Nathan "Nearest" Green

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Nathan "Nearest" Green
Bornc. 1820
Known forTeaching Jasper "Jack" Daniel, founder of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey
Historic image of Jack Daniel seated next to George Green, the son of Nathan "Nearest" Green.
19th-century Jack Daniel bottle jug stencil found 9" beneath ground surface where Nearest Green distilled whiskey in the mid-to-late 1800s.

Nathan "Nearest" Green (c. 1820 – unknown), incorrectly spelled "Nearis" in an 1880 census,[1][failed verification] was an American head stiller, more commonly referred to as a master distiller. Born into slavery and emancipated after the American Civil War, he taught his distilling techniques to Jack Daniel, founder of the Jack Daniel's Tennessee whiskey distillery. Green was hired as the first master distiller for Jack Daniel Distillery,[2] and he is the first African-American master distiller on record in the United States.[1]


Sometime in the 1850s, when Jack Daniel was a boy, he went to work for Dan Call, a preacher, grocer, and distiller.[3] According to company lore, the preacher was a busy man, and when he saw promise in young Jack, he taught him how to run his whiskey still.

However, in June 2016, The New York Times published a story identifying Daniel's true teacher as Green, one of Call's slaves.[4] The newspaper reported that historians and locals have known the Green story for decades.[4] Green's story – according to the article, "built on oral history and the thinnest of archival trails" – may never be definitively proved.[4] A USA Today article published in July 2017 corrected the Nearis spelling of his name and confirmed that Jack Daniel said his correct name was Nathan "Nearest" Green.[3]

Documentation shows that Green was owned by a firm known as Landis & Green, who likely hired him out to Call for a fee. Green was one of a few enslaved people who stayed on to work with Call after the Emancipation Proclamation.[5] When introducing Green to an 8-year old Jack Daniel, Call is quoted as saying, "Uncle Nearest is the best whiskey maker that I know of." Call reportedly said to Green, "I want [Jack] to become the world's best whiskey distiller – if he wants to be. You help me teach him."[6]

Green served as master distiller. According to one biographer, "Only a few years older than Jack, [Green] taught him all about the still."[7]

Known as Nearest Green,[6] or "Uncle Nearest",[1][4] he played the fiddle and was a lively entertainer. Green's descendants say this trait was passed down to his son, Jesse Green.

Slavery ended with ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1865. Daniel opened his distillery a year later and immediately employed two of Green's sons, George and Eli Green. In all, at least three of Green's sons were a part of the Jack Daniel Distillery staff: George Green, Edde Green, and Eli Green. At least four of Nearest's grandchildren joined the Jack Daniel team, Ott, Charlie, Otis, and Jesse Green. In all, seven straight generations of Nearest Green's descendants have worked for Jack Daniel Distillery, with three direct descendants continuing to work there as of November 2017.[8]

Nathan "Nearest" Green was married to Harriet Green, and they had 11 children together – nine sons and two daughters. Four of their sons, Louis, George, Jesse, and Eli, are listed in the 1870 census.[9] Seven of the sons and both daughters are listed in the 1880 federal census.[10]


Author Fawn Weaver launched the Nearest Green Foundation to commemorate Green. The foundation is responsible for a new museum, memorial park, and book about his life. In addition, it has established college scholarships for Green's descendants.[11][12]

In July 2017, Uncle Nearest, Inc., created a whiskey honoring the legacy of Nearest Green. Debuting as "Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey",[13][14] it was created by working with two Tennessee distilleries, but not Jack Daniel Distillery.[15][16][17][18]

In August 2017, Brown-Forman Corporation, which owns the Jack Daniel Distillery and brand, officially recognized Green as its first head stiller – now called master distiller – and added him to the company's website.[5] In October 2017, Brown-Forman added his legacy to its official tours and a large display at the Jack Daniel's Visitors Center.

In September 2017, the Nearest Green Foundation announced the inaugural class of descendants receiving full scholarships to college and grad school to continue their ancestor's legacy of excellence. The foundation is funded by the sales of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey and the sales of Jack Daniel's official biography, Jack Daniel's Legacy.[19][20]


  1. ^ a b c "About Nearest Green". Nearest Green Foundation. Retrieved July 24, 2017.
  2. ^ Ridgway Bigger, Jeanne (1972). "Jack Daniel Distillery and Lynchburg: A Visit to Moore County, Tennessee". Tennessee Historical Quarterly. 31 (1): 3–21. JSTOR 42623278.
  3. ^ a b Alfs, Lizzy (July 21, 2017). "Ex-slave who trained Jack Daniel gets new recognition". USA Today. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d Risen, Clay (June 25, 2016). "Jack Daniel's Embraces a Hidden Ingredient: Help From a Slave". The New York Times. Retrieved July 29, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Risen, Clay (August 15, 2017). "When Jack Daniel's Failed to Honor a Slave, an Author Rewrote History". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  6. ^ a b Green, Ben A. (1967). Jack Daniel's Legacy. Rich Printing Co. pp. 27–28.
  7. ^ Spoelman, Colin (2016). Dead Distillers: A History of the Upstarts and Outlaws Who Made American Spirits. Abrams. ISBN 978-1613128893.
  8. ^ "The lost story of Nearest Green, the slave who taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey". January 1, 2018. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  9. ^ Weaver, Fawn. "Researcher and founder Nearest Green Foundation". Nathan Green. Retrieved July 23, 2017.
  10. ^ "1880 United States Federal Census". Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  11. ^ "Foundation to Honor Ex-Slave Who Aided Jack Daniel's History". U.S. News & World Report. AP News. July 20, 2017. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  12. ^ Parker, Najja (July 26, 2017). "Organization to honor slave who taught Jack Daniel to make whiskey". The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC). Cox Media Inc. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  13. ^ "Unearthing the Story of Jack Daniel's Mentor". July 27, 2017. Archived from the original on October 5, 2017. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
  14. ^ "Nearest Green, The Man Who Taught Jack Daniels About Whiskey". Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  15. ^ "Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey - 100 Proof Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey – 100 Proof from Tennessee". Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  16. ^ "Uncle Nearest Whiskey Shares Their Story With KTLA".
  17. ^ "The origins of Jack Daniels finally revealed".
  18. ^ Bliss, Jessica (February 23, 2018). "A slave taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey. She's made telling his story her life's work". The Tennessean. Retrieved March 26, 2018.
  19. ^ "Nearest Green Legacy Scholarship - Nearest Green". April 28, 2017. Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  20. ^ Green, Ben A.; Weaver, Fawn (September 5, 2017). "Jack Daniel's Legacy". Grant Sidney Publishing. ISBN 978-0692938485.

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