Unearthing The Story Of Nearest Green, Jack Daniel's Mentor

Posted at 8:06 PM, Jul 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-26 21:07:30-04

Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey is one of the most well-known brands in the world, producing whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee and sending it to all corners of the globe, but a name many don't know is Nathan "Nearest" Green, the man who taught Jack Daniel how to create whiskey when Jack was a young child. 

The story goes that a young Jack Daniel left his home at a young age and found his way to Dan Call's farm. When he was there, he was eventually taught the trade of making and selling whiskey.

The master distiller at Dan Call's distillery was a man named Nathan Green, but he was known to many as Nearest Green or Uncle Nearest. Nearest Green was the first master distiller in the United States. 

Nearest Green was a former slave who was emancipated following the Civil War, and when Jack arrived at the farm and got interested in making whiskey, Dan Call set the wheels in motion.

"Dan essentially said to him (Nearest), 'Teach him everything you know about whiskey. I want him (Jack) to be the best," Fawn Weaver, a researcher and author who started the Nearest Green Foundation, said. 

From that moment on, Nearest and Jack became close, even when Jack left Dan Call's farm and opened his own distillery. While Nearest didn't move to the new distillery with Jack, three of his sons did, and ever since Jack Daniel opened his own distillery, seven generations of Green's descendants have worked at Jack Daniel's. 

That history is one of the reasons that Weaver wanted to uncover the history of Jack and Nearest's relationship, and the way that Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey came to be. 

Weaver is working to fix up the Dan Call Farm, have archeologists come in and excavate the site of the old distillery, and Weaver plans to open the site up for people to come by and learn the history. 

"When people come through here, they will hear a story of Lynchburg, of Jack Daniel, and of his mentor, Nearest Green," Weaver said. 

The original spring has been restored and the original pipe that used to funnel water into the distillery is still present, giving visitors a glimpse into the old ways of creating whiskey. 

But beyond the impact on business, Weaver says that Jack and Nearest's relationship had a large impact on race relations in a time where tensions were high.

The two became close friends and their families bonded. Nearest was paid well, respected by Jack, and when Jack opened his own distillery, his workers were not paid based on their race, but rather based on the work they put in. 

Weaver believes that philosophy and the relationship Jack had with Nearest made Lynchburg one of the most accepting places even in a time of great turmoil, just after the Civil War. 

"Jack always had either Nearest of Nearest's boys by his side," Weaver explained. "It's really hard to be racist when you're living in a town where the big man in town always has blacks around him, and I think it says a great deal about who Jack was." 

At Jack Daniel's, the company itself is choosing to highlight the story of Nearest Green more on tours as interest in Jack's mentor has spiked. 

"Working side-by-side with Nearest and really being color blind, I mean, that's an important story to tell," Nelson Eddy, Jack Daniel's historian, said. 

To celebrate Nearest, Weaver plans to not only fix up the farm and old distillery to tell his tale, but through the foundation, she plans to open a park in Lynchburg for Nearest Green, set up a scholarship for Nearest's descendants, and create a whiskey museum that will feature Nearest Green's story.

Weaver also worked to help produce a new whiskey that honors Nearest Green named "Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey". 

The whiskey is made to honor a man who according to Weaver is the best whiskey maker the world never knew, and she hopes that changes with the education and outreach being put together. 

"I hope that when people say Johnnie Walker, Jack Daniel, Colonel E.H. Taylor, they say Uncle Nearest, or Nearest Green, or Nathan Green, that they include him in the conversation of those who are considered the best of the best from the very beginning," Weaver said. 

The Dan Call Farm is expected to be open to the public by the end of the year, and the Uncle Nearest Whiskey is set to be released in Nashville on July 27th.