High Island sits roughly ten miles west of Beaver Island in Lake Michigan. It has no people living there. So what does it have?

Unmarked graves.
Housing remains.
A possible hidden treasure of Spanish silver coins.
At one time it also had a place known as the “House of Virgins”.

As for a possible hidden treasure, the legend begins in the mid 1800s when Beaver Island was settled by a group of Mormons. A man searching for artifacts on High Island found a treasure filled with Spanish silver coins, believed to have been buried by the Mormons from Beaver Island. This led to speculation of other possible treasure hidden on this now-uninhabited island.

As for the unmarked graves, they contain past members of the House of David, buried with no ceremonies or grave markers, deep in the woods away from everyone else. The housing remains and belongings were from former House of David members.

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The man who founded the House of David was Benjamin Purnell along with his wife Mary, in Benton Harbor, 1903.

According to an article at Hometown History, members were required to give all their life savings to Purnell in exchange for eternal life...they would never die. When someone inevitably died, it was considered a lack of faith and buried in dishonor, with no marking or ceremony.

Most of these dead were buried in Benton Harbor and others on High Island. High Island was taken over by Purnell as a penal colony where offenders were sent to fend for themselves. They had to survive on their own, while still under the control of Purnell. Among other things, they were expected to grow vegetables and ship them back to Benton Harbor to the “good” members.

All commune members – male and female – were forbidden from eating meat, cutting their hair, owning anything, or having sex. That is, everyone except Benjamin. He felt it was his duty to have sex with all the female members, as a way of 'spiritual cleansing'.

Since Purnell was the only male having sex – with whomever he wanted – he had a place built in Benton Harbor for his stable of favorite women which he dubbed the “Shiloh House”, complete with private access to their bedrooms.

When other members began realizing what was going on, word got outside the commune and soon authorities were alerted. Wasting no time, Purnell had his favorite ladies shipped up to High Island, where he had an eight-sided cabin built to accommodate them, with guards to keep the island's male prisoners away. Thus it was called the “House of Virgins”. When inevitably asked where so many of the women were, he claimed they were either on vacation or off “berry-picking”.

Purnell referred to his stable of women as “lumber”. 'Green lumber' was his term for the underage girls and 'dry lumber' meant the older women he didn't have use for anymore. This was depicted in a note he wrote that ordered the women to be sent back from High Island to Benton Harbor: “Bring the lumber down. Leave the green lumber off at South Haven and bring the dry lumber through.”

Eventually, the outside knowledge of his antics was too widespread and Purnell was taken to court. However, in 1927 at age 66, he became sick and died, which was a sin against his own rules. He was buried in a mausoleum on the House of David colony grounds. His wife Mary died in 1953 at age 91.

Now all that's left on High Island is basically nothing and no people. There are remnants of buildings – including the 'House of Virgins' - hidden within the thick woods, and unmarked graves that are impossible to locate.

The Scandal of High Island

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