By Susan Newby
In Middle Tennessee and across the nation, really the world, we all familiar with two regional distilleries: Jack Daniels in Lynchburg and George Dickel in Tullahoma,
But do you know the story of Nathan “Nearest” Green, known as Uncle Nearest in his hometown of Lynchburg?
Nearest Green was the first African-American master distiller on record in the United States, born into slavery and emancipated with the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
But what does Nearest Green have to do with anything, you may well be asking.
While for the longest time the “official” story of the legendary Jack Daniel (the founder of you know what) learned his trade sometimes in the 1860s when as a lad he went to work for Dan Call, a preacher, grocer and distiller, was that the truth?
Not even close.
In June 2016, The New York Times published a story revealing Daniel’s true teacher to be one of Call’s slaves – one Nathan “Nearest” Green. According to the Times article, Green’s story was “built on oral history and the thinnest of archival trails.”
When Jack Daniel opened his distillery the year after the Emancipation, he hired two of Green’s sons, George and Eli Green and soon a third, Eddie Green. In all, seven straight generations of Nearest Green’s descendants have worked for Jack Daniels Distillery.
Fawn Weaver, author of “Happy Wives Club,” had read the Times article and was determined to prove the story true, targeting Nearest Green’s story as material for her next book.
Her diligent research and a chance encounter, as well as an epiphany after watching the movie “Hidden Figures,” resulted in the founding of the Nearest Green Distillery, located on the 270-acre site in Shelbyville formerly known as Sand Creek Farms.
Join us next week for more of the fascinating story that led to ensuring the legacy of Nathan “Nearest” Green as the “Godfather of Tennessee Whiskey”