What started with a small trickle of water from a hillside spring in Lynchburg, Tennessee has been changing the world in unforeseen ways since the mid-1800s. It was that very spring where a man who was once listed as property changed the world. That man’s name was nearly lost to the annals of history if it not were for a handful of people that kept the story and memory alive.
That man was Nearest Green, the man that taught a young Jack Daniel how to distill. The two were introduced by Preacher Dan Call on his 313 acre farm in Lynchburg. At the urging of his wife and his congregation Minister Dan Call had to make a decision between preaching and distilling. Dan Call decided to stick with his church and sold Call and Call Distillery to a young Jack Daniel. Jack changed the name of the distillery to Jack Daniel Distillery, one of the best known brands of distilled spirits and Tennessee Whiskey’s known the world round. The first thing Jack did was to hire Nearest Green to be his distiller, a position today that we commonly call Master Distiller.
The story of Jack Daniel, known as Uncle Jack and Nearest Green, known as Uncle Nearest was well known in Lynchburg in the late 1800s. Nearest and his family were one of the most respected, wealthy and well known families in the area. When Uncle Jack relocated the distillery to its current location in Lynchburg Uncle Nearest decided to retire. Over time the Nearest Green name was mostly forgotten. Toss Prohibition into the mix with a 13 year distilling dry spell when only a handful of distilleries were allowed to operate and a lot of distilled spirits history dried up and was lost forever.
The Four Keepers of the Nearest Green Story are all Connected
This is the actual spring on the Dan Call Farm where Uncle Nearest taught Uncle Jack how to distill. It flows to this day.
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The story of Nearest Green was mostly lost to time except for a handful of people that have some kind of kindred spirit that ties them altogether. Whether you call it luck or divine intervention this small handful of people have kept the story alive, nurtured it and continue to share it with the world.
According to Fawn Weaver Co-Founder and CEO of Nearest Green Distillery, here are the spirits that kept the story alive.
The first is Nearest Green’s Granddaughter Mammie Green. Mammie Green sits on the porch of her Lynchburg home just a stone’s throw from the Jack Daniel Distillery and she would say, “My granddaddy made the whiskey for that man.” Fawn says, “No one knew believed her at the time because the story wasn’t being told at the time but she made sure that her kids knew, her grandkids knew and every person who sat on her front porch…learned the story of her Granddaddy.”
The second person was Ben Green (no relation) a white reporter from Tuscaloosa, Alabama that came up to Lynchburg to write the authoritative story about Jack Daniel in 1967. That book mentioned the Green family name at least 50 times.
The third person was Clay Risen the New York Times reporter who wrote the June 25, 2016 front page story titled Jack Daniel’s Embraces a Hidden Ingredient: Help from a Slave. Risen wrote it that year as a part of the Jack Daniel Distillery 150th Anniversary hoping someone would pick up the story and dig deeper into the history of the man that helped start Jack Daniel. In case you have not read that story Nearest was a free man when Jack hired him.
The fourth person is Fawn Weaver who read the 2016 New York Times story and took the ball that Risen tossed out there and ran with it. In talking to Fawn her initial thought was there could be a book or movie opportunity to tell the story of an African-American man that was at one time a slave that was freed and then help to start one of the most recognizable brands in American history. Once she started her due diligence, digging into the history and talking to the Green family decendents the project grew from a trickle to a full on river. That river has grown into what is now the Uncle Nearest brand and the Nearest Green Distillery that opens today in Shelbyville, TN.
Connecting the Spiritual Dots – September 5th
And what connects all these story tellers together?
|Name||Date of Birth|
|Mammie Green||September 5th, 1901|
|Ben Green||September 5th, 1902|
|Clay Risen||September 5th, 1976|
|Fawn Weaver||September 5th, 1976|
|And the icing on the cake?|
|Jasper Newton (Jack Daniel)||September 5th, 1848*|
*Jack’s tombstone shows the year of birth as 1850 which it turns out is incorrect. Weaver’s research discovered that Jack’s mother died of typhus fever seven days after she contracts it on January 27, 1849. Jack’s sister’s diary helps narrow down his actual birth month to September 1848, but no one knows the actual day as he had no birth certificate. However, his birthday (until recently when they began celebrating the entire month of September), was historically September 5.
Nearest Green Distillery Phase One Grand Opening
The Nearest Green Distilling officially opens at 6pm on Thursday, September 5, 2019. Think of it more like a birthday celebration. At last check about 1,200 people have RSVP’d for the event with perhaps another 800 or so expected to show up.
And if you are wondering where Jack Daniel Distillery stands on all this, they are all in. They have no financial interest in the operation but they are in full support as you can see by the full page document in today’s Tennessee newspaper.
The telling of Nearest Green is a story is one of love, respect and honor. And to that, we’ll raise a glass, a glass of Tennessee Whiskey. Cheers!
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Note on the cover image: The man with the white hat is Jack Daniel. To his right is believed to be George Green, Nathan Green’s son. There are no known photos of Nearest Green.