Howard Baskerville, the American missionary who became Iran’s martyr

Howard Baskerville, the American missionary who became Iran’s martyr

(Photo: Wikipedia)

While today relations between Iran and America are severely strained, there remains, even today, an American revered by many in Iran for giving his life in the fight for democracy.

Howard Baskerville died on 19 April 1909, days after his 24th birthday, leading a group of locals in defending the north-eastern Iranian city of Tabriz against the shah’s forces.

Baskerville had arrived in the city only 18 months previously to work as a history teacher in a school founded by Presbyterian missionaries. He was killed by a sniper’s bullet, and five days later the besieged city fell.

Poems were written in Baskerville’s honour, schools and streets named after him, and his funeral was attended by thousands. 

A rifle was wrapped in the Iranian flag and sent to his mother, and a Persian rug was hand-woven in his memory, which was also intended for his mother but never reached her.

A bust of Howard Baskerville was installed in Tabriz’s Constitution House. (Photo: Vahid Rahmanian)

He was buried in the graveyard of the Evangelical church in Tabriz, and decades later, there were still reports of fresh roses being regularly placed upon his tomb.

Aref Qazvini, a well-known poet of the constitutional era, penned this poem about the fallen American:

“Oh, thou, the revered defender of the freedom of men,
Brave leader and supporter of justice and equity,
Thou has given thy life for the felicity of Iran,
O, may thy name be eternal, may thy soul be blessed!”

In 2005, President Mohammad Khatami unveiled a bust of the missionary at Tabriz’s Constitution House.


Dozens of schools and hospitals were established across Iran in the 18th century by Presbyterian and Anglican missionaries, whose contributions to society were valued until they were forced out following the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

One of the churches founded by the missionaries in Tabriz was last year forced to close and its cross torn down, until an international outcry led to its reopening and the restoration of the cross.

Presbyterian Howard Baskerville’s arrival in Tabriz coincided with the submission of the shah of the day, Muzaffar al-Din, to the will of the Iranian people, and the creation of the constitutional monarchy.

But shortly after signing the document, Muzaffar al-Din died and his successor, Mohammad Ali, sought to resume control of Iran by hanging constitutionalists and shelling the National Consultative Assembly, with the support of British and Russian forces.

In Tabriz, Howard Baskerville, who had been through national service in the US, formed a resistance group to fight against the shah’s forces, while also providing locals with food and medicine as supplies ran drastically low.

When the US consul attempted to persuade him to flee the city to save his own life, Baskerville is reported to have responded: “The only difference between me and these people is my place of birth, and this is not a big difference.”

This rug, made in Howard Baskerville’s honour, was intended for his mother but never reached her. (Photo: Wikipedia)