Enslaved Man Who Taught Jack Daniel How to Make Whiskey Gets New Recognition

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In an undated photograph, Jack Daniel, center white hat, and to the left, a man who could be a son of Nearest Green, who taught Daniel how to make whiskey. (Photo by Handout/New York Times)

Dazzled by the story of a former slave’s involvement in the making of the most popular whiskey brand in the U.S., a New York Times best-selling author made it her mission to honor that man in nearly a dozen unique ways.

On Thursday, July 20, acclaimed relationship author Fawn Weaver announced plans to launch a number of special projects aimed at honoring Nathan “Nearest” Green, the formerly enslaved Black man credited with teaching Jack Daniel the art of distilling the famous whiskey. Green’s role at the Tennessee distillery was thrust into the spotlight last year when The New York Times published an article on it.

“The idea that there were positive stories out there of whites and Blacks working side by side, through and beyond the Civil War, resonated with me,” Weaver said in a statement. “I liked the story of Jack Daniel, but Nearest Green’s story and the community at large really stayed with me.”

Weaver has since launched the Nearest Green Foundation, an organization created to honor Green’s involvement in the Tennessee whiskey industry, according to The Tennessean. The foundation already has several projects in the works, including a memorial park, a museum in Lynchburg dedicated to the history of Tennessee whiskey, a book chronicling Green’s life and a scholarship fund for his direct descendants.

A press release stated that Weaver and her husband purchased the old 313-acre farm once owned by minister Dan Call, where the original Jack Daniel’s distillery was located. This also was where Green, who belonged to Call, taught Daniel the art of crafting quality Tennessee whiskey. Green served as the brand’s master distiller until at least 1881, according to the release.

“It was on the Call farm that young Jack became one of the world’s most famous pupils and Uncle Nearest, the greatest teacher in the fine art of distilling Tennessee whiskey,” Weaver said.

Call eventually handed the still over to Daniel. Decades later, Weaver uncovered documents showing that the Green and Daniel families had worked with each other for years. As part of her research, the best-selling author interviewed over 100 people, including Green’s 106-year-old granddaughter, descendants of Jack Daniel and other members of Green’s family, the media release stated.

“When Fawn contacted us, we were excited to hear that someone was bringing to light all of this information about our family,” said Mitchell Green, Nearest’s great grandson. “Until now, only our family and a small community were aware of the impact our ancestor had on the Tennessee whiskey industry.”

Among other things, the Nearest Green Foundation plans to place artifacts on permanent loan to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture and is working to rename a local street to Nearest Green Way. A new Tennessee whiskey called Uncle Nearest 1856 is set to hit shelves this month, according to The Tennessean.

Weaver has since rewritten the foreword and preface for Jack Daniel’s official biography to include Green’s story.

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