Missionary work in Mississippi began when John D. Hunter and Benjamin L. Clapp arrived in Tishomingo County in 1839. Hunter reported on 26 December 1839 that they had baptized six people. In 1840, Norvel M. Head visited Tishomengo and baptized seven people. Daniel Tyler and R. D. Sheldon began work in Copiah on 1 December 1841 and baptized five people. Escaping persecution, a group of 80 to 90 members in 40 wagons arrived in Nauvoo from Mississippi in April 1842. A small branch was organized in Monroe County in 1843 where other converts, including plantation owner James M. Flake, were converted and baptized by Benjamin L.Clapp. Several other branches were created and membership continued to increase.

On 8 April 1846, a company of emigrants left Monroe County expecting to join the main body of saints in Winter Quarters that was then planning to travel to the Rocky Mountains. Instead, the Mississippi Saints became the first group of Mormons to cross the plains, wintering with fur trappers in Pueblo, Colo., that same year. These members were the first to establish a religious colony in the West since the Spanish priests of 1769. They later founded the second colony in the Salt Lake Valley at Cottonwood (once called the Mississippi Ward) and Holladay. They also helped found San Bernardino, Calif., and years later were involved in other colonies along the Little Colorado in Arizona. One of the children of these early pioneers from Mississippi was Alice Rowan, who taught school in Riverside, Calif. She was among the first African-American women to teach at a public school in the nation.

Missionary work continued in Mississippi until the Civil War. It resumed in 1877 with the arrival of W. H. Crawford and others. On 27 July of that year the Baldwin Branch was organized. In 1880, enemies of the Church tried, but failed, to enlist the governor’s help in forcing missionaries to leave the state.

Opposition increased and missionaries were often persecuted. Alma P. Richards was murdered on 3 August 1888, though a church investigation committee concluded the motive likely was robbery, not religious persecution.

By 1930, the Mississippi Conference had a membership of 2,170 in the Darburn and Red Star branches and the Sunday Schools in Bay St. Louis, Meadville, Raytown, Red Hill, Sarah, and Smithville. New buildings were completed for the Senatobia, McNeill, and Jackson branches in 1943, and in Biloxi in 1954.

The first two stakes in Mississippi were created in 1965. The Jackson Stake was created on 2 May and had wards in Jackson, Meridian, Natchez, Columbus, Vicksburg, and Red Star and a branch in Greenville. The second stake in Hattisburg, organized 27 June, had wards in Biloxi, Columbia, Gulfport, Hattiesburg, Liberty, and Pascagoula, along with the Bayou La Croix, Darburn, Laurel, McNiell, Sant Hill and Seminary branches.

In May 1996, members in Monroe County honored early pioneers from Mississippi, known as the Mississippi saints, by dedicating a monument at Mormon Springs where many of the early converts were baptized. Also during that year, a program was held commemorating the temporary colony in Pueblo, Colo., established by the Mississippi saints.

President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke to 6,000 members in rural Southhaven, who had assembled from the tri-state area of Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas on 1 March 2003. With no assignments for that weekend, President Hinckley said he wished to visit an area where he had never been.

In 2002, membership reached 18,408. In 2005, membership reached 19,747.


Andrew Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Church, 1941; “Anniversary Noted for Old Backwoods Chapel,” Church News, 9 August 1958; LaMar C. Berrett, History of the Southern States Mission 1831-1861, thesis 1960; “Gulf States Get New Stake,” Church News, 8 May 1965; DeVon H. Nish, A Brief History of the Southern States Mission for One Hundred Years, 1830-1930, 1966; Mary Elizabeth Stovall, “Orthodoxy Versus Nonconformity: The Mormon Experience in Tennessee and Mississippi, 1875-1905,”, research paper, 1976; Leonard Arrington, “Mississippi Mormons,” Ensign, June 1977; “Mississippi Saints Headed West in 1846,” Church News, 13 July 1996; Greg Hill, “Mississippi Visit Among Tri-state Area Faithful,” Church News, 8 March 2003; Southern States Mission, Manuscript history and historical report, Church Archives.

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