Jack Daniels Whiskey 'Re Writes' a WrongThe story of Nearest Green

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Jack Daniels Whiskey 'Re Writes' a WrongThe story of Nearest Green

Jack Daniels Whiskey 'Re Writes' a Wrong

                                                            The forgotten story of 'Nearest' Green.

During the era of oppression and 'Jim Crow' in America's south, a kinship & bond was born between to men from different backgrounds that  created one of America’s best known brands – Jack Daniel’s whiskey.     A young Jack Daniel, who was orphaned at the age of 16, went to work on a farm as a chore boy for a preacher and distillery owner in his hometown of Lynchburg, Tennessee in the early 1800s.     It was there that he met a black man a slave by the name of Nathan Green, nicknamed 'Nearest'.     Green had been sold and sent to Tennessee from Maryland, where he was rented out to a preacher named Dan Call, & worked as a distiller on Call's property. Over the years, Nearest became Jack’s mentor and teacher. He showed him the methods he had painstakingly perfected of charcoal mellowing, the signature of all Tennessee whiskey, which became the process for brewing the famous Jack Daniel’s product. He later became one of the wealthiest and highest regarded African-American men in Tennessee, and the first master distiller of Jack Daniel’s whiskey.

Nathan Green's name, however, was missing from the story of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey. Despite it being well known among the Green and Daniel families that remain in the small community of Lynchburg,   But the story had disappeared from America's collective memory and from the company’s own telling of the Jack Daniel’s story.   One author and researcher has made it her mission to change that however. Her name is Fawn Weaver & she has begun to piece together the life story of Nearest Green after spending months living in Lynchburg and even purchasing Dan Call’s farm where Jack and Nearest worked together more than 150 years earlier.    When Fawn Weaver first read about Nearest Green, she felt his story had to be told & she would be the person to tell it.  

Hoping to learn more about Nearest Green, Mrs Weaver bought the first biography written on the whiskey distiller: Jack Daniel’s Legacy. As she read, she was immediately struck by how often Nearest and his sons were mentioned in the book, which was published back in 1967.   She investigated more, and found an article written in a local Tennessee paper in 1974 that listed Nearest Green as the first master distiller at Jack Daniel’s.   But when Mrs Weaver visited the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg, there was no mention of Nearest during the facility’s tour. She went on the tour once more, and then again, just to be certain. Nearest’s name or influence was never mentioned.  ‘To this day I don’t know how Nearest ended up being hidden. I really don’t,’ she said. ‘Because when Jack was alive he never hid him. When Jack’s descendants ran the distillery, they never hid who he was or what he did. The relationship between Jack’s descendants and Nearest’s descendants were one that was rare between blacks and whites. They would’ve stood out.  In the town of Lynchburg, they always knew.’

After spending months poring over more than 10,000 historical documents and connecting with nearly 100 of Nearest’s remaining family members from across the nation – Fawn has pieced together what she can of Nearest Green’s life in her ‘research room’.   When Jack met Nearest, the two took on what Mrs Weaver believes to be a relationship of mentorship and mutual respect.     ‘When you consider a young man who has no parents, you’re going to gravitate to successful adults no matter what. Nearest, as odd as it may sound and seem to many, right after the Civil War was one of the wealthiest African Americans in Lynchburg and in the surrounding areas.  ‘More importantly, he had a greater personal wealth than many of the white people who lived there. Nearest was highly regarded and highly compensated for his skill set,’ she continued.    Fawn mused on what their friendship might have looked like to others in Tennessee during the height of the Civil War.With a booming laugh, she said: ‘You have to think about how interesting this must’ve looked, these two men going through town. Nearest, who I’m guessing was somewhere around 6 feet if not taller, and Jack, who was five foot two. The sight of that spectacle walking through town had to just be so interesting.’   Thus began a relationship that survived generations to come – and served as the base of a company that now nets approximately $3billion in annual revenue.

 It is known that Nearest went on to have 11 children, who became very close with Jack Daniel and his family in Lynchburg. Even to this day, the descendants of Nearest Green and those of Jack Daniel have a relationship of mutual solidarity – and have worked together with Mrs Weaver to compose the Green family tree and push Nearest’s story into the limelight.   It seemed that the community jumped at the opportunity to share the history they were proud to uphold; one of divided races working together. Even the eldest of ancestors wanted to impart any pieces of oral history they could share that could be of help to Fawn’s research. Nearest Green’s oldest living relative, Mrs Weaver said, just turned 107 – and played a crucial part in providing details that strung the family’s history together.   Strangely, Mrs Weaver noted, most of the information that led to breakthroughs in her research came from members of the community who were white.

With a half-million dollar investment to fund the creation of his own whiskey brand, Uncle Nearest 1856, and the establishment of a scholarship fund to send Nearest’s ancestors to college, Fawn hopes that the name Nearest Green and his legacy can finally be immortalized.    They chose the year 1856 to add to the title because it’s the year they believe he helped perfect the Lincoln County process – a special type of charcoal mellowing filtration named after the county he lived in that makes Tennessee whiskey unique from any other kind in the world.The whiskey, which characterizes its taste as ‘bold and spicy upfront then mellows with sweet caramel and maple, like biting into an oatmeal raisin cookie,’ has been flying off the shelves. It is available at 70 stores in the Nashville area, but ships across the country to 46 states.‘It’s not just African-Americans who are going into the store and buying this, it’s everyone. People want to be a part of cementing this man’s history – which is absolutely unbelievable,’ Mrs Weaver said.

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