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Foundation honors Nearest Green, the slave who taught Jack Daniel to make whiskey

Author Fawn Weaver is determined to keep the distiller’s legacy alive

Nathan “Nearest” Green, the slave responsible for teaching Jack Daniel the art of whiskey distilling, is being honored by a foundation that is building a memorial park and creating a college scholarship fund for his descendants.

The Nearest Green Foundation was launched by best-selling author Fawn Weaver. “Here was this incredible story of a slave who was the first African-American master distiller on record in the United States, who taught one of the world’s most recognizable men and then following slavery became the first master distiller for what is now one of the top whiskey brands in the world,” Weaver wrote on the foundation’s website. “So little of the details had been passed down beyond the first few generations that the story of Nearest Green had turned into a bit of folklore.”

She first learned about Green from a New York Times article last year. The seldom-told story piqued Weaver’s curiosity enough to tell the complete story of Green and his descendants.

The first mention of Green in the Jack Daniel’s timeline begins in 1864. As a young man, Daniel left home to live and work on a farm that belonged to Rev. Dan Call, a Lutheran minister who lived a few miles from Lynchburg, Tennessee. Green, a slave at the time, was tasked with watching and caring for Call. Daniel and Green worked closely together. Although Call was credited for teaching Daniel the tricks of whiskey distilling, it was Green who spent the time and effort to carefully walk Daniel through the process.

According to the site, Call would have to make a tough decision after the Civil War. His congregation and wife urged Call to either walk away from the whiskey business or leave his post as a minister. Call chose to sell his whiskey business to Daniel. As a thank you to Green, Daniel hired the now-free man as his first head distiller at the Jack Daniel Distillery. Green worked with Daniel until 1881, when Daniel moved the operation to the Cave Spring Hollow location. Green’s sons, George and Eli, and grandsons Ott, Jesse and Charlie all worked at the new location to keep the family tradition alive.

Since last year, Weaver has gathered more than 20 historians, archaeologists, archivists, genealogists, researchers and conservators to help bring Green’s story together in its entirety. More than 10,000 original documents and artifacts passed down through generations have been offered to Weaver, with help from the Lynchburg community.

“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 told The Atlanta-Journal Constitution. “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.’ ”

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.