James Strang modeled Joseph Smith in life and in death. Joseph Smith translated golden plates that became the Book of Mormon at the start of his call as prophet. It turns out that James Strang also was a translator. He translated plates at the beginning of his call as prophet. These are known as the Voree Plates. Historian Bill Shepard will tell us more about these plates, as well as other Strangite scriptures.
Bill: So right off the bat, James J Strang is going to claim that an angel appeared to him and said that there are sealed plates on this prominent hill in Voree or in Burlington, the outskirts. So he is going to get his witnesses. I’m not sure how many were even Mormons.
GT: Some of them were non-Mormons.
Bill: Right. So they go and they dig under an oak tree and they said that the branches were sealed around these brass plates and so forth. They testify to this. A man named [Samuel W. Soule] and [Christopher Latham], who invented the typewriter, was in Kenosha, Wisconsin and he came out as a newspaper…
GT: The QWERTY typewriter that we still use today, right?
Bill: Yeah, the old one. He came out and even he testified. He says, “This appears to not be a humbug.” So, again, primitive Mormonism, because James Strang is going to claim angelic ordination and having the urim and thummim. He is going to translate plates that people saw widely.
GT: So was it the Voree plates, were those the first things he translated?
Bill: Yes. These were important in that it’s very believable about a race of people that are on their last legs and they’re going to be destroyed and they’re going to hide their records–seal up the records until they are translated in the future. So this was an important thing: Again, primitive Mormonism.
GT: So what about the Book of The Law of Lord? I know that was another book of Scripture that you guys use. When was that translated and how did that come about?
Bill: James is going to say that an angel appeared to him and told him of the plates, the sealed record.
GT: The Plates of Laban in the Book of Mormon.
Bill: Yes, and that they are delivered the hand that he translates them which is certainly doctrine used by the Strangites today as looked on as one of the lost books of the Bible, if you will. Again, primitive Mormonism.
What do you think of Strang’s translation abilities? Does it help you see people’s skepticism of Joseph Smith?
Both Joseph Smith and James Strang died in a hail of bullets. In our next conversation with historian Bill Shepard, we will learn more about the martyrdom of James Strang.
GT: So he’s on Beaver Island. He creates a lot of political enemies and I guess religious as well.
Bill: Not only that, there’s Alexander Wood Wentworth and Thomas Bedford, two obviously ex- Mormons. One of them, with the strict laws that the Strangites tried to enforce, there was a case of adultery. The grieved man testified. So, this seducer is whipped. Of course, he hated Strang for that. There was a merchant, an ex-Mormon by name of McCullough on Beaver Island, and we think that McCullough was in league with the United States government with the steamship Michigan. It is going to steam into the port. Strang is going to be a his home and they’re going to say, “They want you on the dock,” and he’s going to walk down to the dock and Wentworth and Bedford are going to jump out behind him and shoot him down. Particularly, one ball goes clear up near his skull and he is mortally wounded at this time. Bedford and Wentworth are going to run down to the ship, and the ship’s going to take them out of there. They’re going to take them to Mackinaw and put them in jail, I think for just a couple minutes. They’re going to come out and celebrate. These two fellows are never, never brought to justice for what they did. They were greeted as heroes among the non-Mormons. It looks like there is some kind of an evil cabal or something with some elements of the government because of the role of the steamship coming in the United States.
Bill: It was a navy ship, right? U.S. Navy?
Bill: Yeah. So, whatever the course, a man I know a lot about and have written about is through Wingfield Watson, a settler that lives six miles inside the island with his wife, with his homestead. He had a son and a daughter about one, and then an infant. So these people that ransack the island, basically, as the books seem to indicate, drunken Irishmen, these people that are on the fringes of law. They come to this Wingfield Watson’s house and they say, “You have an hour to get your stuff and get out. Take what you can carry.” So this is repeated all over the island. But these people six miles inside, it’s really a hard trip. Once a lot of people take their goods down to the pier or the dock just so they could take them with them, and, of course, they’re confiscated. So the Mormons are stuck on these ships, penniless. It’s really heartfelt. Here’s the Watson family. They have a young boy, but they have a year old and they have an infant, walking six miles and carrying the kids. It is really a tragedy to the Strangites, and many Strangites are going to say, “Enough.”
Followers of James Strang were persecuted unmercifully. What are your thoughts about James Strang? Were you aware of the persecutions of his followers?
What’s surprising is how effective his “let’s be just like Joseph” strategy was. Lots of people joined his movement and apparently accepted his claims at face value. It just goes to who how unsettled the whole succession scenario was.
I learned about Strang on my mission and it still fascinated me. Especially with how much of a threat the brighamite s felt he was