Yep, Michigan once had a king; in fact, it was the only king the United States ever had. His name was James Jesse Strang, born March 21, 1813. Strang was not elected or appointed 'king' – he took it upon himself to proclaim himself king, and he ruled for six years - 1850-1856 - on Beaver Island.

In 1844 Strang was appointed as the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (later called the Strangite faction). He also claimed to have been ordained to office by an angel.

He believed that being in the chief prophetic office gave him an amount of royalty. So aside from being a spiritual leader, it gave him the right to be their king as well. On July 8, 1850 a group of anti-Brigham Young Mormons watched as Strang sat on a throne in his fake ermine-trimmed red flannel cape while his assistant crowned him, naming him King of his island kingdom. The crowd cheered, “Long live James, King of Zion!” but it wasn't to last.

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During Strang's six year reign as the crowned "king" of Beaver Island, he gained almost 12,000 followers...but many of Strang's flock did not agree with him about his casualness on polygamy, his attitude toward women, and his 'whipping post' that he used on those who strongly disagreed with him.

His end was to come, brought on by the rebellion of island women who were made to clothe and cover their entire bodies. They rebelled but Strang wouldn't budge; in retaliation, he sent some of his goons to harass and threaten the ladies' families.

One man, Thomas Bedford, began complaining loudly about Strang; Strang sent his strongmen to grab Bedford who dragged him to the whipping post where he was beaten. Bedford vowed from that moment on to kill Strang. After a failed attempt to shoot him, Bedford was aided by four other men who had also been victims of Strang's punishments.

After more failed shooting attempts, they finally got him in June 1856. As Strang was walking up to the ship 'Michigan', two of the men were waiting. They shot him twice and then pistol-whipped him as he lay on the ground. The men climbed aboard the ship and escaped to Mackinac Island, where they were set free with no charges brought against them.

Beaten physically and emotionally, James Strang died three weeks later on July 9, 1856.

The Only King Michigan Ever Had: Beaver Island, 1850-1856


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