Hey guys, so we’ve done one episode in the past about a guy named James Strang which you should go watch if you haven’t yet. But there’s a lot more to his story that we didn’t get to in that video. In this episode all I want to do is give you a little background information about James Strang and his story. If you are familiar with Joseph Smith, you’ll be able to see where Strang’s story is somewhat similar to Joseph’s story, but you’ll also see where it is significantly different. Let’s jump in.
James Jesse Strang was born in New York, in 1812. He grew up on a farm and is described as having “A desperate thirst for knowledge” as a youth. “The school library was to him a treasure surpassing Coronado’s golden dream of the seven cities of Cibola.” Between the ages of 18 and 23, Strang kept a diary, which you can read online. Some parts were written in code, which has since been deciphered. Strang’s first diary entry was, “Today I read seven hours in Volney’s Ruins, reading more than 360 pages. It is admirable work and well-executed.”
In these formative years, Strang records in his diary his journey to figure out what he wanted to do with his life. He writes about his desire to serve mankind, but also his goals of fame. He writes about revolutionizing governments and countries; Rising to power via international intrigue or marriage into the English royal family. “My mind has always been filled with dreams of royalty and power,” he wrote at 19.
He was baptized into the Baptist church at 12 years old, though as a 20-year-old he wrote in code, “I am a perfect atheist, but do not profess it lest I bring my father grey hair with sorrow to the grave.” His next entry, nine days later, says, “Some time since took a resolution which I now solemnly confirm, to be a Priest, a Lawyer, a Conquerer, and a Legislator unless I find better business.”
Strang did study hard and became a lawyer, but also worked as a postmaster and newspaper editor. He and his wife moved to the then Latter-day Saint settlement, Burlington Wisconsin, in 1843. In February 1844, Strang visited Joseph Smith in Nauvoo and was baptized. Just a few months later, Joseph Smith was killed. Strang then came forward with a letter allegedly sent by Joseph before his death, which purportedly appoints Strang to be Joseph’s successor. We did an entire episode about that, so go watch it if you haven’t yet.
On September 13th, 1845, Strang gathered 4 witnesses who dug where Strang had instructed and discovered a set of 3 brass plates called the Voree plates or the Rajah Manchou plates. Each plate was about 1.5 inches wide by 2.75 inches tall. Several days after the plates were unearthed, Strang provided at least a partial translation, which you can pause and read. These metal plates which Strang had taken from the ground are sometimes compared with the metal plates Joseph Smith took from the ground. While there are some superficial similarities, these plates are vastly different in size, composition, and in the quantity and intricacy of the text produced. In size and composition, the Voree plates are more closely comparable to the Kinderhook plates, which were 6 small brass plates we talked about in this episode.
In 1849, there was talk of a second set of plates that Strang claimed to have obtained. They were purported to be the brass plates of Laban mentioned in the Book of Mormon. 7 witnesses described them as “eighteen [plates] in number, about seven inches and three-eights wide, by nine inches long, occasionally embellished with beautiful pictures.” Strang allegedly translated these plates via the Urim and Thummim into an 80-page work called “The Book of the Law of the Lord,” which was published in 1851. Over time Strang added notes and additional revelations, and the 1856 edition of the Book of the Law of the Lord was 320 pages long.
It’s surely no coincidence that there are some superficial similarities here to the Book of Mormon. But again, there are significant differences. The Book of Mormon is an intricate and complicated narrative, the Book of the Law of the Lord is essentially a list of laws about how to live your life and how to set up God’s kingdom on earth. You’ll also notice that the Book of the Law of the Lord is significantly shorter than the Book of Mormon, and took longer to produce. This information does not (and is not intended to) prove Strang’s translations to be fraudulent, but I do think it outlines how comparing Strang’s work to the Book of Mormon can sometimes look a lot like the false-equivalence fallacy. Their histories are ultimately very different.
Some sources do claim that Strang and some friends created the Voree plates and the plates of Laban. However, the sources are admittedly not first-hand, so feel free to read them and assign value to them as you see fit.
Voree, Wisconsin, was the initial headquarters for Strang’s church, but between 1847 and 1850 the church moved to Beaver Island, Michigan, which led to some problems with the previous residents, generally fishermen. In 1850, Strang was literally crowned as king over his church. In 1850 Strang was also elected to the Michigan State Legislature. The colony was relatively successful despite heated clashes between members and non-members.
On June 16th, 1856, King Strang was attacked by a couple of disgruntled former adherents. He was taken back to Voree, where he died about 3 weeks later. He refused to name a successor. After his death, the approximately 2,600 Strangites on Beaver Island were forced to leave. One Strangite website reports that today there are about 130 active Strangites left.
There’s a lot more that could be said about James Strang, but there’s some basic background information for you that may or may not be relevant moving forward. Most of the discussion about Strang you might hear today generally has to do with two topics: The witnesses that testified of the reality of Strang’s plates, and the Book of Mormon witnesses who endorsed Strang’s leadership after Joseph’s death. That is what we’re going to talk about in the next two episodes. Check out the resources in the YouTube description. If you want to talk to a Strangite and get their perspective, I’ll leave a link to their website. Check out some of our other videos while you’re here, and have a great day!
- Contact the Strangites: https://bit.ly/2ZEVwaP
- “The Diary of James J. Strang” deciphered and transcribed by his grandson, Mark Strang: https://bit.ly/3BT32wK
- Scans of original diary of James Strang: https://bit.ly/2XxJI9m
- Facsimile and “translation” of Voree plates: https://bit.ly/3b2rEHH
- Fairmormon’s treatment of this issue: https://bit.ly/2ZqT5bp / https://bit.ly/3CjphfE
- “Chauncy Loomis” article in the Saints Herald (pg. 718-719): https://bit.ly/313xI0S
- “Isaac F. Scott” article in the Saints Herald (pg. 831-833): https://bit.ly/313xI0S
- Some Strangite apologetics (“Prophetic Controversy #4): https://bit.ly/315zeQ3