In the late nineteenth century, Benton Harbor, Michigan, was little more than a sleepy small town located on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. The arrival of Israelite preachers Benjamin and Mary Purnell in March 1903 ultimately made Benton Harbor the home of two extraordinarily prosperous communal societies and a thriving destination resort for the burgeoning city of Chicago just across the lake. It is my firm conviction that by the time of their arrival in southwestern Michigan the Purnells had learned how powerful the printed word could be. By December 1903, the Purnells’ nascent colony had established a print shop with press, type, ink, and paper. It disseminated their message of salvation widely, and attracted converts from as far away as England and Australia. They owned their press, and they used the guarantee of freedom of the press with acuity and purpose. What follows is a concise history of the two communal societies, and a discussion of four early Israelite publications only recently discovered.
American Communal Societies Quarterly