Beaver Island’s King

Sitting near the top of Lake Michigan is Beaver Island. Today, Beaver Island is home to 657 residents, but the isolated island’s history is rich with colorful characters. One of the strangest characters in Beaver Island’s history was James J. Strang, a man who declared himself king and ruled over a kingdom on the island during the 1800s.

The story of Beaver Island’s Mormon kingdom begins in 1847 when Strang decides to move his followers to the island. At the time, Strang was the leader of an offshoot of the Mormon Church. His followers, the Strangites, rejected the leadership of Brigham Young and saw Strang as the true leader of the Mormon Church. Faced with a lack of land on the American mainland for the Strangites to settle, Strang and his followers headed out to Beaver Island.

Upon reaching Beaver Island, the Strangites created a thriving community. They built up the island using Beaver Island’s natural resources and traded with the people who already called the island home. This peace did not last forever.

The Strangites came to be despised by the locals, and several non-Strangite residents of the island reported the group for crimes, including mail fraud. Facing prosecution, Strang ran for a spot on the State Assembly of Michigan and won. Bolstered by his win and new power, he declared himself King of Beaver Island and began to rule over the Strangites within his kingdom.

Strang used his new power to rule over his people with an iron fist. He would beat the men for disobeying his laws, and shame the women who wore clothes he did not approve of. These actions caused two men from his church to shoot and kill him in June 1856, ending the reign of Beaver Island’s king.