Jack Daniel’s is the top-selling whiskey in the world. For more than 150 years, it’s been made using time-honored methods that go back to when Jack Daniel made the whiskey himself. (Yes, he was a real person.) But who taught “Mr. Jack” how to make that whiskey? Nearest Green, a formerly enslaved man. Unlike Jack Daniel, though, most people don’t know his name, so one woman has made it her mission to tell the world his story one sip at a time.
Produced by Charlie Herman, with Julia Press and Sarah Wyman.
Note: This transcript may contain errors.
JED: Guys, what they are doing here only happens one to two days out of the week…
CHARLIE HERMAN: I’m going to be honest, this is really exciting.
JED: Very rarely does a person actually get to see this happen.
CH: I’m at the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee and what I’m watching is a crucial step in why the whiskey that’s made here is unique. Under this huge metal hood, surrounded by four concrete pillars, is an enormous stack of sugar maple wood. And it is on fire.
JED: It’s gonna burn for an hour and a half. It’s gonna reach temperatures close to 1800 degrees and when it’s done, it’s natural lump charcoal.
CH: That charcoal will be ground up into pea-sized pieces and then used in a process called “charcoal mellowing.”
JED: What we are going to do is drip your whiskey through the charcoal, and this is what makes us a Tennessee whiskey. This is going to make your whiskey extremely smooth, this is what separates us from a bourbon.
CH: For more than 150 years, Jack Daniel’s has been making whiskey this way, going all the way back to the days when Jack Daniel made it himself. (Yes. He was a real person.)
JED: Y’all are only listening to me cause I have a can of whiskey sitting right there. [laughter]
CH: In Tennessee, there’s a long tradition of Scotch-Irish settlers who turned grains like corn into moonshine. But charcoal filtering? That’s not something they were known to do before coming here. So where did Jack Daniel pick that up? From Nearest Green, the formerly enslaved man who taught him how to make whiskey.
FAWN WEAVER: What Nearest Green did and what he changed is what we now forever know as Tennessee whiskey.
CH: From Business Insider, this is “Brought to you by…” Brands you know, stories you don’t. I’m Charlie Herman.
Jack Daniel’s is the number one selling whiskey in the world. It’s been the drink of choice for celebrities and performers, from Frank Sinatra to Bruce Springsteen. Cowboys in westerns slug back shots. And regular folk like you and me drink it (I’m partial to Jack and Coke).
With every sip, you can taste caramel and vanilla, with a hint of sweetness. But in each glass, there are also traces of our nation’s history, and of the ongoing movement to give credit to people who have been left out or forgotten.
As the company Jack Daniel’s acknowledges a truth about its founding, one woman is making sure the world knows that story, the one about Nearest Green, the nation’s first African American master distiller… one sip at a time.
Stay with us.
CH: To understand the story of Nearest Green, it starts with knowing more about Jack Daniel and their friendship. And the best place to do that is where it all began, Lynchburg, Tennessee. So I went.
JED: Alright folks welcome to Jack Daniel’s. My name is Jed, I’m gonna be your tour guide and yep, my mom named me Jed, yeah, it happens alright.
CH: The distillery is nestled among the hills in Tennessee Walking Horse country, about an hour and a half southeast of Nashville. Ironically, Jack Daniel’s is in a dry county. But don’t worry, they let you get a taste of the whiskey after your tour.
JED: We’ll be covering history first, production second and at the very end of the tour we will be sitting down sipping our top shelf whiskey, you chose wisely alright.
CH: It is a huge operation, with facilities spread out over 2,000 acres.
JED: We serve the entire world from this county and only this county.
CH: Despite its size and the enormous amount of whiskey it sells every year, Jack Daniel’s is proud of being made according to old-fashioned traditions and slowly aged for years before it’s considered good enough to drink. That spirit (get it?) draws hundreds of thousands of Jack Daniel’s fans to visit each year.
VISITOR ONE: We love Jack Daniels so we wanted to see where it was made. That was on our bucket list to come down here anyway so yeah.
CH: On your bucket list?
VISITOR ONE: Yeah, just something that I have to do before I die right?
VISITOR TWO: Yes, well we traveled to Nashville for a quick vacation so this was our last stop before we fly out this afternoon.
CH: On this tour, our guide Jed has about 20 people (including one pesky podcast host) from places like Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Montreal, and Ireland. It kicks off in front of a seven-story building near the top of a hill.
JED: You’re looking at a million gallons of Jack inside that one building. Yeah, you’ve arrived guys. Alright? [laughter]
CH: And eventually winds its way…
JED: Guys were going to go walk around the corner and show you why Jack bought this property…
CH: To the opening of a limestone cave that’s filled with fresh spring water. It’s where Jack Daniel set up his still and started making whiskey on the property.
JED: Mr. Jack was born about 5 miles south of here, he was born the youngest of 10 children…
CH: In 1856 when Jack was still a child, he became a farm hand for a neighbor, Dan Call. Now, Call also owned a still (along with being a Lutheran preacher) and it was on his farm that Jack learned how to make whiskey.
As an adult, he bought the property where the distillery is today — his one-story office is still standing, and in it — a highlight of the tour —
JED: That is the actual safe that killed Jack Daniel.
CH: One morning, Jack kicked it in frustration, broke his toe, it later had to be amputated, and that led to severe complications and eventually, his death.
JED: Y’all wanna touch it? Y’all can touch it, guys just don’t kick it, it’s already killed a man, alright?
CH: Over the course of an hour and a half, Jed tells us a lot about Jack’s life — how he was only 5-foot 2; how he never married and passed the business on to his nephew. And he also mentions the man who had a big impact on the direction of Jack’s life…
JED: Now, the man who taught Jack to make whiskey was Mr. Nathan Nearest Green.
CH: Nathan Green, or as he was usually called, “Nearest,” sometimes, Uncle Nearest.
JED: Mr. Green during the time of the Civil War and before emancipation, he was in fact an enslaved man over on the Call property…
CH: Unlike Jack, though, less is known about Nearest Green. There aren’t vivid stories about his life or the random objects he kicked, just the bare details. Here’s Nelson Eddy, the distillery’s historian.
NELSON EDDY: The earliest book on Jack Daniels that we have was written in the 1960s and it tells the story of Jack and Nearest, uh, not only them working together, but a friendship that they had.
CH: That book, “Jack Daniel’s Legacy,” was written by a journalist who went to Lynchburg to do research and interview members of both families. It recounts a story when “Uncle Nearest,” still an enslaved man, was directed to teach a young Jack how to make whiskey. And for a long time, this was about the extent of what people knew about Nearest.
NE: You know, the Bible for the Jack Daniels tour was always the legacy book. And in the legacy book, it clearly tells the Nearest Green Jack Daniel’s story.
CH: A few years ago, however, the company realized Nearest was not brought up regularly on tours and he had largely vanished to the world outside of Lynchburg. So Jack Daniel’s saw an opportunity.
NE: In 2016 during our 150th anniversary, it was a story we said, ‘Hey, we might like to highlight this.’
CH: Because not only did Nearest show Jack how to make whiskey, how to use charcoal to filter out impurities, working side by side with an enslaved man appears to have had a profound influence on him, even after he became a successful businessman. It’s something Nelson points to in a photo of an older Jack, surrounded by the men who worked at his distillery.
NE: This was probably taken at the 1900s in the American South and at that time it would not have been the custom to seat immediately to the owner’s right an African American individual. Typically they would be standing at the back, but not in this photograph. And, uh, when that photograph was uncovered, we wondered at the time who that gentleman might be. Well, um, the Green family has informed us that that is George Green, Nearest Green’s son.
CH: Two of Nearest Green’s sons came to work with Jack when he moved his whiskey still to its current location. Later, Nearest’s grandsons would work at the distillery. Today, three of his descendents still work at Jack Daniel’s. In fact, since its founding in 1866, there has always been a member of the Green family working at the Jack Daniel’s distillery.
This history, largely unknown to the world outside of Lynchburg, struck a chord with a reporter for the New York Times. And when his story was published in June 2016, it featured this image of George Green next to Jack Daniel as there is no confirmed image of Nearest Green. One woman who read that article was Fawn Weaver. And that photo caught her eye for the same reason it fascinated Nelson, the historian at Jack Daniel’s.
FW: The person in the center is an African American man. And it is as if Jack ceded the center of the photo to this African American man and then stood just to the left of him. And the question began, who was that African American man?
CH: With that question, and many more, Fawn knew what she had to do.
FW: I became fascinated, some people would say, I became obsessed, whatever you want to call it, I became something and I decided to go to Lynchburg, Tennessee.
CH: Though she had no connection to Nearest and his family, she was determined to know more about him. She was willing to move to Lynchburg and upend her entire life to make sure the world would never again forget Nearest Green.
Her story, and his, after the break.
CH: We’re back.
In 2016, Fawn Weaver was an author and an investor who lived in Los Angeles. Her drink of choice?
FW: Bourbon, E. H. Taylor to be exact. And barrel proof. Neat.
CH: That was about the extent of her connection to the industry. Then she read the story about Nearest Green and saw the picture of his son. And right there, she decided she had to go visit this small southern town where she knew no one and didn’t really know what she’d find. She wasn’t too concerned, but her husband was.
FW: I mean, you know, we’re African American, the city’s called Lynchburg, so he had some pretty major reservations about my fascination with this story and going to Lynchburg but after being there for two days and meeting the people and seeing how not only wonderful they were, but how they were so open to helping us piece together this story, it completely changed how he viewed.
CH: When Fawn got to town, she headed straight to Jack Daniel’s and went on several tours. But she said she didn’t hear about Nearest Green; like, his name was not even mentioned. Which she found strange. The company had said in that news article it planned to recognize him. It turns out, however, Jack Daniel’s chose to wait on making any modifications to the tours in the middle of the 2016 presidential election. That article in the New York Times had proved to be a bit of a lightning rod: reactions ran from positive to negative. Some people wondered if the company had hidden the history of Nearest, while others questioned its accuracy. A representative for Jack Daniel’s later said, it worried about being criticized for trying to gain financially from featuring the story of Nearest.
In the end, what Fawn saw was that Nearest was still missing. So she got to work. Very quickly, she pulled together documents and established trust among the residents of Lynchburg, who, it turned out, already knew part of his story. Like Nelson Eddy, the historian at Jack Daniel’s.
NE: The story of Nearest Green is something here in Lynchburg they’ve long known.
CH: Mayor Bonnie Lewis definitely knew.
BONNIE LEWIS: Anybody that has, um, studied any history of Jack Daniel knows the Nearest Green story.
CH: And, perhaps not surprisingly, so did the great, great grand-daughter of Nearest Green, Victoria Butler.
VICTORIA BUTLER: Everyone in Lynchburg has always known. Um, it was never a secret. The relationship between the Greens and the Daniels. It was never a secret in Lynchburg.
CH: Was that a revelation to you that wait, everybody knows the story already?
FW: Oh, it was a complete revelation. So I’m in Lynchburg, there to do some research and I’m getting a pedicure of all places, and you know, everyone talks in the hair salon and the in the nail salon, right? And I’m getting a pedicure and I just asked the woman, I tell her what I’m there for. And I said, ‘when that story came out in the New York Times, I mean, how did people here react?’ And she looks at me and she’s like, ‘well, we all knew the story already.” So it was like totally not a big deal to us.’ And so I think that they didn’t even recognize how significant this story is to America.
CH: When the residents of Lynchburg met Fawn and understood her interest in the story of Nearest and how she wanted to tell it, they wanted to get involved, and began actively seeking her out to share documents, artifacts and photographs with her. In fact, it started her first day doing research at the local library.
FW: I wasn’t even there for two hours before Jack’s eldest descendant comes into the library and before she leaves I have telephone numbers and information on Nearest Green’s descendants because they grew up together, they ate around the same dinner table together, they were friends. So we begin there and then she said, ‘you know where he grew up and where the distillery was and where he learned how to make whiskey, you realize that’s for sale?’ Well, no I didn’t even, I wouldn’t have even thought the farm was, you know, that there is still a house there. And an hour later her cousin calls me and says, ‘I’m a realtor. I hear you want to go see the Dan Call farm. You ran into my cousin at the library. I can take you up there.’ And, and that is just the way these pieces began to fall together.
CH: Fawn and her husband bought that farm and have since restored it. Fawn also assembled a team of more than 20 archivists, archaeologists, genealogists and historians who put in time and work to search for information about Nearest Green and his family. They did research at the National Archives and the Library of Congress, they examined IRS documents and Census reports. Fawn also interviewed the family of Nearest Green, and along the way, briefed them on her findings. In total, she estimates they’ve collected more than 10,000 documents and other items about Nearest and his family, as well Jack Daniel, Lynchburg, and distilleries in Tennessee.
FW: The irony of it all, and I think this is a part of how I know that the story was just meant to be told, no one ever billed me. To this day, no one has ever billed me on the work that they did to help this story be uncovered.
CH: With that information, Fawn has been able to piece together more details about Nearest Green’s life, including where she believes he was born. In the 1870 census, there’s one page where every single person put T-N for Tennessee for their answer to the question, “where were you born?” Except Nearest Green. Next to his name, it’s marked M-D for Maryland. Fawn also thinks she’s narrowed down the year he was born, 1820.
FW: However you have to remember, African Americans were property, not people until the end of 1865 so you have these census takers in 1870 that are showing up at the doors and now all of a sudden they’re counting African Americans, not as property, but as people. And they’re looking at them and saying, ‘what’s your name?’ And they’re telling them their name. ‘How do you spell it?’ ‘Well, I don’t know. I don’t read or write.’ ‘Right. Okay. Well how old are you?’ ‘Well, I don’t know. I don’t have a birth certificate.’ And so they’re literally looking, the census when it comes to African Americans is so inaccurate because they’re literally looking at you and trying to tell how old you are. And I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the saying that black don’t crack, but when I look at it and I see an 1880 they said he’s 60 I’m thinking, I’m thinking he’s closer to 80. (laughs) So I don’t know. I, we don’t know his age. We want to think we know his age, but we don’t.
CH: It is one of several examples that demonstrates how hard it can be to learn about people who had been enslaved: there is often little documentation. But when Nearest became a free man there were more records, and that’s where Fawn made perhaps her biggest discovery, one that even Jack Daniel’s did not know. Nearest was more than a teacher, he was Jack’s first master distiller. And that makes Nearest Green the first African American one on record in the United States.
FW: Being the first African American master distiller, I don’t think that we should or can take that lightly because there are only so many things that we can give African Americans credit for during a period of time where we couldn’t trademark, we couldn’t patent, we could not have our own inventions. And so to find out that there was someone who left this legacy of excellence behind is not small in the least bit.
CH: Fawn shared her findings with the leadership of Jack Daniel’s, and pretty quickly, it installed a large display at the visitor center about Nearest and his family and it started talking about him more frequently during tours. Most important, in 2017, the company officially acknowledged that Nearest Green was the first master distiller at Jack Daniel’s.
Thanks to tax records, Fawn knows Nearest kept making whiskey until 1884, but after that, there’s a 16-year gap they’re still trying to piece together.
CH: What is a burning question that you have about Nearest Green that you are still trying to answer?
FW: Where’s he buried? I’ve got no clue. So we believe that we know where he is and his entire family is around the tombstone that we believe is his. But the original cemetery records were lost and we’re still digging to figure out, is that him?
CH: If she can confirm where he’s buried, she hopes that will give her another thread to follow about Nearest. It’s those small details that can lead to big discoveries. And, it makes for a better story too if you know how it ends.
It’s important here to put the work that Fawn and her team are doing in a broader context because as much as it is about one person, Nearest Green, it’s about something bigger, giving credit to the contributions by people who’ve been left out of history, whatever the reason.
FW: We have a history in which even though it’s filled with words, it’s not necessarily filled with truth.
CH: For example, the method of making whiskey that Nearest taught Jack, of filtering it through charcoal, it’s now believed came from from West Africa, where charcoal is still used today to purify food and water. In other words, the very process that defines Jack Daniel’s whiskey, and “Tennessee Whiskey” broadly speaking, most likely originated with the people forcibly brought to this country as slaves.
FW: Tennessee whiskey is your first American, like truly all American spirit because you are taking what West Africans brought with them and you’re putting it with whites that are here and you’re creating a product that is uniquely indigenous to both. And I don’t know of any other that has done that.
JESSICA HARRIS: This is a particularly alive moment in terms of looking at African American history.
CH: Jessica Harris is a professor, an author and a food historian who’s been studying the food of Africa — and what happened to it after it left that continent and arrived in places like the U.S.
JH: People are being reclaimed in many ways. People are being discovered in many ways. It’s a real kind of unearthing and a repositioning of things and I think that’s a good thing.
CH: You can see that legacy here in foods like okra, and watermelon and possibly even seed rice. There are also genetic traces of Africa in Texas Longhorn cattle. There’s also cooking techniques. And then there are the people themselves, like Thomas Jefferson’s chef, an enslaved man named James Hemings (yes, that Hemings, Sally’s brother). James trained as a chef in Paris when Jefferson was the ambassador to France. And he returned with Jefferson to the US and kept cooking for him.
JH: We all know Jefferson brought back ice cream. Jefferson brought back macaroni and cheese. But the question is, was Jefferson cooking it? And that’s where James Hemings comes in.
CH: Because of her extensive research and writing, Harris is the lead curator of an exhibit in New York called “African / American: Making the Nation’s Table” with the Museum of Food and Drink. It explores the history of African American contributions to agriculture, hospitality, entrepreneurship and beverages (hello, Nearest Green). It also presents a more complete picture of our nation’s history, because as Harris puts it, African American food is American food. And that started with slavery.
JH: Basically, African Americans grew the food, harvested the food, processed the food, cooked the food, served the food, cleared the table and emptied the chamber pots. That’s about as totally involved in the American food chain as you can be. There it is.
CH: As important as it is to uncover these histories and confront sometimes difficult truths, that does not always mean people will remember. Fawn Weaver worried about that; she feared that simply documenting the facts about Nearest Green might not be enough for people to know his story.
FW: We have so much history, but how does it get out there? What is the medium?
CH: So she decided to do what Nearest did not do: open a whiskey distillery. She called it “Uncle Nearest” — a new brand that could right an historical wrong by keeping his name on people’s lips for generations to come.
That story, after the break.
CH: Welcome back.
Thanks to Fawn and her team, to understand the story of Nearest Green, you now can go to the place where it’s being told, Shelbyville, Tennessee. So I went.
SHERRIE MOORE: We’ve taken this uh, hay barn and we’re making it our first bottling house.
CH: My guide is Sherrie Moore, the operations manager for Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, located about an hour southeast of Nashville.
CH: Wo what is this in here?
SM: This will be where we store barrels for single barrel.
CH: The distillery is being built on the site of a Tennessee Walking Horse farm. Spread out over nearly three hundred acres of green pastures are several white-washed stables with green roofs. Renovating these existing structures and building new ones will cost an estimated $50 million and be completed in about two years. Already finished is a temporary visitor center and the corporate offices.
SM: These are horse stalls. So this one was Son’s Delight. So I’m trying to get pictures of him to put on my wall since that was his home and now it has become my office.
CH: Sherrie has a long history with whiskey. She’s the cousin of the eldest living relative of Jack Daniel. She spent 31 years working at Jack Daniel’s, including directing whiskey operations. When she retired, she became a real estate agent. In fact, Sherrie’s the one who sold that farm to Fawn and her husband, the one where Nearest taught Jack how to make whiskey. (By the way, a picture of that farmhouse is on the “Uncle Nearest” label.)
SM: Typically, when you’re in real estate and you’re showing property to somebody from California, they do not buy the farm, they get back to California and decide that was a bad idea. But they actually bought the farm and great piece of history and they purchase it. So I met them on their second day.
CH: When Fawn arrived in Tennessee, she was not thinking about selling whiskey, let alone building a multi-million dollar distillery; she was thinking more along the lines of writing a book about Nearest Green (and that’s still on her to-do list). But a couple of things happened that changed her mind. As she got to know people in the community, like Sherrie and members of the Green family, she kept hearing the same thing about making a whiskey with Nearest’s name on it. From Sherrie it was…
FW: If I ever decided to honor Nearest with a bottle, she would come out of retirement to make sure I got it right. And then learning what come out of retirement meant, which is, she’s the best in the business.
CH: Ok, so that was in the back of Fawn’s mind. And then when she spoke to some of Nearest’s descendants…
FW: I said, ‘what is that one thing you think should happen in order to honor Nearest, to honor your ancestor?’ And they said, ‘we think his name should be on a bottle.’
CH: Then one day, she went to see the movie “Hidden Figures” with a few of those family members…
HIDDEN FIGURES: I cannot do my work effectively if I do not have all the data and info. I need to be in that room hearing what you hear.
CH: If you don’t know the movie, it’s based on the true story of three African American women who played key roles in the space program. Fawn and the family loved the movie and they saw parallels to the story of Nearest Green and his relationship with Jack Daniel. But about three weeks later, when Fawn was thinking about the movie and what people had been saying to her, it all connected.
FW: I realized I could not tell you the name of one person who was a hidden figure. I could tell you Octavia Spencer, I could tell you Janell Monae, Taraji P Henson, I could tell you who played the characters, but I could not actually tell you who the people were whose legacy that entire movie was built to tell. And that’s when we realized, a hundred years from now, nobody’s going to know Nearest’s name unless it’s on a bottle.
CH: With that realization, she decided to go into the whiskey business. First, she found a source of Tennessee whiskey she thought good enough to bear the name “Uncle Nearest.” Then, in July 2017, she launched the brand. Since then, she’s raised the money to finish building the new distillery and has already started making whiskey that will be sold once it finishes aging.
FW: It’s almost as if the entire universe conspired to make sure this story was told and for whatever reason I was chosen to tell the story. I feel very Oprahish saying it that way, but that it’s the only explanation that I can give.
CH: It’s also happening very fast. Already, she’s selling three different whiskies….
FW: Let’s do the tasting. 1884 is on your left.
CH: Which includes leading tastings around the country, and each time, telling the story of Uncle Nearest…
FW: 1884 it is, that year is the last year that we actually have records for Nearest Green.
CH: Already, the whiskeys are sold in all 50 states and in a dozen countries outside the U.S. And in the few years since “Uncle Nearest” was introduced, the whiskeys have won multiple awards.
WHISKEY AWARDS: We start off with the world’s best Tennessee whiskey…
CH: Most recently, at the World Whiskies Award in New York.
WHISKEY AWARDS: And that goes to Uncle Nearest 1820 [screams and cheers].
CH: Fawn has also brought the Green family into the whiskey business. In fact, the master blender, that’s the person who decides what the final whiskey will taste like, is Victoria Butler, one of Nearest’s descendents.
CH: Which one did you blend?
VB: The 1884.
CH: And why is it 1884?
VB: That is the year that we believe Nearest Green last put whiskey in a barrel. Cheers.
VB: It’s delicious, it’s got a lot of sweetness to it for sure. Vanilla. Um, it’s a little, it’s a little bit nutty.
CH: There’s a little like butterscotch.
VB: It’s a butterscotch.
CH: [That comes from the oak.]
Victoria spent almost 31 years working for the federal government before she retired. Thanks to Fawn, she has a second, unexpected career, though perhaps it’s not too surprising considering who her great, great grandfather was.
VB: Whiskey really is in my blood and had it not been for, this brand being launched, I may have never tapped into that. So, uh, I’m thrilled to be doing what I’m doing now, to uh, have the honor of being the first African American female to be master blender of a major spirit is huge. And so, um, I don’t take that lightly and so I, I’m loving it.
CH: Master Blender Victoria Butler. Her office at the distillery is down the hall from Sherrie Moore, the operations manager. And across the hall is Fawn’s, who I might add, is the first African American woman to own and run a major spirit brand.
FW: Our brand is the first, the first major spirit brand ever to be led by all women. I think when we calculated them, there were like ten firsts, there are things like me being the first African American on the cover of a major whiskey magazine. Like these types of firsts you would have thought happened before, but no, apparently these are the years to break all these records. (laughs)
CH: Making history in 2020. Just like in 1866 when Nearest Green became Jack Daniel’s first master distiller, the first African American on record, and for that matter, the last one for a major brand too.
Remember that photo of Jack next to George Green, one of the sons of Nearest? The photo that sent Fawn down the unexpected road of creating a whiskey to honor him?
JED: The photos on the wall, these photos are all our master distillers…
CH: It’s now on the wall at the Jack Daniel’s distillery …
JED: This is where Mr. Nathan Nearest Green’s picture belongs…
CH: To memorialize what Nearest accomplished and to honor the friendship between him and Jack, one that continues to this day among the families. Visitors can now learn how, after emancipation, Nearest kept working for Jack. How Jack paid him a fair wage, based on his skill. And how, thanks to Fawn’s research, we know that Nearest went from slavery to becoming the wealthiest African American in Lynchburg — potentially wealthier than some of his white neighbors.
It’s a story that visitors at Jack Daniel’s are excited to hear, like Stacey Levine and Ivan Stefano.
CH: Do you think it’s important to tell his part of the story when telling the Jack Daniel’s story as well?
IVAN STEFANO: I think the story’s probably just as important if not more important because he’s the one who made it happen.
STACEY LEVINE: He’s the catalyst.
IS: He’s the catalyst and so the fact that he’s a former slave just adds to the greatness of the story.
NE: I think it’s a story whose time has really come.
CH: Again, Nelson Eddy, the historian at Jack Daniel’s.
NE: Out of this really divided time comes this story of people working together in this small town in the South. That’s really a remarkable story. It’s one I think, uh, we can be proud of. At Jack Daniels, we’d like to think that whiskey brings people together, but actually it’s people like Jack and Nearest that could bring us together.
CH: In the four years since Fawn first read about Nearest Green, her impact has been far-reaching. For Jack Daniel’s, yes, but even more for Nearest Green and his family. That includes establishing a foundation which provides scholarships for his descendants to go to college — already, there are 12 recipients. There are also plans to build a Memorial Park named after him near the Jack Daniel’s distillery.
VB: What it has done for my family is let the world know who Nearest Green is, so Fawn Weaver in my book is a rock star.
CH: Sometimes it takes a person from the outside to rediscover truths and uncover new ones that were always there, but just needed more attention. And today, thanks to the creation of Uncle Nearest whiskey, Nearest’s story is one more people will likely hear, because in the world of whiskey and bourbon, a good story can be as important as the actual drink itself. Especially when it’s an important one.
FW: It’s odd to say it this way but it’s a whiskey with a mission behind it and I think that it will continue to be that long, long, long after I’m gone.
CH: Every time someone orders Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey, they are helping to keep his memory alive. That’s been the case for more than 150 years. Fawn is creating the same legacy for Nearest Green.
CH: Hey everyone, I want to let you know this is the last episode of our, let’s call it, “winter season.” Thank you so much for listening! And just so you know, we are already hard at work on several new stories and we’ll be back with a full season very shortly. But until then, be sure to keep an eye out for some bonus content and other stories we’re going to be publishing in the coming weeks. We think you’ll really like them.
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And please, stay safe and stay healthy. Thanks for listening.
This episode was produced by me, with Julia Press and Sarah Wyman. Special thanks to Amy Pedulla and Claire Banderas. Bill Moss is our sound engineer who makes the episode sound so darned good. Music is from Audio Network. John DeLore and Casey Holford composed our theme. Our editor is Micaela Blei and Sarah Wyman is our showrunner.
Brought to You By is a production of Insider Audio.