Remembering King Strang of Beaver Island

Beaver Island is part of an island chain that includes North & South Manitou & Fox Islands. Only one has had a king though! On July 8th, 1850, James Jesse Strang was crowned king of Beaver Island. Here’s an article via Michigan in Pictures:

Despite claiming to be “the perfect atheist,” Strang became a follower of Mormon leader Joseph Smith. When Smith was murdered in March 1844, Strang claimed to be the new Mormon leader, although most Mormons followed Brigham Young to Utah.

Strang’s followers settled on an uninhabited island in northern Lake Michigan they called Big Beaver. The island had everything Strang and his followers needed: virgin timber, tillable land, a deep and sheltered bay and exceptional offshore fishing. It also was twenty-five miles off the mainland-a perfect place to protect Strang’s followers from outside influences and beliefs.

By the mid-1850s, the Mormon colony on Beaver Island boasted more than 2,500 followers. Beaver Island replaced Mackinac Island as the principal refueling stop for steamers, and the annual value of the kingdom’s exports (fish, wood and potatoes) was considerable.

The growth of Strang’s kingdom was not without controversy. Non-Mormons, called Gentiles, took exception with the Mormon settlement. Driven from the area’s fishing spots, angry over the establishment of a kingdom and Strang’s adoption of the practice of polygamy, the Gentiles vowed revenge. At the bequest of President Millard Fillmore, the U.S. district attorney prosecuted Strang for an assortment of unfounded offenses that included murder and treason. However, Strang was acquitted on all charges, and a year later he was overwhelmingly elected to the state legislature.

Strang ruled Beaver Island as an autocrat; he even had himself crowned king. But regulating every aspect of his followers’ lives led to his downfall. Describing women’s clothes as impractical and unhealthy, Strang decreed female subjects needed to dress in loose, knee-length smocks worn over modest pantaloons. Most Beaver Island women accepted the change, but a few refused to comply. When two women refused to wear pantaloons, Strang had their husbands whipped. The two men sought revenge and on June 16, 1856, they ambushed and shot their king.

On July 9, 1856, James Jesse Strang died from his wounds. He was buried in Wisconsin.

With Strang gone, enraged Gentiles charged onto Beaver Island and evicted the Mormons. After taking control of the Mormon printing office, the attackers printed a manifesto that boasted, “The dominion of King Strang is at an end.”

The King of Confidence by Miles Harvey

Tuesday, July 14 • 7:00 pm EST

Miles Harvey

Join the National Writers Series next Tuesday with guest host Jeremiah Chamberlin, a University of Michigan instructor, contributing editor at Poets and Writers and editor-in-chief of  Fiction Writers Review.

Miles Harvey’s  The King of Confidence  tells the riveting story of James Strang, the self-proclaimed divine king of  earth, heaven — and Beaver Island. At one point, Strang controlled a quarter of  the state of Michigan. He was assassinated in 1856 to almost no one’s dismay.

Nathienel Philbrick called this book “a masterpiece.”

Harvey is the author of the  national and international bestseller  The Island of Lost Maps  and the recipient of a Knight-Wallace Journalism  Fellowship  at the University of Michigan. He teaches creative writing at DePaul University, where he is a founding editor of Big Shoulders Books.

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