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House of David pamphlets and ephemera

Identifier: Midwest-MS-House

Scope and Content of the Collection

Includes 42 printed pamphlets and ephemera, approximately 1906 to approximately 1970, relating to the House of David and Mary’s City of David religious colonies in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Materials date from both before and after the 1929 split and provides an excellent representation of foundational religious writings by Benjamin Purnell. Materials also cover the community’s legal problems.

Many items were published without an author, imprint, or title page. Approximate dates have been determined using Henry M. Yaple’s book “A descriptive bibliography of imprints from the Israelite House of David and Mary's City of David, 1902-2010” (Newberry Library call number BX 6184.5 .Y36 2014).


  • Creation: approximately 1906 to approximately 1970
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1912 - 1963



Materials are in English, German, and Swedish.

Conditions Governing Access

The House of David pamphlets and ephemera are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The House of David pamphlets and ephemera are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of The House of David

The House of David, originally known as the Israelite House of David, is a religious community founded by Benjamin and Mary Purnell in Benton Harbor, Michigan, in 1903. In 1895, Benjamin received a revelation that he was the “seventh messenger,” a biblical role described in the Book of Revelations. This “angel” was charged with gathering followers to prepare for the second coming of Jesus Christ.

The House of David colony grew to more than 900 members by the 1920s, and owned about 1,000 acres of land. Members were required to assign all personal property to the community and to adhere to a vow of “poverty, obedience, and chastity.” They undertook many ventures including farming, an amusement park, vegetarian restaurants, orchestras and bands, a printing press, and a zoological garden. The House of David is famous for their barnstorming baseball teams, with men required to play with long hair and beards.

The community also experienced controversy and legal issues, especially during the 1920s when Benjamin Purnell was accused of sexual relations with several of the community’s underage girls. The state of Michigan also questioned the colony’s tax exempt status. Purnell died in December 1927 before his case could be tried in court and around the time he was ordered to leave the colony.

The legal issues and power struggles within the colony lead to a split in 1929-1930, when Mary Purnell formed her own new colony known as the Israelite House of David as Re-organized by Mary Purnell, or more simply Mary’s City of David. Both communities prospered until the mid-1970s and continue to present day.


2.1 Linear Feet (2 boxes and 1 oversize folder)


Collection of printed pamphlets and ephemera, ca. 1906 to ca. 1970, relating to the House of David and Mary’s City of David religious colonies in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Features a variety of topics, including religious beliefs, court cases, and vegetarian recipes.


Materials arranged alphabetically.

Collection Stack Location

1 39 1


Purchase, Lorne Bair Rare Books, 2013 and 2017.

Processed by

Elizabeth McKinley, 2014; Catherine Grandgeorge, 2017.

Inventory of the House of David pamphlets and ephemera, approximately 1906 to approximately 1970, bulk 1912 to approximately 1963
Elizabeth McKinley and Catherine Grandgeorge
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2022-11-12: Baseball broadside added to collection.

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States