Urumia mission station range (square area)

The Americans of Urumia

Iran's First Americans and their
Mission to the Assyrian Christians

Book by Hooman Estelami



Urumia mission station missionaries and family members in 1904

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Beginning in the 1830s, a small group of Americans began to settle in remote regions of northwestern Iran. Generation after generation of these Americans grew up in the Urumia region, formed their families, labored, and died there. Their work resulted in the establishment of Iran's first medical college, a massive school system, and evangelical services for Persia's Assyrian Christian population. They had deep humanitarian ambitions that impacted Iran for eight decades and formed the earliest connections between Americans and Iranians. Their work came to an abrupt and violent end due to the First World War, and history has since forgotten them. Using missionary memoirs and writings, archival records, and vintage photographs, this book profiles America's initial connections to Iran and profiles four influential Americans who served in the Urumia region between 1835 and 1918.

Shedd family in Urumia (c. 1908)

Dr. Joseph P. Cochran attending to a patient at the Westminster Hospital of Urumia (c. 1905)



"Here for the first time is a comprehensive history of the first Americans in Iran. With fairness, deep scholarship, and attention to detail, Hooman Estelami tells the story of the Urumia Mission from hopeful beginnings in 1835 to its tragic end amid the carnage of World War I. This is a book that has long been needed, and I am grateful for it." (Gordon Taylor, author of Fever and Thirst: An American Doctor Among the Tribes of Kurdistan, 1835-1844)


The Americans of Urumia provides a rare and much needed academic study into the arrival and works of the first Americans and their families into Iran as well as providing much hitherto unknown information as to the state of Iran’s northwest during the Qajar era. The political and military weaknesses of the Qajars in being able to safeguard their frontiers against the Ottomans and Imperial Russians (concomitant with their fecklessness in maintaining security within their own borders) are duly documented as well as the state of affairs among the Muslim and Christian communities in northwest Iran, notably the role of the Kurdish movements of Bedir Khan and Obeidollah Khan notably the latter’s efforts to recruit British support for his cause. The context of these affairs is expostulated within the philanthropic activities of Americans in Iran at the time such as Justin Perkins, Joseph Plumb Cochran and William Ambrose Shedd. Several Americans were to be born and raised in Iran including Joseph Plumb Cochran for example who was born in the village of Seir in northwest Iran. Cochran, who was fluent in Persian, Turkish and Syriac, selflessly provided medical treatment to thousands of Iranians during his lifetime and was to prove instrumental in the opening of a modern medical college and hospital at Urmia. Also of interest is the description of the opening of the very first American embassy in Tehran in 1883. This book is highly recommended for scholars and laypersons interested in the recent history of Iran of the 19th and early 20th centuries and especially the virtually unknown history of the adaptive role of the small American community in northwest Iran during this time period. (Dr. Kaveh Farrokh, Langara College; author of Iran at War, Sassanian Elite Cavalry, The Armies of Ancient Persia, and Shadows in the Desert)




Justin Perkins, the first American to reside in Iran (c. 1860s) 

Sources of images: Top left map: Mary Lewis Shedd (1922), The Measure of a Man, centerpiece. Top right group photo: Shedd Family Papers, 16-0623, Box 2, Folder 2, Presbyterian Historical Society Philadelphia
Shedd family photo: RG 19-0504, Box 4, Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia; Dr. Cochran and patient: Shedd Family Papers, 16-0623, Box 2, Folder 4, ID 139181, Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia
Justin Perkins: Shedd Family Papers, 16-0623, Box 2, Folder 4, ID 139058, Presbyterian Historical Society.