Beaver Island lies approximately 32 miles (51 km) from the city of Charlevoix, Michigan, on the mainland and is an unincorporated community located in Charlevoix County. The island can only be reached by air or boat. Beaver Island has two airports, one public and one private. The ZIP code is 49782. Beaver Island is also the name of an unincorporated community comprising the settled areas of the island.
Although Beaver Island is known mostly today for its beaches, forests, recreational harbor and seclusion, at one time it was the site of a unique Mormon kingdom.
The island's association with Mormonism began with the death of Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement. Most Latter Day Saints considered Brigham Young to be Smith's successor, but many others followed James J. Strang. Strang founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Strangite), claiming it to be the sole legitimate continuation of the church restored by Joseph Smith. His organization still exists today (though not on Beaver Island), numbering up to 300 adherents. His group initially settled in Voree, Wisconsin Territory, in 1844, establishing a community there that remains to this day and is an unincorporated community within the town of Burlington, Wisconsin.
Seeking a buffer from persecution, Strang moved his followers from Voree to Beaver Island in 1848. The Strangites flourished under Strang's leadership and became a political power in the region. They founded the town of St. James (named after Strang) and built a road called "King's Highway" into the island's interior that remains one of its main thoroughfares. The Strangites cleared land, built cabins, farms and other improvements, and sought to establish themselves as a permanent presence on Beaver Island.
Strang was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives in 1853 and again in 1855. He also founded the first newspaper in Northern Michigan, the Northern Islander. During Strang's stint in the legislature, he made Beaver the center of a new county: Manitou County included the Beaver Islands, Fox Islands, North Manitou, and South Manitou islands, with the county seat at St. James. Manitou County was disestablished by the state of Michigan in 1895 (see below).
Once established on Beaver Island, Strang declared himself a polygamist, a practice which he had previously opposed. He had five wives and fathered a total of fourteen children.
In 1850, Strang proclaimed himself king, but not of the island itself. Rather, he claimed to be king over his church, which at that time contained most of the island's inhabitants. He was crowned on July 8 of that year inside a large log "tabernacle" built by his followers, in an elaborate ceremony that featured a crown (described by one witness as "a shiny metal ring with a cluster of glass stars in the front"), a red royal robe, a shield, breastplate, and wooden scepter. The Strangite tabernacle and Strang's house are both long gone, as are the Strangite royal regalia, but a print shop built by his disciples remains—the only Strangite building left on Beaver. Today, it houses a museum dedicated to the island's history.