History of the Louisiana Baton Rouge Mission
On January 4, 1841 two Latter-day Saints, Elam Ludington and Eli G. Terril, wrote a letter to Joseph Smith, in which they stated that there were a number of Latter-days Saints in the City of new Orleans who were anxious to have some Elder come to their assistance. Joseph Smith, upon receipt of the letter, called Elder Harrison Sagers to proceed to New Orleans and open the city for the preaching of the gospel. Elder Sagers arrived in New Orleans on 28 March 1841, as the first assigned elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to labor in Louisiana in this dispensation.
Elder Sagers encountered challenges and successes in his initial days in the city. In a letter to Don Carlos Smith, editor of the Times and Seasons, he wrote of his early experiences in the city:
“ I arrived in that city (New Orleans) on the 28th of last March 1841, with the intention of sounding the gospel trumpet for the first time in the ears of the inhabitants of that place. I found some few brethren there, who had gone to spend the winter season, and had made themselves known as Latter-day Saints, held some meetings and did what they could to spread the truth. They received me gladly and assisted me in getting a house, which we hired at five dollars a week. I then published an appointment and commenced preaching. Our meetings were well attended. It was remarked by some that we had the largest congregations of any in that place. I continued preaching and conversing with the people until we had obtained a house in the City of Lafayette, immediately above New Orleans, where we also proclaimed the gospel. I need not say that the preaching of the gospel had the same effect upon the people here as in other places, for you well know, that when the truth is preached, it makes the devil mad, and in fact, I should not think I had done any good unless he was to rage.
They warned me in the first place to preach there no more, but as we had obtained the house from the Mayor of the city, we told them that we were not under the necessity of asking them, but should continue if the laws of the city would protect us. They at length assembled in a large number one evening as I was preaching, surrounded the house and commenced throwing eggs at me, but none of them hit me, but besmeared some of the ladies who chanced to sit opposite. They then rushed into the house and told the females that they had better leave if they did not wish to get hurt. Some tried to reason with them, telling them that I had preached nothing but the truth and should not be disturbed. Others, who were not members of the church, bore testimony to the things which had been preached, and said they would go into the water as soon as they were worthy. The mob came prepared with tar and feathers, determined to put them on me, but in this they were mistaken, for they were outwitted by the ladies, who gathered around me like bold soldiers, and when they were permitted to withdraw, I walked out in the midst of them and the mob knew it not until I was out of reach. (Old men for council, but women for war).When they found I had made my escape, they then broke the benches and windows of the house, took them into the streets and set them on fire.
So much for the citizens of Lafayette, but not withstanding all this, there are many who are honest, and no doubt will yet receive the gospel. The best time for preaching is in the winter season, as there are people from all parts of the world. During the time I was in the city, I preached three or four times a week, in which time, eight embraced the gospel, and many more are believing. I ordained Brother Eli Terril and Elder, who expected to remain there until I return, as I expect to return early in the fall and spend the winter, and I trust that by next spring we shall be able to gather up quite a company of sons and daughters for Zion.
Yours in the bonds of the everlasting Covenants
Prior to 1875, local members of freelance missions did all the missionary work in the south. In 1875, Henry G. Boyle, laboring as a missionary in Tennessee, appealed to the First Presidency for additional missionaries to assist him. In October of that year, seven brethren were called to labor in the Southern States under the direction of Elder Boyle. With this action by the First Presidency in 1875, the Southern States Mission was again established on southern soil, bringing to an end a period of three decades in which there was no organized mission in the South.
For the next few decades, missionaries entered the South in unprecedented numbers. In the years 1877-1899, Over 2,000 missionaries labored in the South. This made up over 51 percent of the missionaries in the United States and Canada. The Southern States Mission soon developed a reputation for persecution of Mormon Elders. Indeed, there was more persecution in this mission than any other mission in the Church. Many missionaries were whipped and some paid the ultimate price by sacrificing their lives.
But in February of 1894, the Southern States Mission consisted of the southern part of West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Texas, and Arkansas. On March 1, 1894 the decision was made to open Louisiana for missionary work and add it to the Southern States Mission. However, it was not until October of 1895 that missionaries officially entered the state. An entry in the Southern States Mission Record, dated 28 October 1895, reads.
On this date, the State of Louisiana was opened for missionary work. Six Elders from Mississippi conference were assigned: Elder William Holt and William Kerr were sent to New Orleans ; Elders C.A. Matthews and J.C. Lovell to Franklinton, Washington Parish; and Sharp and Swen L. Swenson to Amite City, Tangipahoa Parish.
The arrival of these Elders to Louisiana marked the first time in over four decades that Elders had labored in Louisiana. Louisiana was the last Confederacy to be opened for missionary work. While the Elders encountered persecutions in Louisiana, they were not of the magnitude of persecutions witnessed elsewhere in the south during the 1880’s. No missionary was ever murdered on Louisiana soil, though some were exposed to threats of physical abuse. By June of 1897, there were 32 missionaries working throughout the state in such areas as Baton Rouge, Amite, Pride, Covington, and Alexandria.
Elder Joseph Cornwall reported the efforts of the missionaries in Louisiana during the week of 4 February 1899. During the week, the thirty-seven missionaries in Louisiana: walked 1,403 miles, visited 62 families, revisited 167 families, distributed 50 tracts, sold 12 copies of the Book of Mormon, loaned 12 copies of the Book of Mormon, held 76 meetings, had 373 gospel conversations, blessed 5 children, and baptized 5 people.
The missionary in Louisiana, traveling without purse or script, lived close to his faith, and because railways were scarce and seldom reached into the wooded areas, where most farmers lived, he traveled long distances on foot. Since there were no inns or restaurants in rural areas, he was dependant on the hospitality of local residents for meals and lodging. It was assumed, though not always encountered, that in the south one could call upon any stranger and expect to receive board and room following his daily ventures. This was considered customary by Christian fold, and no remuneration was expected, except for the free preaching they gave. Traveling in this way, they got among the people, ate at their tables, conversed with them about the gospel, sang the songs of Zion at their firesides, prayed with their families, and left them with books and tracts.
The Southern States Mission has had many great presidents. The list includes: J. Golden Kimball, who served from 1891 to 1894; B.H. Roberts, the noted church author and scholar, who was president from 1894-1898; and Charles A. Callis, who served for twenty-six years, from 1908-1934.
In October of 1900, Louisiana was transferred for the Southern States Mission to the Southwestern States Mission. The name of the Southwestern States Mission was changed to the Central States Mission in 1904. Louisiana remained a part of that mission until 1930, when it became a part of the old Texas mission. In 1945, it was changed to the Texas Louisiana Mission, and in 1955, to the Gulf States Mission. It became the Louisiana Shreveport Mission in 1974, and finally, in July of 1975, the Louisiana Baton Rouge Mission was formed.
The Louisiana Baton Rouge Mission was first presided over by Lamar S. Williams, followed by Jack Lemmon, Paul R. Cheesman, C. Max Caldwell, L. Aldin Porter, Kenneth R. Barker, Phillip R. Kunz, Max P. Brough, Rodney E. Tueller, Max B. Simpson, D. Thomas Borgquist, Douglas H. Patterson, William G. Woods, and Jim M. Wall.