The Assassination Of The First King Of America

By Debra Kelly on Sunday, February 23, 2014
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“Kings are the slaves of history.” —Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace

In A Nutshell

America’s only kingdom was formed on June 8, 1850, when Mormon convert and leader James Strang declared Michigan’s Beaver Island to be his kingdom, where he would rule over his followers as “King of the Kingdom of God on Earth.” The island wasn’t just inhabited by his followers, and he succeeded in driving most of the natives out within the first few years he “ruled” there. Many of his policies proved unpopular, such as the idea women that should wear bloomers instead of skirts, that polygamy was law, and his insistence on holding all political offices on the island. After the US government failed to remove him from power, a group of assassins finally did.

The Whole Bushel

James Strang was born in Scipio, New York, in 1813. He delivered the mail, worked at the local newspaper, entered law school, and served as a Baptist minister. All pretty normal stuff for the time, and a relatively standard start to a life—not the type you’d expect to end with a gang of assassins.

When Strang married the woman who would become the first of five wives, he got his first exposure to Mormonism from his wife’s sister, who was married to a Mormon named Moses Smith. Strang converted in 1844, and was tasked with finding new places for Mormon settlements. Joseph Smith, who was for all purposes the father of Mormonism, was killed a few months after he recruited Strang; that’s when things seemed to really go off the deep end for the new recruit.

According to Strang, he knew the moment Smith was killed. He knew because that was the same moment he was visited by an angel who named him “to rulership of the Saints on Earth.” Strang also said that Smith had told him that he was to be his successor in the Mormon church and had even written him a letter saying so. Other church elders saw it for a forgery and excommunicated him for his troubles.

He wasn’t about to take that lying down and began a campaign directed at Brigham Young, stating that the other Mormon leader needed to stop his plans to move the congregation to Utah and present himself to Strang for a trial.

Young ignored him, even when he established his divinity by leading a handful of his followers to a tree and telling them to dig. They did, and they found strange brass plates that had been buried there, accepting that Strang must be guided by God to find such a thing.

Strang managed to build his own following, however, and in order to do so he needed to go back on one of his core teachings. Contrary to popular Mormon beliefs, Strang had always preached that polygamy was a bad thing. Once he went back on this—and married four more women over the course of the next few years—he began to gain more followers. Those who had originally followed him because they agreed with his one-wife rule ultimately left, and many went on to be instrumental in forming the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Strang needed a place for his new order to be headquartered, so he moved his congregation to Beaver Island in Michigan in 1848. Conflict with the locals started almost immediately, coming to a head over Strang’s suffocation of whiskey trade onto the island. To prove his point, he ordered a cannon be fired into the crowd of locals that had gathered to protest his policies.

The US government didn’t take lightly to the established monarchy, and in 1851 Millard Fillmore ordered the gunboat Michigan to the island, along with a US marshal and arrest warrants. Strang went on trial for federal offenses like interfering with the delivery of the mail and counterfeiting; he defended himself, however, and walked away a free man.

Dr. J. Atkyn had been on Beaver Island since 1850 and was a constant thorn in Strang’s side. Atkyn was well known for being something of a drifter, approaching local gentiles and offering to spy on them at the same time he proclaimed his love for Strang, his work, and Mormonism. Strang rebuffed him again and again, and finally tensions came to an end on June 16, 1856, when Atkyn, along with four other island men, shot their king. He lingered for a month before dying on July 8.

Ironically, in an attempt to capitalize on the popularity of daguerreotypes, Atkyn had set up a studio on the island. One of his subjects was James Strang, and one of the only surviving images we have of him was taken by his assassin

Show Me The Proof

The Society for Strang Studies: Who was James Jesse Strang?
Michigan’s Mormon King Photographed by One of His Assassins (daguerreotype photo)
James J. Strang papers: A Guide to the Collection

  • https://soundcloud.com/arjan-hut Arjan Hut

    Polygamy on beaver island, an American king fatally shot by a photographer (who is also a doctor and a drifter), another real life tale that would never be accepted as credible fiction.

  • Hillyard

    Very good. Like Arjan said below factual stories like this would make unbelievable fiction.

  • Nathaniel A.

    It would have been nice to know why he picked Beaver Island over any other place. Still a great bushel though.

  • TheMadHatter

    Some people are just completely out of wack… Never even heard of this guy, although I don’t know much about Mormonism in the first place.

    • Culture Vulture

      Most Mormons do not even know about this guy. When this event took place he had been formally kicked out of the church so most people since do not really give a whole lot of thought to King Strang. He’s nothing more than an odd footnote of their history.

      • TheMadHatter

        Oh, I know. I didn’t mean to make it sound like a Mormon thing or whatever. Different denominations usually learn their history and he’s a part of their history, I don’t think at all that they endorsed him or whatever

        • Culture Vulture

          Yeah I got your meaning. I meant to say that you shouldn’t feel bad about not knowing about this story because this story is so obscure that even most Mormons don’t know about it, and its part of their own history! Sorry to not be clear.

        • lbatfish

          True. And some of the writings of early Christianity (the ones that were omitted from the Bible that we know today) would also be held in rather low regard by the leading Christian authorities of our current times.

  • Ray

    I’m a king too. Now they can write an article about me. He only tried to be king of a little crappy island in Michigan not the US and that was more delusion.

  • Marozia

    Polygamy on Beaver Island……yeah….good on him.

  • FURRY LION

    America’s only kingdom???? there have been many more than just one kingdom in America…fucking rednecks…

    • TheHumanSub

      “America’s only kingdom”.

      LOL

      • FURRY LION

        wording??? stick it up your ass, buttinsky!!!

  • Exiled Phoenix

    I don’t know what’s worse… A mormon or a scientologist..

    • heli chopter

      If you have to ask you are not ready to know. It’s actually The Westboro Baptist Church.

  • TheStupidityofLiberals

    At least this King didn’t forge his birth certificate and then lie to his constituent’s faces on a daily basis…..these are two of the many characteristics that the King and our current leader do not have in common.

    • lbatfish

      So . . . you really ARE a “birther,” then? I wasn’t really sure of that before now, so thanks for the update. :-)

  • Jared Dugger

    “To prove his point, he ordered a cannon be fired into the crowd of locals that had gathered to protest his policies.

    The US government didn’t take lightly to the established monarchy, and in 1851 Millard Fillmore ordered the gunboat Michigan to the island, along with a US marshal and arrest warrants. Strang went on trial for federal offenses like interfering with the delivery of the mail and counterfeiting; he defended himself, however, and walked away a free man.”
    How the Hell was he not tried for firing a cannon into a crowd? Today he’d have five wives named Jim down in Guantanamo Bay if he did that

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