Uncle Nearest: The Slave Who Taught Jack Daniel

A while ago I explained in “Lost History of Knob Creek” how American history of whiskey production is tied to slavery.

In particular, Jack Daniel took his recipe from emancipated slaves even though he used his own name for the brand.

Now the man who taught Jack Daniel, “Nearis” Green, is getting his own brand. Proceeds from the sale of this new whiskey are going to fund college education of master distiller Nearest’s descendants

See if you can trace how the story originally flowed from “never a secret” to “embrace, tentatively” to “gauzy and unreliable” to “never be definitively proved”…

Daniel, the company now says, didn’t learn distilling from Dan Call, but from a man named Nearis Green — one of Call’s slaves.

This version of the story was never a secret, but it is one that the distillery has only recently begun to embrace, tentatively, in some of its tours, and in a social media and marketing campaign this summer.

[…]

Frontier history is a gauzy and unreliable pursuit, and Nearis Green’s story — built on oral history and the thinnest of archival trails — may never be definitively proved.

Then a successful writer comes onto the scene and quickly realizes there is a market for trust and ethics, scientifically eroding the structural white supremacist deception and lies that intentionally obscure roots of American innovation.

…when she got to Lynchburg, she found no trace of Green. “I went on three tours of the distillery, and nothing, not a mention of him,” she said.

Rather than leave, Ms. Weaver dug in, determined to uncover more about Green and persuade Brown-Forman to follow through on its promise to recognize his role in creating America’s most famous whiskey. She rented a house in downtown Lynchburg, and began contacting Green’s descendants, dozens of whom still live in the area.

Scouring archives in Tennessee, Georgia and Washington, D.C., she created a timeline of Green’s relationship with Daniel, showing how Green had not only taught the whiskey baron how to distill, but had also gone to work for him after the Civil War, becoming what Ms. Weaver believes is the first black master distiller in America. By her count, she has collected 10,000 documents and artifacts related to Daniel and Green, much of which she has agreed to donate to the new National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.

So much for the thinnest of archival trails. Congratulations to Ms. Weaver and the Green family for restoring and preserving American history.