The "unputdownable" (Dave Eggers, National Book award finalist) story of the most infamous American con man you've never heard of: James Strang, self-proclaimed divine king of earth, heaven, and an island in Lake Michigan, "perfect for fans of The Devil in the White City" (Kirkus)
A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice
Longlisted for the 2021 Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction
Finalist for the Midland Authors Annual Literary Award
A Michigan Notable Book
A CrimeReads Best True Crime Book of the Year
"A masterpiece." —Nathaniel Philbrick
In the summer of 1843, James Strang, a charismatic young lawyer and avowed atheist, vanished from a rural town in New York. Months later he reappeared on the Midwestern frontier and converted to a burgeoning religious movement known as Mormonism. In the wake of the murder of the sect's leader, Joseph Smith, Strang unveiled a letter purportedly from the prophet naming him successor, and persuaded hundreds of fellow converts to follow him to an island in Lake Michigan, where he declared himself a divine king.
From this stronghold he controlled a fourth of the state of Michigan, establishing a pirate colony where he practiced plural marriage and perpetrated thefts, corruption, and frauds of all kinds. Eventually, having run afoul of powerful enemies, including the American president, Strang was assassinated, an event that was frontpage news across the country.
The King of Confidence tells this fascinating but largely forgotten story. Centering his narrative on this charlatan's turbulent twelve years in power, Miles Harvey gets to the root of a timeless American original: the Confidence Man. Full of adventure, bad behavior, and insight into a crucial period of antebellum history, The King of Confidence brings us a compulsively readable account of one of the country's boldest con men and the boisterous era that allowed him to thrive.
Journalist Harvey (The Island of Lost Maps) delivers a vivid account of the life and times of American sect leader, lawyer, newspaper editor, and con man James Jesse Strang (1813 1856). After Mormon founder Joseph Smith's murder in 1844, Strang, a recent convert to the religion who had mysteriously disappeared from his home in Upstate New York and reappeared in Wisconsin, declared himself Smith's successor. As proof, he produced a forged letter of appointment and brass plates written in an alphabet he alone could decipher. Though the majority of Mormons followed Brigham Young to Utah, Strang convinced hundreds of fellow converts to join him on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan, where he crowned himself King of Heaven and Earth. Strang's remote outpost soon captured the attention of the media and federal authorities for illegal activities including theft, piracy, counterfeiting, and polygamy. Ultimately, Strang's increasingly authoritarian rule led to his assassination by disaffected members of his congregation. Harvey paints antebellum America as a time of "excesses and delusions" and skillfully explores the era's technological advances, rising immigration, political violence, religious fervor, and leading literary figures. This evocative tale will astonish and delight fans of American history.