LDS Followers of Strang
CES Letter Core Question
What does this say about the credibility of the Book of Mormon witnesses if they were so easily duped by James Strang and his claims of being a prophet called of God to bring forth new scripture from ancient plates only to later turn out to be a fraud?
CES Letter, Page 99
This claim is an exaggeration that originated with James Strang. Despite his efforts, "Strang wasn't able to really crack the inner circle," said Bill Sheppard, a Strang disciple and Biographer. See 10:00 397: "The Other Mormons" - Intro to James Strang (Part 1 of 6 William Shepard)
Five of the eight witnesses had already died before Strang started his church. Emma Smith refused to join Strang despite Strang's personal visit to her teenage son Joseph Smith III. Oliver Cowdery called Strang "a wicked man." The remaining Smiths and Book of Mormon witnesses were done with Strang in less than a year. None relocated to any of Strang's key gathering places in Voree Wisconsin or Beaver Island Michigan.
Many of the early saints who broke with Joseph, Brigham and the mainstream body of the church bounced from offshoot to offshoot seeking to recreate the magic they had felt with the original church. Strang was just another one of those fleeting flirtations.
The Three Witnesses
Never followed Strang. Rebaptized into the LDS church in 1848. Prior to that he lived in Tiffin Ohio as a practicing lawyer. Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter to William McClellin and said "Strang is a wicked man.” Ensign of Liberty of the Church of Christ, April 1847
David never gave any public indication about what he thought of Strang and he never relocated to Voree Wisconsin or Beaver Island like Strang encouraged his followers to do.
The only reference about David's beliefs is by James Strang who said that David and the other Whitmers had received his newspaper in 1846 and were excited about his claims. Any excitement Whitmer had about Strang waned within months.
By the end of 1846 William McClellin was heavily courting David to take a position as the successor to Joseph Smith as prophet. McClellin wrote a letter to Whitmer in December, 1846. (see McClellan's Ensign of Liberty, Aug. 1849. p. 99) and by Jan. 25, 1847 Whitmer was listed by Strang's newspaper as one of the "pseudos" which was the anti-Strang group. "The pseudos at Kirtland have proclaimed David Whitmer as their prophet" Zion's Reveille (Strangite Newspaper) January 25, 1847
More details about Whitmer's life can be found at:
David Whitmer: A Witness to the Devine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon, 1952 BYU Master's Thesis.
Martin followed Strang from August 1846 and was disillusioned with Strang by that same December. Martin went on a mission to England for Strang in October 1846 and within a month "Martin publicly denied being
sent by Strang, or being in any way, connected with him." Millennial Star 8 (15 Nov. 1846): 12 Instead Martin shared his testimony of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon.
Martin had lost is faith in Strang and in December the Kirtland Ohio High Council withdrew fellowship from Strang. More details of Martin's involvement with Strang can be read in Martin Harris: The Kirtland Years, 1831-1870, p. 19-25
Five Had Already Died
Five of the eight Book of Mormon witnesses had died before Strang had gained notoriety in 1846:
- Christian Whitmer - died 1835
- Peter Whitmer Jr. - died 1836
- Joseph Smith, Sr. - died 1840
- Hyrum Smith - died 1844
- Samuel Harrison Smith - died 1844
Three Remaining Whitmers
The three witnesses that were alive were close-knit Whitmer relatives and all were farmers who lived relatively near each other in Missouri away from the main body of the church. Apparently, in 1846 they received a copy of Strang's Voree Herald and were excited about the prospects of a new prophet. Within months the Whitmers were no longer interested in Strang. None of the Whitmer's ever left Missouri to join with Strang in Voree Wisconsin or Beaver Island Michigan. By 1847 the Whitmer's followed their brother David Whitmer, who was a leader in William McClellin's newly formed church.
The only record we have that the Whitmer family was interested in Strang is Strang himself. Strang describes when the Whitmer's received his 1846 newspaper here:
Early in 1846 the tract reprint of the first number of the Voree Herald, containing the evidence of my calling and authority, strayed into upper Missouri. Immediately I received a letter from Hiram Page, one of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon, and a neighbor-and-friend to the Whitmers’, informing me that he had received that tract arid read it with joy and gladness, and went on to tell at length of reading it to the two Whitmers’ who lived near him, and that they rejoiced with exceeding joy that God had raised up ONE to STAND in PLACE of Joseph, and was so much overjoyed that they could not rest till they had gone and communicated the glad news to their brother who lived at some distance. He goes on to say that all the witnesses of the Book of Mormon living in that region received the news with gladness, and finally that they held a council in which David and John Whitmer and this Hiram Page were the principal actors."
Gospel Herald, January 20, 1848, James Strang
Hiram married Catherine Whitmer in 1825 and remained close to the Whitmer family during his life. As mentioned above, the only piece of evidence that Hiram Page supported Strang comes from Strang himself. Whatever support or interest Hiram did have was short lived. By 1848 Hiram was supporting his brother-in-law David Whitmer as a member of William McClellin's church. He died in Missouri in 1852.
As mentioned above, the only piece of evidence that Hiram Page supported Strang might from Strang himself. Jacob isn't mentioned by name by Strang and he never left Missouri to follow Strang to Wisconsin or Michigan. He died in 1856.
Richard L. Anderson provided this insight into the later part of Jacob's life:
Jacob Whitmer settled in Richmond, Missouri, and he faced life in 1838 with few assets and a family of seven. His struggle in this period was later outlined on the basis of information from his remarkably successful lawyer-son. From 1840 to 1843 Jacob was virtually an invalid and unable to work, at the end of which period "his limited means were well nigh exhausted." A shoemaker by trade, he worked from 1843 to 1845 to buy a small acreage and erect a shoe shop on it. In the next decade he evidently followed the pattern of many early tradesmen by farming during the summer and working his shop during the winter. At his death in 1856, his industry had resulted in ownership of 113 acres. But alienated from his Mormon associates for eighteen years and preoccupied with material survival, Jacob Whitmer had never waned in his conviction regarding the plates. In 1888 his second son told Andrew Jenson, "My father, Jacob Whitmer, was always faithful and true to his testimony to the Book of Mormon, and confirmed it on his death bed."
John Whitmer is the one we have the best evidence for that he was interested in Strang during 1846 because he wrote about Strang in his journal that he subsequentially crossed out. Like the other Whitmer's, John never left Missouri and he chose to support his brother David Whitmer as JS’s appointed successor in 1847. John remained an obscure farmer in Far West Missouri until his death in 1878.
Author Richard L. Anderson describes the later years of John's life below:
John Whitmer stayed in Missouri and farmed land on the site of the deserted city of Far West and its temple lot. His material success is measured by his estate inventory at death, listing ownership of 625 acres, much livestock and farm equipment, to which must be added the fine two-story house that still stands. The evaluation of his community on his forty years of residence in Caldwell County is shown by the local obituary that alluded to the Mormon expulsion: "Mr. Whitmer remained at Far West and has since been a highly respected and law abiding citizen."
The Smith Family
The Smiths gave minimal to no indication that they followed Strang. None ever relocated to Voree.
William pushed the issue in attempt to land a prominent role in the Strangite church."William Smith would publish articles saying the whole Smith family had joined James Strang. I wonder historically if James was stretching the truth on that."
Bill Sheppard, a Strang disciple and Biographer. 397: "The Other Mormons" - Intro to James Strang (Part 1 of 6 William Shepard) 10:00 mark.
Despite Strang's personal visit and letter, Emma had no interest in following Strang. She didn't follow any faith until her son Joseph Smith III became the head of the RLDS church in 1856. More details can be found at Emma's Legacy: Life After Joseph: 2010 Sterling M. McMurrin Lecture
William Smith wrote a letter to Strang in December 1846 in which he said of Emma, "neither would he give her name in testimony of your appointment" and pressuring them would, "(most assuredly) to drive them further from the church."
Smith, William, fl. 1846-1847. 27b. William Smith autograph letter signed, Knoxville, Illinois, to James Jesse Strang. Box 1 | Folder 32. 1846 December 25. https://collections.library.yale.edu/catalog/2054618
Strangite newspapers had a tendency to boast and overstate their missionary success. Robin Jensen covers this more in Gleaning the Harvest: Strangite Missionary Work, 1846-1850
There are at least two Strangite newspaper accounts claiming their success with the Smith family. In the March 1846 Voree Herald, the third newspaper of the new faith they claimed, "The messenger brings the news that Emma Smith, wife of Joseph, and her son, Joseph the Second, acknowledge Strang as the Lord's anointed. One of the Smiths came from Voree, a few days since to Nauvoo, and proclaimed Strang the head of the Church in the Temple, at that place, without molestation." This directly contradicts William Smith's handwritten letter above dated to December of that year.
The second claim is the spring of 1847 Strang missionaries Uriel Nickerson and John Shippy provided a testimony contrary to what William Smith had written six months earlier. They reportedly visited with Emma and Lucy and provided the following summary of their meeting.Lucy had just returned from her temporary exile in Knox. County, and was "living in her own house with her children," two or more of her daughters. It's not clear if anyone from the family attended William Smith's marriage to Roxie Ann Grant a few weeks prior on May 18, in Knox County.
We visited the Prophet Joseph's Mother, found her recovering in health and firm in the gospel, living in her own house with her children at Nauvoo. Many reports have gone abroad that she was going west, but she told us she had no thought of going. We visited Emma Smith (the Prophet's widow) and found her firm in the faith; that her husband wrote or dictated the writing of the letter of James J. Strang's appointment to the Prophetic office, and has not changed her mind. She believes in the Bible, the Book of Mormon and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants and the established claims of Joseph, and also of James J. Strang to be beyond successful contradiction. All who investigate these matters thoroughly must admit them to be true.
William had a brief stint following Strang between 1846-1847 before he was excommunicated.
The deaths of Joseph, Hyrum, and Sam Smith left William as the only surviving Smith brother in July 1844. William was the insecure and volatile brother that desired status. He was ordained as one of the original apostles in 1835 but had a tumultuous tenure and was ultimately excommunicated in October 1845.
Brigham Young and the twelve tried to work with William Smith but they just couldn't:
George A. Smith later summarized the feelings of the Saints in the west towards William in particular when he lamented, “The Saints could have carried William upon their shoulders; they could have carried him in their arms, and have done anything for him, if he would have laid aside his follies and wickedness, and would have done right.”
Kyle Walker wrote a biography William B. Smith: In the Shadow of a Prophet described him as follows:
His fragile self-image and inability to acknowledge his mistakes prevented him from considering an alternative view. He became an opportunist, desperately searching for an exalted station among any faction of Mormonism that would support his own self-importance. These characteristics, combined with his personal ambition, led him to take the course of promoting what he perceived as the rights of the Smith family. His subsequent history reveals that William had been imbued with a sense of specialness about being a Smith. After he perceived the diminishing of his own role in the Church, he began to believe that he or his nephew should lead the Church, an ambition that Emma Smith did not welcome or encourage . . . Evidence that William was indeed pumping up his own authority by using the Smith name came when William linked his ambition to James J. Strang during 1846-47. He temporarily shelved the idea of a Smith’s right to the presidency as long as Strang elevated William within his movement . . . His correspondence revealed his ambition: that Strang acknowledge that he had been wronged by the Twelve, ordain him to his own Council of the Twelve Apostles, and sustain him as the “Presiding Patriarch over the Church.” In one letter, William urged Strang to formally declare him the presiding patriarch, an office that also entitled him to be a member of the First Presidency—much like the position his brother Hyrum had held before his death.
Journal of Mormon History November 2014, William B. Smith and "The Josephites."P. 79-81
William latched on to Strang in March 1846.
"Strang baited William Smith by offering him a coveted position as patriarch if William brought with him his mother, with the mummies and papyrus, together with the bodies of Joseph and Hyrum"
Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, p. 232
William's tenure with Strang was short-lived:
William expressed his support of Strang’s leadership frequently from March 1846 through the spring of 1847 but, in reality, spent only a few weeks total at Strang’s headquarters in Voree, Wisconsin. . . Strang was more than eager to have William’s support, especially since William promised to also deliver his mother, three sisters, and the Egyptian mummies to Voree. Those plans never materialized, but Strang obligingly appointed William as an apostle, as “CHIEF PATRIARCH” presiding over “the whole church,” . . . the relationship unraveled quickly when William was accused of “gross immorality” (likely polygamy) during his short stay at Voree in 1846. At the April 1847 Strangite conference at Voree, William’s reputation had deteriorated to such an extent that the Strangite congregation refused to sustain him as an apostle, though allowing him to continue in his office as patriarch. After failing to negotiate a compromise that would retain William’s loyalty, and by extension that of the Smith family, Strang reluctantly broke ties with William and excommunicated him for “adultery” in October 1847."
Journal of Mormon History November 2014, William B. Smith and "The Josephites." P. 80-82
Lucy Mack Smith
Lucy may have had a brief stint following Strang in 1846 but the details are somewhat clouded by he son William Smith's aspirations to bring his family members to Strang in exchange for leadership in Strang's new church. Any interest Lucy might have had in Strang was shortlived. She never relocated to Voree and nothing is said about him after 1846.
She was 70 in 1846 and largely cared for by her family. She also was open to going where her family went. “Lucy Mack Smith had hinged her desire to go west on the condition “if the rest of my children go.” Feeble and crippled by arthritis, the matriarch of the Smith family was dependent on Emma and Katherine, Sophronia, and Lucy. She had participated in the endowment ceremonies with Sophronia and her second husband.” Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith p. 236
Lucy's mother William was the one pushing to get the rest of the family on board with Strang. By the spring of 1846 her son William had become fully invested on joining Strang and hoped Lucy and the rest of the Smiths would join him. Strang's June 1846 Voree Herald published a letter by William Smith and a second letter by Lucy Smith. In the second letter Lucy reportedly wrote, "The Twelve (Brighamites) have abused my son William, and trampled upon my children; and have also treated me with contempt. The Lord's hand is in this to save the church; now mark it, these men are not right. God has not sent them to lead this kingdom; I am satisfied that Joseph appointed J. J. Strang." The letter is signed by her daughters Catherine and Lucy and their husbands. However, Catherine later denied ever writing the letter.
On 19 May 1846 Wilford Woodruff reports visiting a gathering in Nauvoo attended by “Mother Smith & others together. They were some of them Advocating the cause of Strang. Some unplesant feelings were manifest upon the subject.” Lucy's Book, p. 789
Brigham Young said the following of rumors that Lucy followed Strang. “At the last report she was a Strangite, but we think she will not be [for] long.” He then wrote amiably, “it would rejoice our hearts if Mother Smith [were] was with us so that we could minister to her necessities.” Financial Support of the Smith Family After the Murders of Joseph & Hyrum, Sept. 20, 2020
Any interest Lucy might have had in Strang was shortlived. "Lucy Smith never followed her son to Voree; instead she settled into the small Joseph B. Noble house that the trustees of the church had finally deeded to her." Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith, p. 233
Ultimately, Lucy spent the last years of her life being cared for by family. Here's a description:
April 11, 1846. George A. Smith recorded two days later, “The trustees gave mother Smith a deed of conveyance of a house and lot, in the city of Nauvoo, built and occupied by Joseph B. Noble, valued at twelve hundred dollars, which she took possession of.” . . .
Lucy was content in finally having a home of her own, and lived at the residence throughout the summer and early fall of 1846, before fleeing the city to avoid the Battle of Nauvoo in the fall of that year. When she returned in the Spring of 1847, she went ahead and deeded both her home and an additional lot that had been deeded to her by trustees to the Millikins, according to the initial arrangement. Her daughter Lucy and her husband continued to care for the aged matriarch during her final years, as they lived together in the Noble home until 1849, before moving to Webster (formerly called Ramus) . . . In 1852, the Millikins sold the Noble home at Nauvoo, and decided to migrate eastward to McDonough County, Illinois . . . Mother Smith, desiring to be closer to her deceased loved ones, moved in with Emma and Lewis Bidamon that same year. The couple, along with the assistance of granddaughter Mary Bailey Smith, affectionately cared for Lucy during the final four years of her life.
Katharine Salisbury was Joseph Smith's younger sister and would have turned 33 in 1846. Katharine and family were poor and moved at least five times in the 1840s as a means of survival. “By the spring of 1845, the family was destitute. Jenkins finally decided to take his family to Nauvoo. Here he left Katharine and the children, traveled back to St. Louis to find more consistent work, and sent money back to the family for their support. Katharine enjoyed being reunited with her mother, two sisters, and their families, as they all resided together in the William Marks home.” Katharine Smith Salisbury: Sister to the Prophet, p. 16
Katherine's name is listed with William Smith and other as signing a supporting Strang. "While it would appear that Mother Smith, the Salisburys, and the Millikins were all supporting Strang from this source, Katharine later denied ever having signed any statement in support of Strang, making the documents William had printed in Strang’s newspaper suspect. William very likely felt that he had the support of the remaining Smith family without having to consult them for their signatures."Looking After the First Family of Mormonism: LDS Church Leaders' Support of the Smiths after the Murders of Joseph and Hyrum, The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal
Vol. 32, No. 1 (Spring/Summer 2012), pp. 17-32
Katharine's husband Jenkins was a close associate with William Smith so it's possible he shared William's short-lived affinity for Strang since his name is also signed to the paper. "Katharine and the children continued to live at Nauvoo during the winter of 1845–46. As the temple was completed, the accompanying ordinances were performed with a sense of urgency. Mother Smith, Katharine’s sister, Sophronia and her husband, and the widows of Hyrum, Samuel, and Don Carlos all received their endowments. The Salisburys’ names are noticeably absent from temple records, likely because of their opposition to Brigham Young following their experiences the previous fall."
Sophronia was the oldest the Smith daughters and would have turned 43 in 1846 married to William McCleary and both received their endowments in the Nauvoo temple just before many saints headed west. They had built wagons in Nauvoo in preparation for Latter-day Saint exodus in 1846 but apparently remained behind and William died that same year.
William Smith wrote in the July 1846 Voree Herald, "This is to certify that the Smith family do believe in the appointment of J. J. Strang." and signed all of the Smith families names including Sophronia. Per Katherine's statement and speculation of historians, it's not clear that Sophronia approved of this.
In 1846-1847 “Sophronia, with her daughter, Maria, went to live in a small mining town about 40 miles east of Nauvoo. In this town of Colchester a few of the Saints had located, leaving their homes in Quincy for better labor prospects.” Sophronia lived there until her death in 1876 The Three Sister's of the Prophet Joseph Smith (RLDS Saints Herald 1954) p. 11
Joseph’s youngest sister and would have been 25 in 1846. “The Millikins spent much of their early married life caring for their aged mother, Lucy Mack Smith, and the latter expressed her appreciation for the tender care exhibited by this couple in her history.” Katharine Smith Salisbury and Lucy Smith Millikin's Attitudes Toward Succession, the Reorganized Church, and Their Smith Relationship
Lucy's name is one of the two Smith sisters listed as supporting Strang in the The May 11, 1846 edition Voree Herald. As stated above, the other sister Katharine Smith denied every signing it and some authors speculate that William might have signed it without their will.
This aside there is no other indication Lucy and family followed Strang. They never moved to Voree Wisconsin or Beaver Island. Instead, at some point in 1846, Lucy and husband moved to Knox County Illinois and then to Colchester in 1850. Initially, Katharine’s sister Lucy and her family lived in the same area of Fountain Green. However wanting to distance themselves from the persecution in Hancock County and finding better economic prospects, Lucy and Arthur Millikin moved to Colchester, Illinois.
Joseph Smith III
Strang also tried to enlist 14-year-old Joseph Smith III in the cause but made no progress. Joseph Smith III related the following encounter he had with Strang in the winter of 1846-47:
An incident occurred while we were living at Fulton City, that ought to be noticed. One night while in attendance at a young folks' party, at the hotel of a Mr. Johnson, I was requested to meet two gentlemen, just arrived. Upon being shown into their presence they proved to be Elder Wm. Marks and James J. Strang. After a moment's chat we separated, promising to meet again. They preached a night or two after at the house of a Mr. Baker, from which meeting I was excused owing to a severe earache. They visited the house and chatted with mother, but held no further communication with me. It has been alleged by some that Mr. Strang at this visit, ordained me, and that he so reported 'on his return to his home. If this was done by him at all, it was done when I was unconscious, and unknown to Bro. Marks, and to all the inmates of mother's house. I feel therefore, perfectly safe in saying that he did not. I mention this, because some, even at this late day suppose that the right by which I am an elder in the Church is by virtue of that ordination."
Tullidge, E. W. (1878). Life of Joseph the prophet. New York: Tullidge & Crandall. p. 754
Joseph related the story again here with a additional details:
during the winter which ensued, Elder William Marks received a visit from James J. Strang of Beaver Island celebrity. It is claimed by the followers of Mr. Strang that at this visit of his to Elder Marks he had ordained me viceroy, he himself havjng been chosen king at Beaver Island, Michigan. I t was said that this ordination took place at night, when I was asleep, but I was sure then, as I am now, that no human being could have entered my room and have laid hands upon me without receiving immediate attention from that dog, so vigilant was he. I saw Elder Strang at the house of Elder Marks, but did not go to the evening meeting for the reason that I had a violent attack of earache, and I kept my room.
Smith, Joseph, III. “What Do I Remember of Nauvoo?” Journal of History 3, no. 2 (Apr. 1910): p. 343
Further details can be found on p. 53 of Joseph Smith Pragmatic Prophet.