House of David

Where else but in America would a fairly offbeat religious cult become known for fielding a first class baseball team?  Founded by Benjamin and Mary Purnell in October 1903, the Israelite House of David was loosely part of a movement started by Joanna Southcott in1792 who had proclaimed herself the first messenger, the woman robed in the Sun mentioned in Revelation 12:1-6.  In 1895 the Purnells declared that they had been bonded by the Holy Spirit and that the two of them were the seventh messenger mentioned in Revelation 10:7.

The Purnells soon found themselves heading a commune which owned 1000 acres in Benton Harbor, Michigan.  This being America the cult founded several successful businesses.  Mr. Purnell was a sports enthusiast and had his followers play baseball.  In 1913 the cult founded the House of David Baseball Team which quickly achieved fame barnstorming around the country.  The team members played with long hair and beards.

Trouble came to the cult when 13 young women confessed in court that they had sexual intercourse with Purnell while still minors.  Purnell died before he was brought to trial.  Mary Purnell formed the New House of David with a faction proclaiming itself the Old House of David.  Each faction fielded ball teams.  The original House of David team by the late twenties was employing profession ballplayers including Grover Cleveland Alexander, Satchel Paige and Mordecai Brown.  Some of the pros would wear fake beards while playing for the team.  There were several teams claiming the House of David label, including an all black team that played in the Negro League.

The last House of David team ceased operation in 1955.  The House of David teams overall played high caliber baseball and will always be remembered fondly by fans of the game, bizarre origins notwithstanding.

Published in: on January 31, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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  1. Don,

    Reading the post, I immediately remembered a scene from the old Ronald Reagan/Doris Day movie, “The Winning Team,” when Reagan played Grover Cleveland Alexander. In the scene, as he says below, Alexander “hit’s the skids,” and joins the House of David. It’s not explicitly stated in the scene that it’s HofD, but he does wear a beard, and I think it’s the only time he ever wore a full beard in a movie.

    Anyway, I just searched high and low for the movie, the scene, or a pic, and came up empty. I did find this reminiscence of Reagan however. Btw, I haven’t commented in quite a while, but I pray all’s well, and you’re keeping warm!

    “And when Alex hit the skids and joined the House of David team, I donned a beard along with Hank Sauer, George Metkovich and Al Zarilla for that role. We once broke for lunch and had to eat with our full beards. We then went back on the field with soup-stained beards.” ~ Ronald Reagan


  2. Go to the link below for the trailer. Watching that movie in reruns when I was a kid was how I learned about the House of David.

    All is well and I am staying warm!

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