Persian Royal Order Granted to James L. Merrick


This Persian firman (royal decree) grants the Reverend James Lyman Merrick the right to establish a school in the city of Tabriz in northwestern Persia (Iran). The decree was issued by Shahzadah (Prince) Malik Qasim Mirza (died 1859), one of the members of the Qajar royal family and the governor-general of Urumiya and Azerbaijan in 1829‒49. The firman includes a note in English in the upper-right corner, which reads: "A Firman or Order, of Muhammad Shah, the present King of Persia, authorizing Rev. J.L. Merrick to open a school in Tabriz in 18(3)9." At the top center appears the royal seal of Muhammad Shah (reigned 1834‒48), below an invocation to God in gold ink. Below the seal impression, a bismillah (in the name of God) in gold ink initiates the main text of the decree, which gives the Reverend Mr. Merrick permission to open a school to teach taʻlim-i aftal wa javanan (children and youngsters) various ʻulum (sciences), such as geography and ʻilm-i hisab (accounting). The last line of the decree states that it was tahrir (written) on 21 Rabiʻ al-awwal, 1255 AH (June 5, 1839). James Lyman Merrick (1803‒66) was an American Presbyterian missionary in Iran from 1834 to 1845. He had studied at the Princeton and Columbia theological seminaries. In 1834 he was ordained at Charleston, South Carolina, and was immediately sent on a mission to Persia. He stayed in the cities of Tabriz, Shiraz and Urumiya until 1845. After his return to the United States, he was in charge of a Congregationalist church in South Amherst, Massachusetts from 1849 to 1864 and taught “oriental” literature at Amherst College from 1852 to 1857. He wrote a number of books on Islam and the Prophet Muhammad, which were translated into Persian at the end of the 19th century. In a letter to the Missionary Herald published in 1838, Merrick noted the opening of his school and stated that Prince Malik Qasim Mirza wanted him to spend the winter with him as his tutor. However, he was uncertain whether he would stay in Iran as the school was not in a “flourishing condition.” He did not elaborate further on the subject. This note and the firman provide valuable evidence of some of the earliest American missionary efforts in Iran around the middle of the 19th century.

Last updated: November 1, 2017