Ex-slave who trained Jack Daniel gets new…

NASHVILLE The substantial contribution of a former slave on Jack Daniels history is being thrust into the limelight as Tennessees whiskey industry explodes.

New York Times best-selling author Fawn Weaver was struck by the story of Nathan Nearest Green, a slave from Lynchburg, Tenn., who taught Jack Daniel the craft of whiskey distilling, after aNew York Times articleabout Green went viral last year.

After thousands of hours spent researching the topic, Weaver announced this week the launch of the Nearest Green Foundation, an organization dedicated to honoring Greens involvement in the Tennessee whiskey industry.

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 Greens story and the community at large really stayed with me.


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Projects in the works for the foundation include a museum in Lynchburg dedicated to the history of Tennessee whiskey, the Nearest Green Memorial Park in Lynchburg, a book scheduled for completion this year and a scholarship fund to benefit Greens direct descendants.

Weaver and her husband purchased a 313-acre farm once owned by Dan Call, where Calls slave, Green, taught Daniel, a neighbor, how to make whiskey. The site was also home to the original Jack Daniels distillery. A two-room cabin where Green lived during the Civil War and a Greek revival home where Call and Daniel once lived are being rebuilt.

Fawn and Keith Weaver at the launch of Uncle Nearest 1856 Whiskey in Portland this month. (Photo: Photo by Paolo Ferraris of ALOR Consulting Agency)

Call eventually handed his still over to Daniel, and Weaver uncovered documents showing that the Daniel and Green families worked together for decades, according to a media release.

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

Tennessee whiskey is undoubtedlyhaving a moment. People from around the world are showing interest in the iconic product, which remains one of the states top exports. Just last month, the Tennessee Distillers Guild launched anofficial Tennessee Whiskey Trailto showcase the burgeoning industry and its history.

The whiskey boom has brought an unprecedented number of tourists to Tennessee distilleries, including Jack Daniels massive property in Lynchburg, which sees hundreds of thousands of visitors per year.

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Lee Kennedy of Leiper's Fork Distillery talks about the Tennessee Whiskey Trail which officially launches June 19. It's a 25-stop tour across the state that's expected to be a major expected to be a major tourism draw. Larry McCormack / The Tennessean

The behemoth distiller responsible for producing the vast majority of Tennessee whiskey recently started embracing Greens story and talking about his involvement during public tours, according to the Times article last year.

“Our primary ambition is to do all that should be done to honor the memory and role of Nearest Green and, therefore, we recognize any activity that supports this ultimate goal as worthy,” said Mark McCallum president of Jack Daniel’s Brands

Greens story is reflective of a much larger and mostly undocumented relationship between slavery and whiskey distilling in Tennessee. Weaver, through the foundation, hopes to highlight that untold history.

Uncle Nearest 1856 whiskey launches this month (Photo: Courtesy photo)

In her research, Weaver interviewed more than 100 people connected to Greens story, including his 106-year-old granddaughter and other descendants of Green.

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. Until now, only our family and a small community were aware of the impact our ancestor had on the Tennessee whiskey industry.

Separately, a group Weaver helped pull together is releasing a Tennessee whiskey this month called Uncle Nearest 1856.

When I met with the descendants of George Green, the son most known for helping his father, Nearest, and Jack Daniel in the whiskey business, I asked them what they thought was the best way to honor Nearest, Weaver said. Their response was, No one owes us anything. We know that. But putting his name on a bottle, letting people know what he did, would be great.

Follow Lizzy Alfs on Twitter: @lizzyalfs

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