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When we think of a lake, some people think it’s something bigger than a pond, but smaller than, say, the sea. That’s about right, but when we talk about the Great Lakes, they do deserve the name “Great”. Lake Michigan alone is 307 miles long, 118 miles wide with the minimum with at 91 miles. It has a total surface area of 22,404 square miles and an estimated water volume 1180 cubic miles. It is so wide that it might as well be a sea of freshwater.

Among the vastness of this lake are islands. Some of them are small, not even enough to put a car on, but others are large enough that they’re inhabited by people and even big enough that they are their own incorporated towns.

Among the many islands that dot Lake Michigan, the largest is Beaver Island. Located along the north of the lake, 32 miles from the city of Charlevoix in Michigan. This island is secluded enough that it can only be reached by air or by boat. The island is about 55.8 square miles and has two townships. It even has its own airport for small aircraft. Despite it being far from Charlevoix, it’s still considered part of  Charlevoix County.

This is not to be confused with another Beaver Island, which can be found in Lake Superior.


The “King” of Beaver Island

This island is a popular tourist attraction, not just because of its dense population and great fish market, but because back in 1856, it was once home to a unique religious colony led by “King James Strang.” This religious colony was known as the “Strangite Mormon Church”. Presently, their church and culture have become a tourist attraction and the island itself is now a vacation destination.

This island’s history is based very much on this church created by James Strang. He established a “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints”. However, Strang’s church is actually wholly separate from the current Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which is much, much larger. This led to Strang’s church to end up being named “Strangite Mormon Church.” He led his 300 followers into the island where they cleared the land and built small settlements. Eventually, they became a town under Strang’s rule and, with his political power, appointed himself king. After a small ceremony, he was crowned King James Strang by his followers.


Visitors Beware

The island eventually had its share of outsiders visit Beaver Island. King Strang exerted his authority over the non-Strangites. This was even to the point of confiscating their property and hurting them. This eventually led to hostility between the Strangites and their neighbors, who considered the island community intolerable.

King Strang’s fall eventually came when he started to dictate that women should wear bloomers. When two women didn’t follow, Strang had their husbands flogged. These two men plotted to assassinate him, and one night on June 16, 1856, they shot him and fled into a departing US gunboat.  King Stang died on July 9, 1856, due to the wounds. Soon enough, the neighboring islands’ people drove the Strangites out, and in 1895, control of the island was legally placed under Charlevoix County.


Beaver Island Mini-Documentary

For more information, check out this short documentary:

After you’re done watching the movie above, find your next favorite shirt in our Michigan collection.

Article image via Beaver Island History.