Food & Drinks

A Black Man Taught Jack Daniels How To Distill Whiskey & Now He’s Getting The Credit He Deserves

The sordid history of Jack Daniels whiskey is something that the New York Times began exploring last year. Fawn Weaver was vacationing in Singapore when she first read about Nathan “Nearest” Green, a slave who taught the real Jack Daniels how to distill whiskey. She couldn’t believe that this particular note in the company’s history wasn’t something that Brown-Forman, the company that owns the Jack Daniel Distillery, regularly recognized.

Weaver decided to take a trip to Lynchburg, Tennessee to check out the distillery for herself to see if she could find any traces of Green.

jack daniels

The sordid history of Jack Daniels whiskey is something that the New York Times began exploring last year. Fawn Weaver was vacationing in Singapore when she first read about Nathan “Nearest” Green, a slave who taught the real Jack Daniels how to distill whiskey. She couldn’t believe that this particular note in the company’s history wasn’t something that Brown-Forman, the company that owns the Jack Daniel Distillery, regularly recognized.

Weaver decided to take a trip to Lynchburg, Tennessee to check out the distillery for herself to see if she could find any traces of Green.

jack daniels distillery
 “I went on three tours of the distillery, and nothing, not a mention of him,” Weaver said.

The company was founded in 1866, but sometime in the 1950s when Jack Daniel was young, he went off to work for Dan Call, a preacher and distiller. While there, Call became too busy to distill on his own so he taught Daniel how to run things with the distillery. As one of Call’s rented slaves, Green schooled Daniel on the tricks of the trade, lessons that Daniel took to heart and used when he created his own whiskey.

 “It was jarring that arguably one of the most well-known brands in the world was created, in part, by a slave,” Weaver added.
jack daniels distillery

Green’s legacy has been ignored in Jack Daniels’ history, but during the 150 year anniversary celebration of the brand in 2016, Brown-Forman officially acknowledged that Green was the reason that Daniel knew how to perfectly (arguably) make whiskey. They now list Green as their first master distiller and Daniel as the second.

Cool, but where is his money?

After touring the Jack Daniels distillery, Weaver went through a number of historical records and even tracked down Green’s family who still lived in the area. Weaver rented a house in Lynchburg and uncovered that Green may have been the first black master distiller in history. She believes that she’s located the farm where Green and Daniel first began distilling together and Weaver hopes to one day turn it into a memorial park for Green.

fawn weaver

Weaver’s curiosity has become her passion and partnered with another Tennessee distillery to create her own whiskey called Uncle Nearest 1856. Her findings are a huge turning point because it proves that as we uncover America’s sordid history we’ll find that those that were treated as being inferior-minded and enslaved in this country were also the brains behind some of its most celebrated and popularized inventions.

Her diligence has led Brown-Forman to officially confirm Nearest Green as their first master distiller in May. Weaver is also writing a book about Green and has recently launched her own whiskey brand Uncle Nearest 1856.

jack daniels nearest weaver

News Channel 5/ Jack Daniels (right) with man who is believed to be Nearest Green (left)

Steve May, the director of the Jack Daniels visitors center and tours said that Green is an integral part of the company and they now let people know how important he is. “We want to get across that Nearest Green was a mentor to Jack,” he said. “We have five different tour scripts, and each one incorporates Nearest. I worked some long days to get those ready.”

For now, Weaver is hoping to find out what happened to Green after 1884 when he disappears from public records and private folklore. She did track down his family in St. Louis, some of which she plans on visiting. “I could be doing this the rest of my life,”  Weaver said.

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