Latter-day Saints, often referred to as Mormons, are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Latter-day Saints, often referred to as Mormons, are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The church’s longest-held and basic tenants confirm that they are firm adherents of Jesus Christ, as their name implies. They believe that the church organized by Christ in ancient times was restored in April 1830 by a modern-day prophet, Joseph Smith (1805–1844), to whom had been revealed sacred gold plates that Smith translated and published as the Book of Mormon. Smith attracted followers who established settlements in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. Latter-day Saints garnered considerable hostility from nonmembers, who took offense at Smith’s criticism of established Christian churches, the communalistic organization of early Mormon settlements, and Smith’s practice and defense of polygamy (although the latter practice was abandoned and denounced by the church in later years).
The Latter-day Saints have had a continual presence in South Carolina since 1831. Among the earliest members in the state was Emmanual Masters Murphy, who was converted in Tennessee before moving to South Carolina and settling in Union District. When the missionary Lysander M. Davis arrived in the state in 1839, he found that Murphy had a small group of close friends prepared for baptism. Other initial missions to South Carolina proved less successful. The missionary Abraham O. Smoot preached in Charleston for two weeks in April 1842 but left without attracting a single convert.
The church enjoyed more substantial success in the years following the Civil War. In 1875 the Southern States Mission was organized and covered most of the Deep South, including South Carolina. The South Carolina Conference was established in 1882, with local units in Kings Mountain (1882), Gaffney (1883), and Society Hill (1890s) and later in Columbia, Charleston, and Fairfield. In the mid-1880s the church was likewise established among the Catawba Indians at Society Hill. John Black, a non–Latter-day Saint plantation owner near the Catawba reservation, provided a refuge from local mobs for early members and friends, including Native Americans. An estimated ninety-seven percent of the Catawba tribe joined the church, some of whom also moved west. One of their chiefs, Samuel Blue, visited Salt Lake City and spoke at the church’s annual general conference in April 1950.
Some of the most severe hostility toward Latter-day Saints in the South was experienced in South Carolina. In 1903 the missionary A. H. Olpin was beaten senseless by a mob and was committed to an insane asylum before being allowed to return to Utah. When mission president Ephraim H. Nye visited Olpin in Columbia and saw the severity of his wounds, he had a heart attack; he died the following day.
Near the turn of the century, the church’s policy of gathering new converts to the west was modified, allowing the church to grow numerically in the South. In 1930 there were 3,500 members in South Carolina. In 1947 the first stake, a dioceselike geographical unit, was organized in Columbia. This organization was the second such creation in the Deep South. By 1980 there were 17,000 Saints in South Carolina, and by the end of 2002 that number had increased to nearly 30,000 members living in fifty-six local units. Congregations now serve Greenville, Charleston, Gaffney, Hartsville, Ridgeway, Sumter, Society Hill, Winnsboro, Darlington, and Columbia.
In October 1999 the Columbia Temple, the church’s most sacred edifice in the state, was dedicated in Hopkins. By the start of the twenty-first century, increased cooperation between Latter-day Saints and other Christian groups, such as the “Putting Families First” campaign, increased the acceptance for Latter-day Saints in South Carolina.
Anderson, Ted S. “The Southern States Mission and the Administration of Ben E. Rich, 1898–1908.” Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1976.
Berrett, LaMar C. “History of the Southern States Mission, 1831–1861.” Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1960.
Jenson, Andrew. Encyclopedic History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret News Publishing, 1941.
Lee, Jerry D. “A Study of the Influence of the Mormon Church on the Catawba Indians of South Carolina: 1882–1975.” Master’s thesis, Brigham Young University, 1976.