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Israelite House of David and Mary's City of David collection

Identifier: RHC-146

Scope and Contents

Collection contains publications produced by the Israelite House of David and Mary's City of David. The publications include writings by Benjamin and Mary Purnell as well as other community members. The collection also includes a small amount of ephemera, including a photograph of Mary Purnell, labels from food and drink products, a community rules sign, and a ticket stub for the House of David miniature railway.


  • circa 1910-1971


Access to the Materials

Collection is open for research use. Materials may be accessed by request at Special Collections and University Archives in Seidman House. Materials do not circulate.

Historical Note

The House of David, formally known as the Israelite House of David, is a religious society co-founded by Benjamin and Mary Purnell in Benton Harbor, Michigan, in 1903. Benjamin Purnell, a former broom maker and travelling preacher from Kentucky, declared himself to be the seventh and final messenger of God, as foretold by the Book of Revelation. The Israelite House of David's beliefs centered on Christian theology, referring primarily to the 1611 King James Bible, which includes the Apochrypha. Other texts held sacred by the House of David included the Book of Jasher, Joshua 10:13, The Book of Enoch, and Nazarites. They believed that the Israel are a select people who were scattered into twelve tribes across all nations, who would be gathered into one location to witness the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. This is often referred to as the "Ingathering" in House of David texts.

The colony was organized as a commonwealth, in which members turned over their posessions to the community. House of David members adhered to a vegetarian diet, practiced celibacy (even between married couples), and men and women were not permitted to cut their hair.

By 1907 the commune had several hundred members, and owned about 1,000 acres on which they grew crops and fruit orchards. The community established its own cannery, carpenter shop, coach factory, tailor shop and steam laundry. They also operated their own electricity plant, which provided lighting to the entire community. In order to improve relations with their neighbors as well as for the entertainment of the colonists, they also established several bands, orchestras, a zoological garden and amusement park, miniature train, and baseball teams.

Scandal arose in the 1920s, when Benjamin Purnell was accused by thirteen young women of having sexual relations with them while they were still minors. The Detroit Free Press and other area newspapers ran numerous articles critical of Purnell and the House of David. Purnell died in 1927.

Following his death the community split into two groups. One, headed by Mary Purnell, purchased a small plot of land down the street from the original commune and reogranized as the New Israelite House of David, better known as Mary's City of David. Mary's City of David operated until Mary's death at the age of 90. The second faction, the Old House of David, was led by Judge T.H. Dewhirst. As of 2010, the group was reported to have three surviving members.


0.84 Linear feet (2 boxes)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The majority of the collection was purchased from Garrett Scott, Bookseller, in 2019.
Israelite House of David and Mary's City of David collection
Annie Benefiel
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Grand Valley State University Special Collections and University Archives Repository

Seidman House
1 Campus Drive
Allendale MI 49401 United States