On 4 January 1841, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a letter from Elam Ludington and Eli G. Terrill of New Orleans who requested an elder to assist the members of the Church who were living there. “Send us Peter, or an Apostle to preach unto us Jesus,” they wrote, and enclosed $10 to help defray expenses. The group may have been among those from the sailing ship Isaac Newton, which arrived from London on 21 December 1840 — the first vessel to carry saints to New Orleans.
Harrison Sagers was sent to New Orleans, arriving there on 28 March 1841. He preached to large crowds but was troubled by mobs, and was once protected from a mob by a group of courageous women who circled him in his defense. He baptized several people. More missionaries were sent from Nauvoo to assist Sagers.
By November 1841, New Orleans became the principal port of arrival for Latter-day Saints from Europe. There were 17,463 who immigrated via the Gulf of Mexico port through the years. The New Orleans and Lafayette branch functioned in New Orleans from 1844 to 1855, when New York became the port of arrival for the Church immigrants due to outbreaks of major epidemics.
There was no other known missionary work done in Louisiana until 16 February 1896 when missionaries were assigned to the Louisiana Conference, which was part of the Southern States Mission. Joseph A. Cornwall arrived in Louisiana on 10 September of that year. By the end of 1897, he and his companions had baptized their first converts. The Red Rock Branch was organized on 12 March 1899. That year, 24 missionaries labored in Louisiana. A sawmill owner, John R. Jones, befriended the missionaries and protected them from opposition. Alexander Colman Wagley, first president of the Red Rock Branch, was baptized on 4 September 1898. By 16 June 1899, David A. Broadbent, president of the Louisiana District from 1898 to 1899, reported that 110 people had been baptized.
In October 1899, a mob threatened a missionary under the medical care of Jane Holt Clark, a midwife. She confronted the mob with a shotgun and said, “I brought a good many of you into the world and I can take you out again just as easily.” The mob dispersed.
A wagon train of members from Pride traveled to Corleyville, where they settled, organized a branch on 12 November 1916, and erected a meetinghouse about 1920. The Many Branch was organized by June 1935 and a meetinghouse was built by 6 December 1941.
Missionaries labored in New Orleans for 20 years before a branch was again organized in the city. Howard and Marian Bennion arrived in New Orleans in the 1920s and a branch was organized in their apartment in 1924. The branch struggled in the early 1930s, but members joined in the missionary work and contacting via radio, newspapers, and street meetings, they helped the branch grow. About 100 people celebrated the New Orleans Branch centennial in 1944. In 1948, the branch had grown to 300 members, due in part to an influx of Latter-day Saint servicemen who came during World War II. A meetinghouse was begun in January 1951 and dedicated on 16 November 1952. That same year, meetinghouses were dedicated in Hammond, Williamson, and Lake Charles. The New Orleans Stake, the first in the state, was organized on 19 June 1955 by Harold B. Lee and Mark E. Petersen of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Since World War II, Louisiana has been included in the Texas-Louisiana, the Gulf States, and the Louisiana Shreveport missions. The Louisiana Baton Rouge Mission was organized in 1975.
President Spencer W. Kimball visited Baton Rouge on 15 May 1977 and spoke to 12,000 people from the surrounding regions. A temple in Baton Rouge was dedicated 16 July 2000 by President Gordon B. Hinckely.
President Hinckley spoke to 5,000 members in the University of New Orleans Lakefront Arena on 2 March 2003, as part of a two-day tour of members in Southern states.
In 2002, membership reached 24,732. In 2005, membership reached 26,240.
- Andrew Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Church,1941;
- J. Malan Heslop, “Boats on the Mississippi are Still Reminder of Part of LDS History,” Church News, 24 December 1977;
- Carol Ann Wagley Burnham, “From Red Rock to Denham Springs,” Ensign, April 1983;
- “Branch Notes 100th Anniversary,” Church News, 22 January 1944;
- Sarah Jane Weaver, “Baton Rouge Temple: ‘A House of Refuge,'” Church News, 22 July 2000;
- Greg Hill, “5,000 Flock to Arena to Hear Church President,” Church News, 8 March 2003,
- Southern States Mission, Manuscript history
- historical reports, Church Archives.