Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green behind Jack Daniels success


If you’re in London travelling on the underground, take a look at Jack Daniel’s latest beautifully tailored advert which tells in part the extraordinary story of former slave Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green and his relation to the company. The ad gives an overview of Green’s influence closed out with the contentious line, ‘Jack Daniel was ahead of his time in ways that had nothing to do with whiskey making.’ This sickly-sweet sentiment may be difficult to digest for those intimately familiar with the history of ‘distiller-trained’ slaves, those taken from Caribbean sugar-cane plantations and marketed by owners as tools to work in U.S. whiskey development, right down to those such as I on a casual morning commute with only a generic understanding of PR strategy.

Nevertheless, the facts need to be assessed and credit for placing focus on the story given. Over 150 years ago, in a distillery nestled within a rural Tennessee town that would have been in the midst of a confederacy stronghold, an unlikely relationship between a slave and a young Jack Daniels brewed. Nathan Green was loaned by the company which owned him to the service of a slave-owner, distiller and reverend Dan Call. Reverend Call would later place the training of Daniel, a young white orphan worker who seemed to have an affinity for distilling, squarely on Green’s shoulders. This chance meeting developed into a teacher-student relationship and the work it would produce eventually grew into what is today a multi-billion dollar company. How then has the Jack Daniel’s company paid homage to their founder’s mentor and their first master distiller in ways other than self-congratulatory articles for being on the right side of history?

Green’s legacy had been omitted from the brand identity for the vast majority of the 150 years since its founding, though the brand has made a consistent point of advertising the details of Jack’s character and life. While Green’s history was maligned on a corporate level, it has long-since been an open secret with a consistent oral history in the town of Lynchburg Tennessee. Yet still, nothing had been done to address this oversight until best-selling author Fawn Weaver took it upon herself to give up 2,500 hours and piece together an irrefutable catalogue outlining everything that the company presents us with today.

Much of the work Jack Daniels is doing today is reactive; the company in contradiction to its founder has not led the way at any turn as this story unfolds. The Nathan Green Foundation, born out of Weaver’s tenacious research, is the driving force behind tangible benefits for the descendants of Green. The organisation has prepared a college-fund for his descendants, which is apt as many of Green’s children were taken out of education to join the work-force, as was customary at the time, and neither Green nor his wife could read or write. This comes alongside the museum, park, and book Weaver is writing to commemorate Green. The Jack Daniel’s Company on the other hand, have heavily amended their tour.

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