New England Congregationalists first brought Protestant Christianity to the Islands in 1820. Roman Catholic missionaries came to Hawaiʻi in 1827. Quakers came in 1835; Methodists came in 1855 and members of the Church of England arrived in 1862.
As early as 1844, missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (popularly called the Mormons or LDS Church) were working among the Polynesians in Tahiti and surrounding islands.
“The Mormons are said to have commenced their mission in 1850. Their converts are scattered over all the islands. They number about nine per cent of all those who in the census returns have reported their religious affiliations. This mission owns a small sugar plantation at Laie, on the island of Oʻahu.” (The Friend, December 1902)
The Church traces its beginnings to Joseph Smith, Jr. On April 6, 1830 in Western New York, Smith and five others incorporated The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Fayette, New York.
In the summer of 1850, in California, elder Charles C Rich called together more elders to establish a mission in the Sandwich Islands. They arrived December 12, 1850. Later, more came.
The first gathering place for Mormon missionaries was established in the Palawai Basin on the island of Lānaʻi, in 1854. By 1855, the church claimed about 4,650 Hawaiian converts with more than 50 organized congregations scattered through several villages in the Islands.
In 1855, a Hawaiian edition of the Book of Mormon was printed through the help of George Q. Cannon, William Farrer and a native Hawaiian named Jonatana H. Napela. (Mormonism Research Ministry)
In March 1865, Brigham Young (President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1847 until his death in 1877,) in a letter to King Kamehameha V, requested permission to locate an agricultural colony in Lāʻie. The king granted his request.
That year, Mormon missionaries (Francis Asbury Hammond and George Nebeker) purchased 6,000-acres of the ahupuaʻa of Laiewai to Laiemaloʻo (in Koʻolauloa) from Mr. Thomas T Dougherty for the Mormon Church.
One thousand acres were arable the remaining land was used for woodland and pasture for 500-head of cattle, 500-sheep, 200-goats and 25-horses (which were all included in the price ($14,000.))
At the time, sugar production was growing in scale; in addition to farming for food for the mission, the Lāʻie land was considered to have a good potential for growing sugar cane.
In 1867, the first sugar cane was planted; in 1868 a mule-powered mill was installed. This provided income and financial sustainability. A new mill was built in 1881 and production increased. Sugar provided the positive economic impact and gave financial support to the Mormon Church in Hawaiʻi.
The sugar produced at the mill had to be transferred by oxen teams to a landing where it was placed on a small boat carried through the surf and loaded on a steamship for transport to JT Waterhouse Company, agent of the plantation, in Honolulu.
Part of the area of the plantation now serves as the location for the Hawaiʻi Temple, the campus of Brigham Young University-Hawaii and one of the most popular locations in Hawaiʻi for visitors, the Polynesian Culture Center.
On October 16, 1875, the Mormon Church organized Brigham Young Academy at Provo, Utah. It eventually became Brigham Young University. On September 26, 1955, the Mormons started the two-year “Church College of Hawaiʻi” (CCH) in Lāʻie in war surplus buildings with 153 students and 20 faculty/administrators.
In 1889, several Hawaiian members of the Mormon faith were interested in being closer to the temples and headquarters of the Church in Utah and left Hawaiʻi and established the Iosepa Colony in Tooele County’s Skull Valley.
“Iosepa,” meaning Joseph in Hawaiian and named for the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and for Joseph F Smith, who went to the Hawaiian Islands as a missionary in 1854.
Former Queen Liliʻuokalani was baptized a member of the LDS Church on July 7, 1906.
The LDS Temple in Lāʻie – started in 1915 and dedicated on Thanksgiving Day 1919 – was the first such temple to be built outside of continental North America.
The 47,224-square-foot temple’s exterior is concrete made of crushed lava rock from the area and tooled to a white cream finish. It attracted more islanders from throughout the South Pacific.
Utah’s Iosepa Colony lasted as a community until 1917, at which time the residents returned to Hawaiʻi where the Hawaiian Mormon Temple was under construction.
By the 1920s, LDS Church missionaries had carried their Christian teachings to all the major island groups of Polynesia, by living among the people and speaking their languages.
In 1960, CCH students performed in “The Polynesian Panorama” at the Kaiser Dome in Waikīkī (this program was the forerunner to the performances at Polynesian Cultural Center.)
Then in 1963, the Polynesian Cultural Center opened in Lāʻie. On April 13, 1974, Church College of Hawaiʻi was renamed Brigham Young University-Hawaiʻi Campus.
There are now about 75,000-Mormons living in Hawaiʻi, or about 5 percent of the overall population. There are 143 congregations, two temples and 26-Family Centers.
Worldwide Church membership today is over 17-million; 88,000-Mormon missionaries are currently serving in 350 missions.