Visiting her relatives in Pontiac, Lucy Mack Smith, mother of Joseph Smith, arrived in Michigan in the spring of 1831. Accompanying her was her niece, Almira Mack, a native of Pontiac. She had been baptized in New York in 1830 and became Michigan’s first Church member. They visited Lucy Mack Smith’s sister-in-law, Temperance Mack, widow of Colonel Stephen Mack, considered the founder of Pontiac. Preaching in Pontiac, Lucy warned an unfriendly pastor that one third of his flock would soon be members of the Church, including the deacon. After she returned to Kirtland, Ohio, the Prophet Joseph Smith sent Jared Carter and Joseph Wood to Pontiac where they arrived 7 January 1833, and baptized 22 people from the pastor’s congregation, including the deacon, Samuel Bent.
In 1834, Joseph Smith visited Pontiac and preached for two weeks with his brother Hyrum, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, Frederick G. Williams, and Robert Orton. Parley P. and Orson Pratt visited Detroit en route to England in the fall of 1839 where they preached to crowded houses. Parley Pratt published a pamphlet there, History of the Late Persecution by the State of Missouri upon the Mormons.
By the early 1840s, more than 25 branches were located in Oakland, Lapeer, Wayne, Livingston, Washtenaw and Lenawee counties. Converts from Jared Carter’s efforts of 1833 continued to spread the gospel to much of western Michigan. On 12 January 1844, Mephibosheth Serrine reported that in the previous six months, more than 100 converts had left to gather in Nauvoo. Visiting Church authorities created more branches in June 1844. With the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith on 27 June of that year, many members accepted the leadership of Brigham Young and joined the westward movement. Apostate James J. Strang claimed to be the successor of the Prophet and attracted a group who later settled on Beaver Island in Lake Michigan before disbanding. Other splinter groups resided in Michigan as well. Because of the antagonism of these groups and the eruption of the Civil War, missionaries were not sent to Michigan again until the 1870s.
On 4 May 1876, William M. Palmer received a letter from Brigham Young calling him to serve a mission in Michigan. During the next two years Palmer organized branches in the cities of Sylvester, Millbrook and Westville despite serious persecution. In May 1877, additional elders including Cyrus H. Wheelock labored in Michigan and surrounding states in what became the Northwestern States Mission. From 1880 to 1882 William Palmer was called on a second mission to Michigan and supervised the Michigan Conference. For the rest of the 19th century many converts migrated steadily to Utah, and missionary efforts practically ceased in Michigan by the end of the 1880s and during the 1890s. In 1891, there were 47 members in the state.
During the first decade of the 20th century, the Church began to form branches and groups in Flint, Grand Rapids, Detroit, Schoolcraft, Battle Creek and Vermontville. In 1913, the Church sent the Arthur Snow family from Utah to Michigan in order to manage the Church’s salt mine business in Detroit. The Snows and the Archie Alger families became the nucleus of the Detroit membership. Two years later, Northern States Mission president German E. Ellsworth organized the Detroit Branch on 21 April 1915 with Alger as president. By 1930, membership in the East Michigan and West Michigan districts, created that year, had a combined membership of 972.
The first meetinghouse in Detroit was dedicated in December 1928. By 1945, some 7,183 members resided in branches in Detroit, Ann Arbor, Battle Creek, Grand Rapids, Jackson, Muskegon, Flint, Lansing, Pontiac, and Saginaw. Michigan’s first stake was created on 9 November 1952, in Detroit, with George W. Romney as president. The Great Lakes Mission was created in 1949, and the Indiana-Michigan Mission in 1970. In 1973, the Michigan Mission (changed later to Michigan Lansing) was created. The Michigan Dearborn (later renamed Michigan Detroit) Mission was created in 1978. President Spencer W. Kimball spoke to 14,500 Saints from Michigan and parts of Indiana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania at an area conference in Ann Arbor, on 20 September 1980.
Due to the Detroit race riots in the late 1960s and the segregation that existed in the city, the Church did not make inroads into the inner city until missionaries were sent in 1987. Under the direction of the Bloomfield Hills and Westland stakes, seven branches that served African-Americans and Hispanics were created between 1989 and 1995. From 1991 to 1995, the Detroit Ward encompassed part of the east side of Detroit. During this time, James Edwards was called as the first African American bishop to serve in Michigan. In 1995, the Detroit Ward was divided into seven small branches. Two years later, the Detroit District was formed and Gordon W. Creer from the Bloomfield Hills Stake became president. By 2000, the branches were consolidated to five, and Haitian-born Lamenais Louis was called as district president.
On 26 July 1995, longtime national and Church leader and Michigan’s most prominent citizen in the 1960s, George W. Romney, died. He served as governor of Michigan from 1962 until he resigned in 1969 to join President Richard Nixon’s cabinet as secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He also was a candidate for president of the United States in 1968.
A temple in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills was dedicated on 23 October 1999. The roadway in front of the temple was originally built by the Prophet Joseph Smith’s uncle, Stephen Mack, who had figured prominently in the early history of the Detroit area.
In 2002, membership reached 39,839. In 2005, membership reached 42,409.
Hilda Faulkner Browne, The Michigan Mormons, 1832-1952, 1985; John and Audrey Cumming, “The Saints Come to Michigan,” Michigan History, March 1965; John Cumming “The Mormon Era in Detroit,” Detroit Historical Society Bulletin, March 1968; Andrew Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Church, 1941; Jonathan W. Snow, Papers, 1949-1993, Church Archives; Frank C. Davis, “LDS Influence Felt in Much of Michigan History,” Church News, 15 November 1980; “Longtime National Figure George W. Romney Dies,” Church News, 29 July 1995; Greg Hill, “A Temple in Their Midst,” Church News, 30 October 1999.
- United States List of Stakes of the Church
- United States List of Mormon Temples
- TheChurchNews 2010 Almanac: Michigan