I'm quitting I've just received an
offer to play with the House of David Football Team.
The Israelite House of David is a
religious society founded by Benjamin and Mary Purnell in Benton
Harbor, Michigan, in March of 1903. Benjamin Franklin Purnell
(March 27, 1861 – December 16, 1927) was born near Maysville,
Kentucky. As a child he was fascinated by preaching and learned
to read using the New Testament, being raised in a Christian
church. His father brought home a "lightning railroad preacher"
and had little Benjamin preach to him. Benjamin greatly enjoyed
preaching to large crowds, answering any difficult questions
Benjamin married Mary Stallard (November 13, 1862 – August 19,
1953) of Nickelsville, Virginia, in Aberdeen, Ohio, August 29,
1880. In 1888 they discovered a group of preachers extolling a
man named James Jershom Jezreel as the Sixth Messenger. Jezreel
had published three books known as The Extracts of the Flying
Roll. While the preachers were in Richmond, Benjamin and Mary
joined their group, known as the Movement or "the Visitation",
which was started by a woman named Joanna Southcott, or the
First Messenger, in 1792. While studying the writings of Jezreel
they interpreted that there would soon be a Seventh and last
Messenger, mentioned in Revelations 10:7. On March 12, 1895, the
Purnells announced that the spirit of Shiloh had bonded with
them to become the seventh and last messenger.
The House of David colony soon had
several hundred members. In 1906, the House owned about 1,000
acres, on which the colony harvested fruit from a dozen orchards
and cultivated grain. The commune had its own cannery, carpenter
shop, coach factory, tailor shop, and steam laundry. they also
owned and operated their own electricity plant, providing
lighting throught the community. It had three brass bands and
two orchestras, and a zoological garden.
Divisions arose in the 1920s
after 13 young women confessed, under oath to the court,
that they had sexual relations with the patriarch while
still minors. As soon as this became public knowledge,
the Detroit Free Press and other newspapers ran critical
articles about Purnell, but he died before the trials
One group, headed by Mary Purnell, remained together and
in 1930 purchased a small plot of land. There they
rebuilt and reorganized the New Israelite House of
David, better known as Mary’s City of David until her
death at the age of 90.
A second faction, the Old House of David led by Judge T.
H. Dewhirst, had 350 members in 1935, 24 of whom were
clergy, and in 1955 had 150 members with 10 clergy. (As
of 2010, the group was reported to have three surviving
members.) Dewhirst's faction believed that Mary Purnell
had no right to usurp authority over the community, as
it was led by his own self-appointed council of elders.
Purnell was a sports
enthusiast and encouraged the members of the Israelite
Community to play sports, especially baseball, to build
physical and spiritual discipline.
In 1913, the Israelite House of David began to play
competitive baseball and by 1915, they were following a
grueling schedule. The House became famous as a
barnstorming baseball team, which toured rural America
from the 1920s through the 1950s, playing amateur and
semi-pro teams in exhibition games. They were motivated
by the need to make money for their families and colony
back home and by the opportunity to share their beliefs.
The team members wore long hair and beards as they
By the late 1920s, needing more skilled players, the
House began hiring professionals; the most notable being
Grover Cleveland Alexander, Satchel Paige, and Mordecai
Brown. Some professional players grew their beards out
to show respect towards the God of Israel, while others
wore false beards. They were known for their skill and
played against some of the greatest teams in the
country. The House of David played against Major League,
Minor League, independent and Negro League teams, with
all the same spirit of competition and fair play. At one
point, the community had three separate barnstorming
teams touring the county, playing and evangelizing
wherever they went.
The House of David continued to sponsor barnstorming
teams well into the 1930s and then sponsored weekend
semi-professional teams until the 1940s. Mary's City of
David sent out barnstorming teams from 1930 until 1940
and then again from 1946 until 1955. Throughout this
period, there were numerous teams which bore the House
of David name and wore beards. The most famous was
probably the Black House of David, an all
African-American barnstorming team that played solely
within the Negro Leagues.
The House of David was the inspiration behind the James
Sturm graphic novel, The Golem's Mighty Swing (in which
the team was called the "Stars of David").
A vintage baseball club (the House of David Echoes BBC)
has been honoring the legacy of the House of David teams
since 2001, playing vintage baseball under the 1858
rules while growing their beards and playing at historic
Eastman Field near Benton Harbor, Michigan.
If you have a
question you would like to submit us at the
Back to Main