The first missionaries to visit New Jersey, Lyman E. Johnson and Orson Pratt, arrived in 1832 in response to the Lord’s command to preach in the “eastern countries” (D&C 75:14). While traveling through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey, they baptized more than 100. Parley P. Pratt of the Quorum of the Twelve began missionary work in New York City and northern New Jersey in 1837. Benjamin Winchester and Jedediah M. Grant preached the same year in southern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania and baptized 12 in the Hornerstown-New Egypt area. The Toms River Branch was organized in 1838 and met in a small building constructed by the members. While traveling to Washington, D.C., Joseph Smith visited one of the New Jersey branches in December 1839. The next year the Times and Seasons, published at Nauvoo, Ill., reported that “in New Jersey eight or 10 are baptized each week.”
By 1848, there were 21 organized branches with other Church members living in outlying areas — in spite of the fact that many converts had responded to the November 1845 directive that Latter-day Saints along the Eastern Seaboard prepare to move to the Rocky Mountains. Some New Jersey members were among those who sailed to California on the ship Brooklyn in 1846.
Occasional missionary work was done in New Jersey during the 1850s, and branches were still functioning at Hornerstown and Toms River in 1857. There was a branch in 1867 at Newark, but during the next quarter century there is no record of Church activity in New Jersey. When the Eastern States Mission was re-established in 1893, its records listed only 55 Latter-day Saints in all of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Church activity was slow to resume in New Jersey. A branch was organized in Newark by 1920 and meetings were held there and in nearby Hoboken. Both places were home to numerous Latter-day Saints who emigrated from Germany, Scandinavia and especially the Netherlands after World War I. Much of the work of the Hoboken Branch was conducted in Dutch, since many immigrants found work in the New York metropolitan area and remained there.
The Church in northern New Jersey developed from the nucleus of European immigrants and Latter- day Saints from Utah and elsewhere in the West who came to New York City in search of employment. In 1932, the growing Newark Branch moved to a refurbished clubhouse in suburban East Orange. Two years later, the branch became the East Orange Ward of the New York Stake, the first stake on the eastern seaboard. With more Latter-day Saints arriving from the West to work or study in New York City, dependent branches were organized in Union City, Hackensack and North Jersey, none of which survived.
By 1940, there were approximately 400 members of the East Orange Ward. Another 100 Latter-day Saints belonged to the New Jersey District of the Eastern States Mission, made up of branches at New Brunswick and Trenton and “outlying” Church members in other communities.
Efforts were likewise made to launch Church work in southern New Jersey, with a Sunday School organized in 1909 at Camden, across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, Pa., and again in 1915 and 1916. Nothing more happened in the area until 1949 when a Sunday School was organized for the dozen active New Jersey members of the Philadelphia Branch within traveling distance of Camden. The first permanent branch in southern New Jersey was organized there in March 1950. By the end of that year, the Camden Branch listed 94 on its rolls, while the ward in East Orange had more than 500 members and the New Jersey District included branches at Metuchen and Monmouth, as well as 30 members who lived too far away to attend either of those branches.
The small groups of saints on the outskirts of the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas grew considerably during the 1950s, primarily because of the influx of members from other states. During this decade, the first Church-built meetinghouses were erected in New Jersey. Members of the East Orange Ward led the way in this regard, constructing a building at Short Hills between 1952 and 1955 that for many years was the focal point of LDS activity in northern New Jersey.
By the late 1950s, there were some 2,400 New Jersey members in the stake and the adjacent mission district, with another 2,800 Latter-day Saints in New York and neighboring Connecticut. When the stake president, a New Jersey resident who well-knew how much time and expense were involved in traveling to Manhattan for stake meetings, urged Church leaders in Salt Lake City to divide the New York Stake along the Hudson River, the First Presidency responded favorably. In February 1960, the New Jersey Stake was created, which included the New Brunswick, Trenton, Montclair, North Jersey and Short Hills wards and the Lakehurst and Monmouth branches.
Similar growth took place in the southern part of the state. The Camden Branch purchased a building site in suburban Audubon, with good access via public transportation for members traveling from several nearby communities. The branch moved into its new building in 1955. The Camden Branch, along with other units in the East Penn District, became part of the Philadelphia Stake in October 1960, at which time the branch became the Audubon Ward, with a group of saints meeting some 50 miles away at Bridgeton looking to the new ward for leadership and support.
Church membership in New Jersey more than tripled during the 1950s, rising from just over 800 to nearly 3,000. The following decade saw another doubling of the state’s LDS population, thanks in part to the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair where more than five million visitors toured the LDS pavilion to watch the film “Man’s Search for Happiness.” The increased visibility generated by the fair brought converts to every Church unit in the greater New York area. The New Jersey Stake was divided in 1967, and seven years later those portions of the Philadelphia Stake outside Pennsylvania became the Wilmington Delaware Stake, which was divided in 1979 to form a stake based solely in southern New Jersey. The LDS population of the state grew from 6,600 in 1970 to 8,400 in 1980.
To this point, Latter-day Saints in New Jersey primarily resided in the suburbs ringing the metropolitan areas, whose white residents had by then abandoned the city centers to African-American migrants from the American South and Hispanics from Puerto Rico and elsewhere in Latin America. Following the priesthood revelation of 1978, Church members and leaders responded to the ethnic diversity of the inner cities, which were also home to recent immigrants from Europe, Africa and Asia. A decade later there were Spanish-language branches in Jersey City, Newark, Paterson and Dover. By 2004, a third of New Jersey’s 63 wards and branches were Hispanic units, with a Portuguese branch in Newark and a Korean branch in nearby Englewood. There were another nine Church units in the state that included at least some Latter-day Saints whose primary language was other than English. Part of the Caldwell New Jersey Stake in 1999 became a mission district made up of Spanish and other inner-city branches in Paterson and Passaic, following a brief experiment along the same lines a few years earlier in Camden.
In 2002, membership reached 29,227 members organized in five stakes. In 2005, membership reached 30,080.
Andrew Jenson, “New Jersey,” Encyclopedic History of the Church, 1941; General mission annual reports and stake statistical recaps, 1940-1980, Church Archives; Charles E. Hughes, G. Wesley Johnson, and Marian A. Johnson, The Mormons in Northern New Jersey, 1994; Ronald Bulkley, “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Southern New Jersey,” 1980- 1981, Church Archives; “New Stake Created by Division of New York,” Church News, 5 March 1960; Orson Scott Card, “Neighborliness: Daines Style,” Ensign, April 1977; “New Jersey Church members celebrate 150 years,” Church News, 17 September 1988; Clawson Cannon, “Gospel fosters unity, peace in inner city,” Church News, 28 December 1996; Directory of General Authorities and Officers, 2004.
- United States List of Stakes of the Church
- United States List of Mormon Temples
- 2010 ChurchNews Almanac - New Jersey