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COLLECTIONEssays and short articles
TITLEMissionaries Who Aided the Cause of God
AUTHOR 1Duane L. Herrmann
DATE_THIS1991 Spring
TITLE_PARENTGlory Magazine
ABSTRACTBrief account of the work of Dr. William Cormick and Rev. John H. Shedd and their interest in the Bábí Faith.
CROSSREFBabism: Its Doctrines and Relations to Mission Work
TAGSJohn H. Shedd; Mentions; Missionaries; William Cormick
CONTENT Two American missionaries to Persia, father and son, rendered a most invaluable service to the Cause of God. Bahá'ís around the world are familiar with the description of the Bab written by Dr. Cormick, the only westerner to meet Him and record the meeting. Dr. William Cormick was born in Tabriz of British parents. His father was a missionary physician and he followed that path. Eventually he became the personal physician of Nasiru'd-Din Mirza, governor of Adherbajan. It was during this time that he examined the Bab to determine His sanity.

Dr. Cormick wrote an account of this examination, and of a second interview, and sent it to Rev. Benjamin Labaree, a missionary who served at the Nestorian Mission in Urumiyyih, Persia. Labaree passed the account on to a college friend of his who joined him as a missionary at Urumiyyih. This friend was Rev. John H. Shedd.

Rev. Shedd arrived in Persia in 1859 to serve under the American (Presbyterian) Missionary Board at Urumiyyih. He remained there the rest of his life except for two return trips to the United States. He was energetic and became a notable figure in the Persian mission field. Early on he urged expansion of the mission activities to Armenians and Muslims, which was eventually done. He was the force behind the organizing of the Syrian Evangelical Church in 1862 and, in 1868, founded Urumiyyih College.[1]

Shedd's eventual interest in the claims of the Bab may have resulted from his expectation of the millennium. In his journal for 28 Dec. 1860 he wrote, "The news of Lincoln's election has just reached us. It looks like the dawn of the Millennium. The sin of slavery has, I trust, reached its culmination." [2]

Shedd was interested in the heritage of the peoples he came to help. Even before arriving at his post he and his wife began a study of Syriac in order to be able to talk the language of those they were to be ministering to. Just two months after arriving they were having household prayers in Syriac. This commitment may have contributed to his interest in the Bab. In a letter dated 6 Jan 1870 he wrote, "We are all very much interested in the Babi sect. The chief of the sect in this city often calls on Mr. Labaree and he has had several long and interesting conversations with him." [3]

In 1894 his paper entitled "Babism - Its Doctrines and Relations to Mission Work" was published in vol. 17 (pp 894-904) of the Missionary Review of the World [online here].

His son William was born in Persian and, after schooling in America, became a missionary and served with his father. He also carried on his father's interest in the local people. As a student at Princeton Seminary in 1889 he had written, "My ambition is to become a competent Orientalist along some line and add some light to the rays that come from the East, and to do it so as to help the missionary work.[4]

When his father died in 1895 Rev. William Shedd became the Head of the mission station, again following his father's lead. It was at his father's death that he sent to E.G. Browne a copy of Dr. Cormick's letter describing the Bab.[5] This action will assure him and the other Christian missionaries a place in Bahá'í history books.

By 1899 he had added to his administrative, preaching, teaching, and circuit duties, an attempt to regularize the spelling of Syriac. He was also making progress on a Jewish version of the Sermon on the Mount and had written up a proposal for a new dictionary. These scholarly endeavors were interrupted by the revolutionary turmoil of 1906.

From that time civil order increasingly deteriorated reaching near total collapse of all Persian administration during the first World War. At first the separate Missions set up their own courts to settle issues among Christians and between Christians and Muslims. Eventually, "not only Christians came to him for judgement and protection, but also Mohammedans who could not trust their own leaders."[6] Gradually Shedd found thrust upon him the responsibilities normally carried out by the government, this was officially recognized on 1 Jan 1918 when he was officially designated Honorary Vice Consul for the United States Government.

The Turkish troops advancing through Persia eventually succeeded in over-running Urumiyyih. There were hopes that the British army could arrive before the Turkish, but that was not to be. Thousands of refugees who had collected in the area, plus thousands of residents, including the missionaries fled before the Turks. Hundreds contracted cholera in flight and died en route, including Rev. Shedd. His remains were later retrieved and buried in Tabriz. During the sack of Urumiyyih and the complete destruction of the mission all of Shedd's scholarly work was destroyed. His legacy is the only western description of the Bab.

Appendix: Bibliography of works by John & William Shedd about the Bábí and Bahá’í faiths:

    John H. Shedd, “Babism: Its Doctrine and Relation to Mission Work,” The Missionary Review of the World, vol. 17, Dec 1894, pp.894-904 [online here].

    William A. Shedd, “Babism: A Warning,” Evangelical Christendom, Nov-Dec 1911, p.199. Online at

    William A. Shedd, “Bahaism and its Claims,” Missionary Review of the World, vol. 34, Oct 1911, pp.727-734.

    William A. Shedd, “Bahaism and its Claims,” Evangelical Christendom, Nov-Dec 1911, p.210-214.

    William A. Shedd, “A Most Interesting Document on the Bab,” Moslem World,” vol. 5, #1, Jan 1915, pp.111-112.

    William A. Shedd, “Second Study,” The Vital Forces of Christianity and Islam (J.H. Golden (ed.), 1915, pp.51-51, 57, 62-63, 74.

  1. Samuel M. Jackson, ed., The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge; New York & London, Funk and Wagnalls Co.: 1911, p. 388.
  2. William A. Shedd, The Life of John Haskell Shedd, unpublished bound manuscript in the possession of Mrs. Louise Barker, Oskaloosa, Kansas, undated (circa 1911), p. 38
  3. The Life p. 95
  4. Mary Lewis Shedd, The Measure of a Man: The Life of William Ambrose Shedd, Missionary to Persia; New York, George H. Doran Co.: 1922, p. 52
  5. Moojan Momen, The Babi and Bahá'í Religions, 1844-1944: Some Contemporary Western Accounts; Oxford, George Ronald: 1981, p. 74
  6. Measure, p. 92
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