When it comes to Tennessee’s proud history of whisky distilling, one thing that comes to mind for most folks is Jack Daniels Old No. 7. The legendary Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg celebrates its 150th anniversary this year, and they’re using the occasion to officially clarify one of the formative points of the founder’s history – who gave him his start as one of America’s greatest distillers.
If you’ve ever taken a tour of the distillery, the origin of Jack Daniels is summed up as: when he was still a boy, Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel was sent to work for Rev. Dan Call – a Lutheran preacher who also ran a general store and distillery. Call taught young Jack how to run the whisky still, and the rest is history. But, that’s not the whole story. Call, essentially running three business, was a busy man and actually instructed his slave and Master Distiller, Nearis Green, to teach Jack everything he knew.
Many historians, whisky enthusiasts, and Tennessee locals have known about Nearis Green for some time. In fact, a 1967 biography, Jack Daniel’s Legacy by Ben A. Green (no relation), quotes Call saying, “Uncle Nearest [sic] is the best whiskey maker that I know of.” However, the spotty record keeping of frontier history (making the details of Green’s involvement unclear) combined with the brand never addressing it during tours or in its marketing have kept the story from being widely known.
According to Phil Epps, global brand director for Jack Daniel’s, there had been “no conscious decision” to whitewash Green from history, but “as we dug into it we realized it was something that we could be proud of.” Now, fans of Old No. 7 will start hearing about Green in the distillery’s marketing campaigns and during facility tours.
This news got me thinking – do Green’s descendants have any claim on the rights to his likeness? That’s probably a question better suited for my colleague and personality rights expert, Stephen Zralek.