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Smith Letter

Joseph Smith Letter of Appointment.
June 18, 1844.

Joseph Smith’s letter appointing James Jesse Strang as head of the fledgling Mormon Church is one of the Beinecke’s controversial treasures, potentially denying Brigham Young’s right to lead the Mormons after Joseph Smith’s murder. Most scholars assume it is a forgery.


The day Mormon founder Joseph Smith was murdered, a man named James Jesse Strang claimed he had been ordained by angels to assume the leadership of the church. He exhibited a letter to the Mormon community in Nauvoo, Illinois that was purportedly written by Smith instructing Strang to found a Wisconsin branch of the church. Joseph Smith’s brother, William, supported Strang, though Strang had only been a member of the church for five months.

James Strang led his followers to Wisconsin where he set up the Voree commune on the principles of a modified Mormon faith. By 1847 Strang claimed to have had a large number of revelations, and, like Joseph Smith, had found more golden tablets and translated them. In 1847 the group moved to Beaver Island, Michigan and founded the Kingdom of St. James. The membership reached a high of 2,500 at this time. After being elected to the Michigan legislature for two terms, Strang was murdered by a mob of ex-members in 1854. The Strangite branch of Mormonism still exists with no communal base and very small membership.

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