Nathan "Nearest" Green

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Nathan "Nearest" Green
Born c. 1820
Residence Lynchburg, Tennessee
Occupation Distiller
Known for Teaching Jack Daniel, founder of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey
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), incorrectly spelled "Nearis" in an 1880 census,[1] was an African-American head stiller, commonly referred to now as a master distiller. Born into slavery and emancipated after the Civil War, he is known as the master distiller who taught distilling techniques to Jack Daniel, founder of the Jack Daniel Tennessee whiskey distillery. Green was hired as the first master distiller for Jack Daniel Distillery[2] and he was 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 said that the Green story has been known to historians and locals for decades, even as the distillery officially ignored it.[4] Green's story – 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 spelling of his name (Nearis) and confirmed that Jack Daniel said his correct name was Nathan "Nearest" Green.[3][5]

Green was documented as being 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 worked for Call who stayed on with him after Emancipation.[6] 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."[7]

Green served as master distiller. According to one biographer, "Only a few years older than Jack, [Green] taught him all about the still."[8]

Known as Nearest Green,[7] or "Uncle Nearest" (at times misspelled as "Nearis"),[1][4] he played the fiddle and was a lively entertainer. Green 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, immediately employing 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 descendants have worked for Jack Daniel Distillery, with three direct descendants continuing to work there in the early 21st century .[1]

Nathan "Nearest" Green was married to Harriet Green, and they had eleven 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.[citation needed]


Author Fawn Weaver launched the Nearest Green Foundation to commemorate Green. It is responsible for a new museum, memorial park, and book about his life. In addition, the Foundation has established college scholarships for his descendants.[10][11]

In August 2017, the Brown-Forman Corporation, which owns the Jack Daniel's Distillery and brand, officially recognized Green as their first head stiller (now called a master distiller), adding him to their website.[6] In October 2017, they added his legacy to their tours.

July 2017, Uncle Nearest, Inc. created a bottle of whiskey honoring the legacy of Nearest Green and debuted "Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey."[12][13][14] "Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey" was created by working with two Tennessee distilleries, but not Jack Daniel's Distillery.[15][16][17][18]

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 d "About Nearest Green". Nearest Green Foundation. Retrieved July 24, 2017. 
  2. ^ Bigger, Jeanne Ridgway (1972). "Jack Daniel Distillery and Lynchburg: A Visit to Moore County, Tennessee". Tennessee Historical Quarterly. 31 (1): 3–21. doi:10.2307/42623278 (inactive 2018-05-04). 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. ^ "Ex-slave who trained Jack Daniel gets new recognition", USA Today
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ a b Green, Ben A. (1967). Jack Daniel's Legacy. Rich Printing Co. pp. 27–28. 
  8. ^ Spoelman, Colin (2016). Dead Distillers: A History of the Upstarts and Outlaws Who Made American Spirits. Abrams. ISBN 1613128894. 
  9. ^ Weaver, Fawn. "Researcher and founder Nearest Green Foundation". Nathan Green. Retrieved July 23, 2017. 
  10. ^ "Foundation to Honor Ex-Slave Who Aided Jack Daniel's History". US News & World Report. AP News. July 20, 2017. Retrieved August 15, 2017. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^[dead link]
  13. ^ "Nearest Green, The Man Who Taught Jack Daniels About Whiskey". Retrieved August 15, 2018. 
  14. ^ "Slave who mentored Jack Daniel, taught him to make whiskey, remembered". 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 0692938486. Retrieved March 18, 2018. 

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