The Jack Daniel’s brand of whiskey holds the title as the highest selling brand of American whiskey in the world. Its founder, Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel, was an American distiller and entrepreneur. Daniel was born around 1849 in Lynchburg, Tenn., to parents who were mainly of Scottish-Irish descent.
According to the Jack Daniel’s whiskey company history, Jack Daniel was apprenticed in his youth to a Tennessee-based Lutheran preacher, grocer, and distiller named Dan Call who taught the young Daniel the secrets of running a distillery. However, new records reveal that Daniel’s actual teacher was an enslaved African-American named Nearis Green.
Nearis Green was a master distiller who had been owned by Dan Call. He and a few other African-Americans chose to continue to work for Call after slavery was abolished. Green – who was known to many as “Uncle Nearis” – was a popular and friendly figure who could play the fiddle; it is believed that he quickly became a close companion of Jack Daniel, who was only a few years younger.
Green went on to teach Jack Daniel everything he knew about the art of distillation and the operation of a whiskey still. During the era of African slavery in America, many distilleries were owned by white landowners, but the bulk of the operations in the whiskey-making process were carried out by Black slaves. Many African-Americans like Green who became master distillers often relied on unique traditional techniques that their ancestors, peers, or even they themselves brought over from Africa.
With these techniques they were able to develop celebrated whiskey recipes that became the choice of many famous American patriots. Presidents George Washington and Andrew Jackson are both known to have enjoyed whiskeys distilled by their African-American slaves.
Until now, the contributions of Nearis Green to the Jack Daniel’s brand of whiskey have been passed over by the official distillery record. However, locals and historians in the Tennessee area have always been aware of these facts. Dan Call, Green’s former slave master, is reported to have said: “Uncle Nearis is the best whiskey maker that I know of.”
Now, in celebration of the company’s 150-year anniversary, Global Director for Jack Daniel’s Phil Epps has officially acknowledged the role Green played. Speaking to the New York Times, Epps said there had been “no conscious decision” to deny the contributions of Green to a whiskey brand that now sells more than 10 million cases a year.