House of David
- Location: Benton Harbor, MI
- Affiliation: Barnstorming
- Year of Inception into professional Baseball: 1920
- Manager: Francis Thorpe
Known for their religious fervor, tremendous ballhandling, and exceptionally long beards, the House of David barnstorming team is and was subject to both legend and imitation.
Foundations and Early Years of the Team
The Israelite House of David was formed in 1903 in Benton Harbor, MI. The Israelite House of David was an Eschatalogical Christian Community that sought to reunite the twelve tribes of Israel to prepare for and await the return of Jesus Christ at the Millenium (2000). The group's founder, Benjamin Purnell was a sports enthusiast and encouraged the playing of sports, especially baseball, as a way of building physical and spiritual discipline. The Israelite House of David lived communally and held a great deal of value around physical labor, citing the Apostle Paul who worked as a tent maker during his missions to Corinth. Members of the group were strict vegetarians, and espoused celibacy outside the binds of marriage. The famous long hair and beards were worn citing the book of Leviticus which makes reference to the growth of the hair representing the growth of the soul.
The Israelite House of David began playing competitive baseball in 1913. By 1915, they were playing a much more grueling schedule. In 1920, they became a barnstorming team and traveled the country making money for the colony and presenting an opportunity for the community to preach. Their long hair and beards quickly became a selling point drawing crowds wherever they played.
By the late 1920s, in need of more skilled players, the House of David began hiring professional players; the most notable would be Grover Cleveland Alexander. These players were required to grow beards, and some played for the team for many years. The team was known for its skill and played against some of the greatest teams in the country. Coinciding with their egalitarian religious beliefs, they played against any competitors willing to take them on. The House of David played against Major League, Minor League, independent and even Negro League teams with the same spirit of competition and fair play. At one point, the community had three separate barnstorming teams touring the county, playing and evangelizing.
Separation of the Community and Late Period of the Team
By the late 1920s, Benjamin Purnell had come into some legal troubles surrounding sexual indiscretions with the women of the community, and was expelled from the Israelite House of David. The Community stayed together until 1927 when Purnell died. Upon his death, the community divided into two factions. The first was led by Mary Purnell, wife of Benjamin. The second faction did not believe Mary to have any authority over the group and was led by a council of elders. Mary's faction, the smaller of the two, purchased a plot of land across the street from the original community and became the City of David. Both the Israelite House of David and Mary's City of David fielded teams, and for publicity purposes, both used the House of David name.
The House of David continued to sponsor barnstorming teams well into the 1930s, and then sponsored teams in weekend semi-professional leagues 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 beards for publicity purposes. The most famous of these was probably the Black House of David, an all African-American barnstorming team that played solely within the Negro Leagues.
Myths and Legends
- MYTH: The House of David was a group of Jewish baseball players.
TRUTH: The Israelite House of David consider themselves Christian Israelites.
- MYTH: The House of David was a way for players kicked out of Organized Baseball to continue playing.
TRUTH: The House of David never hired a player that was blacklisted by Organized Baseball. If the House of David played a Major League team, they were required to submit all players' names to the Commissioner's Office for eligibility status review.
- MYTH: Babe Ruth played for the House of David, or that he was offered a contract.
TRUTH: Babe Ruth never played for the House of David Team. An offer was submitted by the House of David, and was never responded to.
- MYTH: A House of David pitcher once struck out Babe Ruth.
TRUTH: There is no evidence to support Babe Ruth ever visiting Benton Harbor, nor the barnstorming teams ever visiting Yankee Stadium.
- MYTH: One-armed baseball player Pete Gray played for The House of David Team.
TRUTH: Pete Gray played for one of the many House of David imitators.
- MYTH: The Black House of David were members of the colony in Benton Harbor.
TRUTH: The House of David never had an African-American member. The Black House of David was a team using the House of David name for promotional purposes.
- P.J. Dragseth: Baseball and the House of David: The Legendary Barnstorming Teams, 1915–1956, McFarland, Jefferson, NC, 2021. ISBN 978-1-4766-7011-9
Please visit these pages, and take note of some of the inventions claimed by both the Israelite House of David and Mary's City of David. House of David Research Project Baseball Library Page Israelite Baseball Israelite House of David Mary's City of David