John Naas, History and Voyage to America
Naas Ancestry of the Eikenberrys via the Landis Family
Johannes Naas was born in 1669 in Nordheim in the Palatinate, Germany. He and his wife settled in Dudelsheim in the Marienborn area around 1710, and at about that time John Naas joined Alexander Mack and his newly formed (1708) Church of the Brethren (See attached short history of the Church of the Brethren.) John Naas was a minister in the Marienborn area by 1714, and when the Brethren were expelled in 1715, the Naas family moved to Krefeld. John Naas served there as an elder of the congregation. After 1715 Naas traveled extensively in Germany and Switzerland for the Brethren, preaching, baptizing and holding love feasts. The Brethren Encyclopedia contains a map showing the European origins of the Brethren in 1708 and shows the areas where John Naas lived and worked.
According to tradition, John Naas was a man of commanding figure. He was a head taller than any other person in the community, and was possessed of a stout, athletic constitution, combined with such grace and nobility of demeanor as almost to strike a stranger with awe. Creyfelt (Krefeld) was under control of the King of Prussia who was especially anxious to secure tall, strong men for his own body guard. One day when Naas was traveling with Brother Jacob Priesz, they met the king’s recruiting officers, whereupon Naas was seized and urged to enlist. When he refused, they tortured him to compel him to submit. These tortures consisted of pinching, thumbscrewing, etc., but he steadfastly refused. They then hung him up with a heavey cord by his left thumb and right great toe, in which painful position they intended to leave him suspended until he should yield to their demands. He still did not consent, and fearing they would kill him if they continued the torture, they cut him down and dragged him by force before the king. It is said that the king let him go and gave him a gold piece when he said he could only serve one king, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Move to America
Alexander Mack, the founder of the Church of the Brethren, held Elder Naas in high esteem and encouraged him to emigrate to America. At the same time sectarianism, quarrelsomeness and discord spread throughout the whole awakening in Germany. In 1733, Elder Naas left his older children behind and came to America with his second wife, Margaret, and his daughter Elizabeth. They traveled on the Brigantine Pennsylvania Merchant arriving in September 1733. John Naas wrote a letter back to his son, Jacob Naas, describing the conditions of the trip, and encouraging him to come to America, which he did in 1735. The full context of this letter is given in European Origins of the Brethren and at the end of the letter he sends greetings from "Mother and Elizabeth" so we know they accompanied him to America.
The parentage of Elizabeth is not completely clear. Brumbaugh in 1899 wrote about John Naas: "He was born about 1670, at Norten in Westphalia, and was twice married. His first wife died in Germany. By this marriage he had at least one child, a daughter, who became the wife of Brother William Grau of Creyfelt. His second wife, Margaret, and a daughter, Elizabeth, accompanied him to America in 1733, a married son, Jacob Wilhelm, remained in Germany until 1735." This seems to imply that Elizabeth was daughter of Margaret but is not totally definitive.
The Move to New Jersey
Alexander Mack begged John Naas to forgive and forget what happened in Europe, which he did, and once more joined with the Brethren. Naas’ thoughts were very much along the lines of those of the Ephrata Cloister, but Alexander Mack prevented him from joining them. Instead Naas moved to Amwell, New Jersey, and supervised the Brethren Community there.
Elder Naas developed a flourishing congregation in Amwell, New Jersey, and also helped start more congregations in Pennsylvania. Naas’s daughter Elizabeth married our ancestor, Heinrich Hirt Landis, at Amwell in 1737.
A letter written by one of the Brethren, Spangenberg, in November 1737, described much strife among the Brethren, particularly over the degree of discipline practiced in marrying and the raising of children. He described a group known as the Separatists who began to hold separate meetings with some of the older Brethren who desired a return to the old ways. In this same letter he mentions that the Brethren at Amwell also split. They too, insisted on discipline and agreed to curtail the socializing and pairing off of the young people. He says: "…Now Naas’ [daughter] was found quilty of sitting with a man who tried to force her to immorality and of not removing herself from this person. Rather she remained in his lap for about an hour as if she were asleep. Therefore all of the Brethren found it necessary to exclude her from the breaking of bread and the kiss of love. However, her father thought, since she had not actually committed fornication, this would not do. He sided with her and accused all the Brethren of judging wrongly. Thus he separated himself, later attracted many to his side, and is now holding a separate meeting. I wrote to him urgently concerning this and faithfully admonishing him; however, it was to no avail…" (Durnbaugh, The Brethren in Colonial America, page 275.) We sincerely hope that it was Henry Landis that our ancestor Elizabeth Naas was with!
The ability of Naas to attract people is clear in these histories. Naas was one of the great preachers and church leaders of the Brethren in Europe and America. He wrote hymns, many of which were published. He did not share Hans Heinrich Landis’ animosity toward Conrad Beissel, holding a kindly regard for him until his death, and being much impressed with the community at Ephrata. John Naas died in 1741 and is buried near Amwell, New Jersey. (Amwell is now called Ringoes and is about 11 miles north of Trenton.)
We would encourage descendants to read the translation of John Nass’s letter in European Origins of the Brethren. The ship, Pennsylvania Merchant, was a brigantine, among the smaller of rigged ships. Other emigrants often suffered worse conditions than Naas describes, bu this letter does give a flabor or what our various ancestors experienced in crossing the Atlantic. It also reveals the intellect and education of our ancestor. I cannot reproduce it here due to copyright but do have a copy which I will send anyone who is not able to access the book. See email address at the bottom of the page.
This page was created July 2007.
References: The Brethren Encyclopedia 3 Vols, Philadelphia and Oak Brook, Illinois, 1983.
European Origins of the Brethren, A Source Book on the Beginnings of the Church of the Brethren in the Early Eighteenth Century, compiled and translated by Donald F. Durnbaugh, The Brethren Press, Elgin, Illinois, Fourth Printing 1986
A History of the German Baptist Brethern in Europe and America, Martin Grove Brumbaugh, 1899, reprinted 1971
Howe's Historical Collections of Ohio, Volumes I and II Henry Howe and Son, Columbus, Ohio, 1891
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