Jack Daniel's is a historic brand built on stories and legend. To this day, all of the whiskey is made in the hills of little Lynchburg, Tenn. And as part of its 150th anniversary, the company is highlighting a lesser-known part of its story: how a former slave played a key role in its founding.
The story of Nearis Green first got national attention earlier this summer, when The New York Times ran an article about his role in Jack Daniel's history based on a pitch from the company.
Until now, the story usually told about the firm's founding was this: Jack Daniel left home as a young teen, went to work for Dan Call — ironically, a pastor — and ended up helping with Call's whiskey. That's where he learned his trade — perhaps under the tutelage of Green, who was then a slave belonging to Call.
It's not clear exactly what parts of the process Daniel's picked up from Green. "There's a lot of mystery there," says Jack Daniel's company historian Nelson Eddy. "We don't know exactly what he taught Jack. But we do know that Jack had a great deal of respect for that family. Because I think the best part of this story is the photograph."
The photograph he refers to is one that shows Jack Daniel, with a gray goatee, around 1895, surrounded by his crew, including two African-American men believed to be the sons of Nearis Green.