D.C. Allen House of David Collection

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D.C. Allen House of David Collection

The materials in this online repository form part of a larger D.C. Allen House of David Collection collection held by the Bentley Historical Library. For a more complete index to the materials, please consult the collection's online finding aid.

For questions or more information, please contact the Bentley Historical Library's Division of Reference and Access Services

D. C. Allen was a Three Oaks, Michigan book dealer and collector of material on the House of David, an adventist cult founded in England. The leader of this cult was Benjamin Purnell who made Benton Harbor his home and the site of his follower's business activities. The Allen collection (formerly housed at the Wyoming American Heritage Center) consists of most of the publications by and about the Israelite House of David, scattered manuscript materials mainly documenting the colony's business operations and court cases involving Purnell and the colony, and photographs and postcards depicting activities of the colony.

History / Biography:
The Israelite House of David was established at Benton Harbor, Michigan, in 1903 by "King Benjamin" Purnell, a former roving preacher, and his wife Mary. In 1895, Purnell received a revelation that he was the "seventh messenger" described in the Book of Revelation. The previous six "angels" were Joanna Southcott, Richard Brothers, George Turner, William Shaw, John Wroe, and James Jezreel, all of England. As outlined in biblical scripture, the function of the seventh angel was to gather together the tribes of Israel prior to the second coming of Christ.

Incorporated under a religious charter, the Israelite House of David was a commonwealth with all possessions of members surrendered to Purnell who in turn provided for their support from a central fund which he administered. Most of the original members of the colony came from Indiana and Ohio, but this number increased dramatically following a trip to Australia in 1904-05 when Purnell appeared before the members of the previous messenger's followers, James Jezreel. During its heyday in the 1920s, the Benton Harbor colony numbered more than 900 members.

Activities of the colony included a farm, numerous commercial ventures including an amusement park, an open air tabernacle, a vegetarian restaurant, hotel, bands, crafts for sale in a gift shop, and a printing press. The colony was also remembered for its traveling baseball team with players' trademark braided long hair and beards.

Almost from its inception the colony and Purnell were the subject of both controversy and litigation. In 1923, some members of the colony brought suit against Purnell for the restitution of their property and wages for the time they had worked without pay. In another case, the people of the state of Michigan questioned the colony's tax exempt status for its many commercial ventures. Most damaging, Purnell was the subject of several morals charges. Just days before his death in December 1927, an order was issued to him to vacate the House of David premises and to dissolve the religious association.

Internal power struggles which began before Purnell's death culminated in a split in 1930 and the formation of a new colony, the Israelite House of David as Re-organized by Mary Purnell, later shortened to Mary's City of David, led by Purnell's widow Mary. The original colony which had earlier shortened its name to the House of David was led by Judge H. T. Dewhirst, the colony's chief secretary. In 1966, membership in the House of David numbered under 100, though some operations continued, such as the miniature train locomotive. The aging membership was still devout in their expectation of the imminent second coming.

Please note:

Copyright is not held by the Regents of the University of Michigan.

Access to digitized sound recordings may be limited to the reading room of the Bentley Historical Library, located on the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan.

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