackinac Island, to which Beaver Island and its neighboring islands were attached for judicial and elective purposes. However, the continuing unrest between the gentiles and Mormons on the island, combined with Strang's unconventional religious practices was not going unnoticed.
The US Naval gunboat MICHIGAN was immediately dispatched to Beaver Island. Onboard, a US Marshall, Deputies and the District Attorney with highest level orders to deliver Strang and his followers to stand trial the Federal Court in Detroit. Though some subterfuge, almost one hundred of Strang's followers were lured to the ship, arriving in Detroit in May of 1851.
Trial and triumph
Murder or Martyrdom?
There have been persistent rumors that Strang's followers sequestered a stash of gold in Fox Lake as they were making their hasty escape from the island. Throughout the years, many treasure seekers have attempted to find the "Strang's treasure." None have succeeded. While it is likely that no treasure exists, It could also be that it just has not been found!
To this day, a small and widespread group of believers follow Strang's teachings, believing that Strang was the true chosen successor to Smith.
The Strange Life of James Jesse Strang
So it was that Joseph Smith, prophet of God and founder of the Mormon Church (now the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) rather mistakenly announced the demise of these United States on this day in 1843.
So what do Joseph Smith and the Mormon Church have to do with the Adirondack region? A man named James Jesse Strang - his parents were born in Saratoga and Washington counties at the end of the 18th century. He was born in 1811 and later moved with his wife to Chautauqua County. He later moved to Nauvoo, Illinois where he met Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Mormon Church.
Long story short, Strang converted to Mormonism, was elected to the State Legislature, claimed to have had heavenly visions, and that an angel appeared before him to tell him the secret location of - you guessed it - another buried account of ancient people, this time etched into brass plates.
After Joseph Smith was killed by a mob in Illinois in 1844 a feud erupted between Strang and Brigham Young over who was his rightful heir. Smith's followers divided between "Brighamites" and "Strangites." Although Strang produced a letter from Smith appointing him the new Prophet (still in the Yale University Library), and 12,000 believers allegedly joined him, the winner was Brigham Young who excommunicated Strang and took his followers to Utah - home of the Big Love!
Strang moved with about 125 followers to Beaver Island, Michigan where he proclaimed himself "King of the Kingdom of God on Earth" and well, generally pissed off the local Irish fishermen and farmers by extracting tithes from them.
That didn't last long and James Jesse Strang was shot 150 years ago this June and died a short time later. His spiritual descendents are still spread around the Midwest, Canada, and even Mexico although a mob burned the Beaver Island temple around the time of Strang's death. There are no temples for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (known as the True Faith - not to be confused with the Utah folks who use Latter-Day, rather than Latter Day).
From Columbia encyclopedia:
James Jesse Strang: 1813–56, American Mormon leader, b. Cayuga co., N.Y. A lawyer and teacher, he migrated in 1843 to Wisconsin, was converted to Mormonism, and at the death of Joseph Smith (1844) claimed the succession, saying that he had had a vision in which God had proclaimed him prophet. Excommunicated, Strang organized a colony in Walworth co., Wis., calling it Voree. Many Mormons unwilling to accept the leadership of Brigham Young were attracted to Strang’s colony. Aware of the difficulty of founding his ideal community in a Gentile neighborhood, he sought a more suitable site. In 1847 he selected Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, then sparsely peopled by trappers and fishermen. There he established a colony, driving out other settlers and setting up a despotic rule. The inhabitants of the mainland were violently opposed to the Strangite colony, and public opinion finally forced the federal government to bring numerous charges against Strang, but he successfully defended himself. His power increased; in 1850 he was crowned King James, and he was later elected to the Michigan house of representatives. His harsh rule had made him bitter enemies, however, and in 1856 he was assassinated. The colony was soon dispersed and the land and property seized by inhabitants of the mainland.
From Warren Post:
History of James Strang
David Strang, their firstborn, was born June the 9th, A.D. 1811. James Jesse Strang was born March the 21st, A.D. 1813. Myraette Strang was born April the 24th, A.D. 1818.
At the early age of 12 years, James embraced the Baptist faith, and according to their phraseology gave bright evidence of his acceptance with God. This child grew up in favor with God and man. His mind was continually grasping after knowledge, and his faculties were such that he made more rapid advances than any of his fellows.
He studied the common branches of an English education, and soon became such a master of Geography, in particular, that one might fancy that he had traversed the length and breadth of the earth. His knowledge of universal history was almost unlimited. He had an ardent desire to become well versed in civil law, and his parents granted his desires. As soon as he begun for himself, he commenced the practice of law, and was admitted to the bar, in Chautauqua Co., N.Y. and other places where he resided. He continued in his profession, and maintained the religion of his youth, until the A.D. 1844. Since that time the Church Records will show all the important acts of his life.
The Ordination of James Strang
On the twenty-seventh day of June, 1844, at five and a half o'clock in the afternoon, James J. Strang was in the Spirit, and the Angel of God came unto him and saluted him, saying,
Fear God and be strengthened and obey him, for great is the work which he hath required at thy hand. Go on in hope and strength, and falter not, and he will sustain thee, and thou shalt triumph, for the voice of the Lord by the mouth of Joseph will he fulfill.
Thy words shall be like sharp arrows in the heart of the wicked. Thou shalt rebuke those who pervert the word of thy God. Thou shalt preach righteousness and the sublime mysteries in the ears of many people, and shall bring the gospel to many who have not known it and to the nations afar off.
Thou shalt drive backward and put to shame those that do evil, and the workers of iniquity shall fall. They shall be cast down and shall not be able to rise. With purity will the Lord thy God arm thee, and purity and truth shalt thou teach.
Keep the law of the Lord thy God in thy heart, and none of thy steps shall slide. With thee is the fountain of truth. In thy light shall the people of thy God see, for thou shalt speak his word unto them, and from thy lips shall they receive it.
The blessing of their God shalt thou put upon them, and his curse upon evil doers, if, after being oft rebuked, they repent not; and before my people shalt thou go to lead them into my ways, for unto thee has the Lord thy God given salvation.
In righteousness shalt thou rule. Thou shalt redeem the poor and the needy from suffering and violence, and to thee God giveth judgment for them. Thou shalt deliver the prey from the spoiler, for God, thy God, hath put them in thy hand.
And in weakness will he make thee strong. Thou shalt rule among his people. Thou shalt break in pieces the rod of the oppressor and the yoke of the unjust ruler. They shall flee away, but the way of peace shall they not find.
While the day of the wicked abideth, shalt thou prepare a refuge for the oppressed and for the poor and needy. Unto thee shall they come, and their brethren who are scattered shall come with them, and the destruction of the ungodly shall quickly follow, for it already worketh. Go thy way and be strong.
Assassination of James Strang
James Strang was shot by assassins on June 16, 1856, on Beaver Island, Lake Michigan. He died from his wounds on July 9, 1856, at Voree, Wisconsin. Although the assassins were former Church members with a grudge, they were apparently armed and assisted in this attack by the United States government. Their escape was certainly provided by the USS Michigan and its officers. For more information about this see Murderous Assault and Record of the Apostles, Part 2.
The Death and Burial of the Prophet James
On the seventh of July he said the active part of his life was at an end, that the bearing off of the Kingdom must devolve upon others; he felt that his ministry as chief was done. He did not say who was to be the leader of his people, but on this day his eyes brightened, and his countenance was lit up, and it was observed by all that he was a great deal better. On the eighth he began to run down, and it seemed as though he just wilted away. I asked him if he was going to leave us. He said he was. I then asked him if we were to have a successor appointed through him. A tear started in his eye, and he said, "I do not want to talk about it." Brother Hickey and Adeline were with me that night to assist me. I took the care of him till two o'clock, when Brother Hickey and Adeline got up and I finished a letter I was writing. I helped turn and fix him comfortable about break of day, and lay down for a nap. I lay about one hour and a half at the foot of his bed. When I awoke there was no one in the room but him and myself. I immediately arose and discovered that he was dying. I nursed him very attentively for about an hour, and saw no hope of recovery, when I sent for some of the neighbors. I asked if there was anything he wished to communicate. He replied, "Yes," which was the last word he spoke.
All these circumstances go to confirm me in the opinion that there is a head somewhere, and that he will come in the Lord's own due time to the faithful.
I proceed now to answer some of your questions which you deem of minor importance, but the big ones I shall not attempt at this time. "How many of the Saints were present at his death?" Brothers George Miller, L. D. Hickey, E. Chidester; Sisters Betsey, Phoebe, Sarah Hickey; Betsey's children.
"How many attended his funeral?" Bro. Miller and family, Hickey and family, Tubbs' family, C. Linnell, Sr. Townsend and family, B. J. Wright and E. Chidester, of the Saints, and a respectable congregation of Gentiles. Bro. Hickey opened the meeting by prayer, and such a prayer I never heard except from the Prophet himself, it seemed as though the earth trembled, the wagon where he stood did at any rate, he had the Spirit to such a degree that he never had it before, at least he says so. Bro. B. G. Wright then attempted to preach, but was only an attempt, Bro. Hickey had the Spirit. He was buried in the burying ground at Voree, in as good style as that part of the country could afford. I paid $20 for his coffin, and it was said to be worth $35; his shroud was of the finest silk flannel at a cost of $4.77. I considered him worthy of the best, and therefore I gave it to him.