The London Missionary Society founded Philippolis in 1823 as a mission station serving the local Griqua people. At first, the area was referred to as Southern Transorangia. The town takes its name from Dr John Philip, who was the superintendent of the Society from 1819 to 1849. Adam Kok II, a Griqua leader, settled in Philippolis with his people in 1826 and became the protector of the mission station. Kok II and some of his followers moved to Philippolis from Griquatown (about 200 km away) following conflict in the area. When Adam Kok II was given possession of the mission station it was on condition that he promised to protect the San against the aggression of the Boers and the London Missionary Society hoped that the Griqua would promote peace in the region. However, Philippolis became a base from which a number of deadly commandos against the San people were organised within a year of the Griqua arrival. This violated the agreement made between the London Missionary Society and Adam Kok II and eventually the San were driven out of the area. Kok's son, Adam Kok III and his followers later migrated across the Drakensberg mountains to settle in Kokstad in Griqualand East.