Historically, James Strang enjoyed an eight-year reign as “King of Beaver Island.” Accounts portray him as the founder of the Strangite sect of Mormonism. Sometimes described as a capable journalist and a talented legislator, others describe Strang as a lunatic pirate captain, a murderer and thief.
An article published in the Oct. 1, 1855, edition of the Allegan Record claimed that a “band of marauders” numbering 20 wreaked havoc along the Lake Michigan shore from Kalamazoo to north of Manistee. The gang, sailing in one small schooner and two Mackinaw boats, had caused a path of destruction and thievery along the way.
The band of pirates burned sawmills and robbed stores north of the Grand River, next arriving in Grand Haven.
In Grand Haven, the gang of pirates came ashore and made repeated attempts to break into stores and shops. The attempted break-ins appear to have occurred under the veil of night and nothing was reported stolen. Several residents witnessed the event, however, and saw the thieves make off in their vessels.
The thieves next struck LaGrange Township in Cass County, and broke into the Robinson & Plummer’s store, robbing it of $1,600 worth of goods. Mr. Robinson and Mr. Plumber, along with a posse, pursued them some considerable distance along the shoreline.
Robinson and Plumber stopped at Grand Haven briefly, perhaps for provisions, and were informed that the pirates had previously been there and to be wary of their numbers.
Authorities in Grand Haven advised the posse that it would be “useless and unsafe” to chase the pirates farther “without a strong force of hundreds of men.”
Newspapers reported that there was no question as to the origin of the bandits. “They are emissaries from King Strang’s realms,” one wrote.
While no published reports placed Strang himself on the vessels, it was clear the men acted on his behalf, if not orders, and spoils from the coastline heists were to be returned to Beaver Island.
“The whole power of the state (of Michigan) should be lent to ferret out, and bring to justice, the perpetrators of such bold crimes,” The Allegan Record newspaper wrote.
About nine months after Strang's pirates tried to rob Grand Haven, the King of Beaver Island met his end.
On June 16, 1856, the USS Michigan pulled into the harbor at St. James and invited Strang aboard. As he walked down the dock, two disgruntled followers shot him from behind.
Strang died from his wounds on July 9, 1856, and the two assassins never faced charges.