How One Black Woman Celebrated Whiskey’s Black Roots When Jack Daniel’s Wouldn’t

By Sameer Rao Aug 17, 2017

Far fewer people know of Nathan "Nearest" Green than the White man who he, while enslaved in the antebellum South, taught to distill whiskey. That White man’s namesake brand, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, finally recognized him last year when, as The New York Times reported at the time, it started acknowledging Green’s instrumental role. The news prompted best-selling author Fawn Weaver ("Happy Wives Club") to visit Jack Daniel’s Lynchburg, headquarters. That trip, she explains in a Times story published Tuesday (August 15), started a year’s worth of exploration that ended in greater recognition—and a new whiskey brand featuring Green’s name. 

Weaver says that she went on three tours of the Lynchburg distillery, none of which mentioned Green at all. That’s when she started reviewing primary source documents and contacting Green’s living relatives to better understand his life. She plans to turn that story, abridged by the Times below, into a book: 

According to Ms. Weaver, Green was rented out by his owners, a firm called Landis & Green, to farmers around Lynchburg, including Dan Call, a wealthy landowner and preacher who also employed a teenager named Jack Daniel to help make whiskey. Green, already adept at distilling, took Daniel under his wing and, after the Civil War and the end of slavery, went to work for him in his fledgling whiskey operation.

In all likelihood, there were many other men like Green, scattered around the South. Records are spotty, though references to slaves skilled in distilling and whiskey making pop up in slave sales and runaway-slave ads from the early 19th century. But only one of them helped found a whiskey brand that today generates about $3 billion a year in revenue.

But she isn’t stopping there. She also started the Nearest Green Foundation, which seeks to preserve his legacy in a forthcoming Lynchburg memorial park, and introduced Uncle Nearest 1856 whiskey to bars and liquor stores around the country. 

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