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James Jesse Strang
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Religious Figure
    (March 21, 1813-July 9, 1856)
    Born in Scipio, New York
    Claimed to have been appointed by Joseph Smith as his successor as head of the Mormon Church
    ’Translated’ two ancient lost works, the Voree Record and the Book of the Law of the Lord
    Established a kingdom on Beaver Island in Michigan (July 8, 1850)
    Had 12,000 followers at his peak
    Shot three times by a conspiracy of two disaffected followers and two local non-Mormons (June 16, 1856)
    Died of his wounds three weeks later
    From his youth, he felt destined to be a world leader like Julius Caesar or Napoleon.
    He kept a diary written in a code that would not be translated until half a century after his death.
    The legitimacy of the letter in which Joseph Smith named Strang as his successor has been endlessly debated.
    He changed from a vehement opponent of polygamy to endorsing it (and practicing it, marrying five wives).
    His abrupt about-face cost him many early followers, who had viewed his branch of Mormonism as a monogamous alternative to Brigham Young’s church.
    There were clashes between his followers and non-Mormons on Beaver Island when he demanded that all residents of the island pay a tithe to his church, and prevented alcohol from being imported.
    At his coronation, he wore a tin crown and wielded a wooden scepter.
    Despite threats against him, he refused to hire a bodyguard.
    A few days before his assassination, he declared, ‘We laugh with bitter scorn at all these threats.’
    He refused to name a successor while on his deathbed, contributing to his sect dying out shortly after he did.
    He convinced Joseph Smith’s mother Lucy, his brother William, and his three sisters that he was Smith’s chosen successor.
    Unlike Brigham Young’s mainstream branch of Mormonism, he welcomed blacks into the church and allowed women to be priests.
    His report on the natural history of Beaver Island was published by the Smithsonian Institute and remained the definitive work for a century.
    He founded and published the first newspaper in northern Michigan.
    He successfully defended himself in court against charges of treason, arguing that he was the leader of a ‘kingdom of God’ rather than any geographic location and that he had never tried to supplant US sovereignty over Beaver Island (1853).
    After the trial, he successfully ran for a seat in the Michigan state legislature.
    The Detroit Advertiser, while expressing reservations about ‘the peculiar sect of which he is the local head,’ praised his ‘industry, sagacity, good temper, [and]apparent regard for the true interests of the people.’
    While he was on his deathbed, a mob from nearby Mackinac descended on Beaver Island and forcibly exiled his 2,600 followers, an event one state historian called ‘the most disgraceful day in Michigan history.’ (July 5, 1856)

Credit: C. Fishel

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