Hey guys, so after Joseph Smith’s death, a recent convert named James Strang claimed to be Joseph’s successor. We’ve already done a few episodes about Strang which you should go watch if you haven’t yet. That context will help this video make more sense. When it comes to this topic, Latter-day Saint critics are usually quick to claim that all of the living Book of Mormon witnesses except one, along with many members of Joseph Smith’s own family, believed that Strang was Joseph’s rightful successor. If that’s true, some people believe it undermines the testimony these people gave of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, since they’re clearly all just very gullible. So in this episode, we’re going to get into the history, and we’ll see just how much these people really bought into Strang’s claims. Let’s do it.
Alright, so the claim that all living Book of Mormon witnesses except one supported Strang likely comes from this edition of the Strangite newspaper, the Voree Herald. One researcher noted that “The Voree Herald’s editorial policy and purpose were clear—to spread and maintain Strangism. Hence, the news reported was often shaped and even exaggerated to achieve this goal. Thus, the movement’s presses variously claimed that all the Book of Mormon witnesses except one were connected with Strang, as well as most of the extended Smith family…” Note that a lot of the claims we’ll talk about today trace back to Strangite newspapers.
When Strang came onto the scene, 5 of the 11 official Book of Mormon witnesses were dead, and Oliver Cowdery is the one who never supported Strang in any way. So we’ve got 5 witnesses left. Let’s go down the list. We first hear about Martin Harris supporting James Strang in August, 1846. In October, Martin was in England beginning what was supposed to be at least a year-long Strangite mission. He was escorted home by his companion 6 weeks later. In England the Millennial Star reported, “Martin publicly denied being sent by Strang, or being in any way, connected with him. This he did in presence of many witnesses.” In January 1847 he was supporting a different sect, and by March, Martin was “at Kirtland Doing all he can against [James Strang].” So that didn’t last long.
That leaves us with David, Jacob, John Whitmer, and their brother in law, Hiram Page. On September 6th, 1847, these men were all baptized into their Whitmerite sect. A few months later, in an effort to undermine the Whitmerite sect, Strang recalled a couple of letters sent by Hiram Page in 1846 in which Page allegedly reported that he and the Whitmers had read a pamphlet about Strang’s succession claims, and they all apparently believed him.
“It appears that the Whitmers and Hiram Page held onto their belief regarding Strang for one year, from about March 1846 to April 1847.” But the fact is, none of them ever joined Strang’s community in that time. None of them were active in their support. I’ve found one first-hand statement from John Whitmer’s history which supports Strang, which was later crossed out. That I am aware of, we don’t have Hiram Page’s letters to Strang, or anything firsthand from Hiram, Jacob, or David. It would hardly be fair to call these men stalwart Strangites.
But what about Joseph Smith’s family members? One Latter-day Saint critic claims that “every single member of Joseph Smith’s family except for Hyrum’s widow also endorsed, joined, and sustained James Strang”. But… is that actually true? The source for this information is likely a couple of letters published by Joseph’s brother, William Smith, in the Voree Herald in 1846. In the letters he claims that he, his mother (Lucy Mack Smith), and his 3 sisters (Lucy, Catherine, and Sophronia), all supported Strang. There’s also a letter from Lucy Mack which states, “I am satisfied that Joseph appointed J. J. Strang. It is verily so.” What’s going on here?
William Smith’s biographer wrote that after Joseph’s death, “[William] became an opportunist, desperately searching for an exalted station among any faction of Mormonism that would support his own self-importance.” Emma Smith’s biographers wrote, “Strang baited William Smith by offering him a coveted position as patriarch if William brought with him his mother…” among other conditions. James Strang’s biographer said “[William] would publish articles and say, ‘the whole Smith family supports James J. Strang.’ I wonder historically if William was stretching the truth on that … James Strang wasn’t really able to crack the inner circle.”
When Katherine Smith caught wind years later of what had been published, she published a scathing denial in the Saints’ Herald, “I now in truth declare that I never signed my name to such certificate or document; neither did I give my consent for anyone to sign it … I do not believe that my mother, Lucy Smith, or my sisters, Lucy Millikin and Sophronia McClerrie, signed any such certificate … So I say the whole thing was a forgery.” William’s biographer added, “Due to William’s tendency to make unsubstantiated statements, the level of support for Strang from William’s sisters and mother is largely a matter of conjecture.” “Lucy’s real opinion of Strang and his claims is not known; most likely she was involved only through the fickle and inconsistent William.”
When it comes to Emma Smith, on the one hand, there were at least 2 instances where Strangite newspapers claimed that Emma supported Strang. On the other hand, we have a letter from William Smith to James Strang warning him that Emma would not “give her name and testimony to your appointment” and that pressuring her would “most ashuredly … drive them further from the church.” One historian wrote that Strang did visit Emma probably towards the end of 1846 “with the intent of enlisting her support … he discovered that Emma was not interested in aligning herself with any factions. Neither would she allow her children to do so.” Katherine Smith said the thought of Emma having supported Strang was “preposterous.” And of course, we never actually see evidence from Emma that shows she supported Strang.
If actions speak louder than words, the only people from these groups that actually served in Strang’s church were Martin Harris and William Smith. As for the rest, the evidence is scant and sketchy at best. While some of these people probably did give Strang the benefit of the doubt, none of them seemed convicted enough to actually do much about it. In their lives, if anything, Strang was a brief flash in the pan, and they soon moved on to other things. Check out the resources in the description to learn more, watch some of our other videos while you’re here, and have a great day.
- “LDS Followers of Strang”, via The CES Letter, a Closer Look: https://bit.ly/3pS2Lai
- From the Joseph Smith & Emma Hale Smith Historical Society: https://bit.ly/3GExm0V
- “Emma’s Legacy: Life After Joseph” by Linda King Newell (John Whitmer Historical Association Journal): https://bit.ly/3CFRtJJ
- See “Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith” pg. 232: https://bit.ly/3w5UgcB
- “Gleaning the Harvest: Strangite Missionary Work, 1846-1850″ by Robin S. Jensen: https://bit.ly/2ZRwwgc
- “Looking After the First Family of Mormonism: LDS Church Leaders’ Support of the Smiths after the Murders of Joseph and Hyrum” by Kyle R. Walker, John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, vol. 32, no. 1 (2012): https://bit.ly/3mELTSb
- “William B. Smith and the Josephites” by Kyle R. Walker (Journal of Mormon History): https://bit.ly/3nPPIUc
- “Martin Harris: The Kirtland Years, 1831-1870” by H. Michael Marquardt (Dialogue Journal): https://bit.ly/3vRWM6e
- “A Witness in England: Martin Harris and the Strangite Mission” by Robin Scott Jensen (BYU Studies): https://bit.ly/3pQjDOM
- “David Whitmer: His Evolving Beliefs and Recollections”: https://bit.ly/2ZJ62ht
- Katherine Smith Salisbury’s published denial of supporting Strang (The Saints’ Herald): https://bit.ly/3bwW1X0
- In this 1848 edition of the “Gospel Herald” (after the Whitmers had started their own sect), Strang talks about having the Whitmers’ support in 1846: https://bit.ly/3pIrGwV
- William Smith letter published in the June 1846 Voree Herald: https://bit.ly/3jP4HMT
- William Smith letter published in the July 1846 Voree Herald: https://bit.ly/3Brxnlc
- Here’s the Strangite missionary report about Emma Smith: https://bit.ly/3mCpuoR
- Martin Harris is listed as a member of a Strangite high council here (Sept. 1846): https://bit.ly/2YfsNJa
- Sept 1846 Voree Herald where it is claimed that all living witnesses (except one) and all of Joseph Smith’s family supported Strang: https://bit.ly/3jZiikY
- Strang biographer William Shepard series: https://bit.ly/2ZSvUHD
- Historian D. Michael Quinn on Strang: https://bit.ly/3BBpMQT
- Epilogue of “Lucy’s Book”, edited by Lavina Fielding Anderson: https://bit.ly/2ZJEDvY