The following is an excerpt from Dr. Daniel Peterson’s 2006 FAIR Conference address. DCP has posted this excerpt several times on MADB. Everything after this sentence are his words.
Forgery is the virtually certain explanation for the two sets of inscribed metal plates that James Jesse Strang said he had found in Wisconsin and Michigan (between 1845 and 1849) and translated. Strang, who claimed to have a letter of appointment from Joseph Smith, announced himself as Joseph Smith’s successor and was clearly seeking to imitate the Prophet. That his plates really existed is beyond serious dispute. The first set, the three “Voree” or “Rajah Manchou” plates, were dug up by four “witnesses” whom Strang had brought to the appropriate site. Inscribed on both sides with illustrations and “writing,” the Rajah Manchou plates were roughly 1.5 by 2.75 inches in size — small enough to fit in the palm of a hand or to carry in a pocket. Among the many who saw them was Stephen Post, who reported that they were brass and, indeed, that they resembled the French brass used in familiar kitchen kettles. “With all the faith & confidence that I could exercise,” he wrote, “all that I could realize was that Strang made the plates himself, or at least that it was possible that he made them.” One source reports that most of the four witnesses to the Rajah Manchou plates ultimately repudiated their testimonies. (However, the credibility of this source is suspect, since it also asserts that the Book of Mormon witnesses repudiated their testimonies, which is demonstrably false). The eighteen “Plates of Laban,” likewise of brass and each about 7 3/8 by 9 inches, were first mentioned in 1849 and, in 1851, were seen by seven witnesses. Their testimony appeared at the front of “The Book of the Law of the Lord,” which Strang said he translated from the “Plates of Laban.” (Work on the translation seems to have begun at least as early as April 1849. An 84-page version appeared in 1851; by 1856, it had reached 350 pages.) The statement of Strang’s witnesses speaks of seeing the plates, but mentions nothing of any miraculous character, nor did Strang supply any second set of corroborating testimony comparable to that of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon. One of the witnesses to the “Plates of Laban,” Samuel P. Bacon, eventually denied the inspiration of Strang’s movement and denounced it as mere “human invention.” Another, Samuel Graham, later claimed that he had assisted Strang in the fabrication of the “Plates of Laban.” The well-read Strang had been an editor and lawyer before his brief affiliation with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and his subsequent career as a schismatic leader. 1 Thus, Strang’s plates were much less numerous than those associated with Joseph Smith, his witnesses saw nothing supernatural, his translation required the better part of a decade rather than a little more than two months, and, unlike the Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, Strang’s witnesses did not remain faithful to their testimonies. Milo Quaife, in his early, standard biography of Strang, reflected that “It is quite conceivable that Strang’s angelic visitations may have had only a subjective existence in the brain of the man who reported them. But the metallic plates possessed a very material objective reality.” If we are unwilling to accept “The Book of the Law of the Lord” as authentically divine, he says, “we can hardly escape the conclusion . . . that Strang knowingly fabricated and planted them for the purpose of duping his credulous followers” and, accordingly, that “Strang’s prophetic career was a false and impudent imposture.” 2 Roger Van Noord, Strang’s most recent biographer, concludes that, “Based on the evidence, it is probable that Strang — or someone under his direction — manufactured the letter of appointment and the brass plates to support his claim to be a prophet and to sell land at Voree. If this scenario is correct, Strang’s advocacy of himself as a prophet was more than suspect, but no psychological delusion.” 3
- See Roger Van Noord, King of Beaver Island: The Life and Assassination of James Jesse Strang (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 33-35, 97, 102, 163, 219; Doyle C. Fitzpatrick, The King Strang Story: A Vindication of James J. Strang, the Beaver Island Mormon [sic] King (Lansing, MI: National Heritage, 1970), 34-38; Milo M. Quaife, The Kingdom of Saint James: A Narrative of the Mormons [sic] (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930), 2-8, 16-19, 92-93, 185-189.
- (Quaife, The Kingdom of Saint James, 17-18.)
- See Van Noord, King of Beaver Island, 274.