Brethren Historical Library and Archives

Hidden Gems: John Naas and the Potsdam Giants

by Haley Steinhilber, archival intern

Brethren Historical Library & Archives

John Naas gravesite in Amwell, NJ

Johannes Naas was born in the province of Westphalia, Germany around 1670. His defining feature was his height—he had a broad frame and stood a head taller than an average man.[1] Naas joined the Brethren congregation at Marienborn, where he served as a minister until persecution drove the Brethren to seek refuge in Krefeld.[2] In order to further spread the Brethren faith, Naas travelled the surrounding provinces with Jacob Preisz (Price).[3] Abraham Cassel highlighted the incident that has become legend in his biography of Johann Naas. The story was later reiterated in the children's book, The Tall Man.

As the story is told, during Naas and Price's journey, a Prussian officer captured John Naas due to his desirable height. The officers demanded that Naas agree to "be a soldier and personal bodyguard to the king of Prussia," however he refused despite continuous torture.[4] When the king questioned Naas, he replied "My captain is the great Prince Immanuel, our Lord Jesus Christ. I have espoused his cause and therefore cannot, and will not, forsake him." In response, the king released Naas and gave him a reward for his courage.[5]

Courtesy of Design Pics Historical

Army of Frederick William I of Prussia's army, known as the Potsdam Giants

This exact tale of Johannes Naas cannot be accurately verified due to the lack of documentation at the time, however King Frederick William I of Prussia was obsessed with acquiring high statured men for his army. Nicknamed "the Potsdam Giants," and "the Long Guys," the king's only requirement was that the soldiers were to be over six feet tall.[6]

Naas went on to emigrate to the New World, accompanied by his second wife Margaret Hauch, his daughter Elisabeth, and a group of other Brethren. After fourteen months of travel, they arrived in Pennsylvania in 1733 where they met Alexander Mack, Sr. The new Brethren immigrants settled near Amwell, New Jersey and established a new Brethren congregation. [7] Naas's voyage was documented by a long descriptive letter sent to his son left in Krefeld.[8]


[1] D.L. Miller and Galen B. Royer, Some Who Led, Brethren Publishing House, 1912, 13.

[2] Floyd E. Mallott, Studies in Brethren History, Brethren Publishing House, 1980, 38.

[3] D.L. Miller and Galen B. Royer, Some Who Led, Brethren Publishing House, 1912, 13.

[4] Dorothy and Carl Brandt Davis, The Tall Man, Brethren Press, 1996.

[5] Don Durnbaugh, "John Naas: Contender for Christ," Gospel Messenger, 10 May 1958, 13-15. https://archive.org/stream/gospelmessengerv107mors#page/n595/mode/2up; D.L. Miller and Galen B. Royer, Some Who Led, Brethren Publishing House, 1912, 13.

[6] Tom Garner, "The Potsdam Giants: How the King of Prussia ‘Bred' an army of super soldiers," History Answers, 16 March 2016. https://www.historyanswers.co.uk/history-of-war/the-potsdam-giants-how-the-king-of-prussia-bred-an-army-of-super-soldiers/ Accessed 26 Oct 2017.

[7] D.L. Miller and Galen B. Royer, Some Who Led, Brethren Publishing House, 1912, 14.

[8] Don Durnbaugh, European Origins