In the summer of 1843, James Strang, a charismatic young lawyer and avowed atheist, vanished from a rural town in New York. Months later he reappeared on the Midwestern frontier and converted to a burgeoning religious movement known as Mormonism. In the wake of the murder of the sect’s leader, Joseph Smith, Strang unveiled a letter purportedly from the prophet naming him successor, and persuaded hundreds of fellow converts to follow him to an island in Lake Michigan, where he declared himself a divine king.
From this stronghold he controlled a fourth of the state of Michigan, establishing a pirate colony where he practiced plural marriage and perpetrated thefts, corruption, and frauds of all kinds. Eventually, having run afoul of powerful enemies, including the American president, Strang was assassinated, an event that was frontpage news across the country.
Today’s guest is Miles Harvey, author of “The King of Confidence.” Centering his narrative on this charlatan’s turbulent twelve years in power, Strang’s story gets into a crucial period of antebellum history and an account of one of the country’s boldest con men and the boisterous era that allowed him to thrive.
Cite This Article"In the 1850s, A Mormon Renegade Started a Massive Pirate Colony in Michigan" History on the Net
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