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Jack Daniel's is the world's most popular whiskey brand, but until recently, few people knew the liquor was created by Nathan "Nearest" Green, an enslaved Black man who mentored Daniel.
"We've always known," says Debbie Staples, a great-great-granddaughter of Green's who heard the story from her grandmother. … "He made the whiskey, and he taught Jack Daniel. And people didn't believe it … it's hurtful. I don't know if it was because he was a Black man."
But people believe it now — in large part because Brown-Forman Corporation, owner of Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, has acknowledged the foundational role Green played in the brand's development.
"The truth of the matter is, Nearest Green was the first head distiller of Jack Daniels whiskey," says Matt Blevins, global brand director for Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey. "We're very proud of this story and are very committed to amplifying it and acknowledging that. In the past, we did not amplify it the way that we could have in earlier eras, but we're about the future and moving forward."
America's first-known Black master distiller
The story begins in Lynchburg, Tennessee, current home of the Jack Daniel Distillery. In the mid-1800s, Green's slaveholders hired him out to a local preacher named Dan Call. Green, who had a reputation as a skilled distiller, made whiskey for Call, using a sugar maple charcoal filtering process that is believed to have originated in West Africa. Daniel, a boy who worked for Call, became Green's apprentice and learned the special technique that gave the Tennessee whiskey its smooth taste.
After emancipation in 1863, when all enslaved people were freed, Daniel purchased Call's distillery and hired Green as Jack Daniel Distillery's first master distiller.
"The best knowledge that we have is that they had a mentor-and-mentee sort of a relationship, and I would say, a friendship," says Blevins. "The stories that have been passed down [talk] about the care that Jack Daniel took to always acknowledge … the Green family."
Historic photo of Jack Daniel (in white hat) seated next to George Green, the son of Nathan "Nearest" Green Image source: VOA
There are no known pictures of Green, but there is one of Daniel with Green's son, George, sitting next to Daniel, rather than being relegated to the back.
"That photograph shows the respect that they had for one another and for their families," says Stefanie Benjamin, an assistant professor of tourism management at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "To be not only allowed in that photograph, but also positioned in the foreground and sitting right next to Jack Daniels himself."
Search for the truth
Green's role in the history of the brand was uncovered by a writer and entrepreneur named Fawn Weaver, who became fascinated by Green's unheralded contribution to the world's most popular whiskey. After extensive research, including interviews with Green's descendants, Weaver shared her documentation with the company.
"I was very pleasantly surprised when they embraced my research and updated their records to reflect that," Weaver told VOA via email. "I think it said a lot about the character of their company that they moved that quickly to course correct."
Jack Daniel's has incorporated Green's contributions into the official history of the brand, but Weaver has gone a step further. She invested $1 million of her own money to establish Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, which is now the fastest-growing independent American whiskey brand in U.S. history.
Fawn Weaver (center in red) with her leadership team at Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, including master distiller Victoria Eady Butler (far left), the great‐great‐granddaughter of Nearest Green. (Photo courtesy Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey) Image credit: VOA
The company's master distiller is Victoria Eady Butler, Green's great‐great‐granddaughter.
"Uncle Nearest is the most-awarded American whiskey or bourbon of 2019, 2020 and 2021, and the fact that it is the bloodline of Nearest Green blending and approving what goes into our bottles is something I marvel at regularly," Weaver says. "Victoria is an absolute natural when it comes to blending, and to watch her work is to see something pretty darn close to perfection."
Seven generations of Green's family have worked at the Jack Daniel Distillery, a tradition that continues today with Staples and two of her siblings. But the Green family did not benefit when the Daniel family sold the Jack Daniel distillery to Brown-Forman for $20 million in 1956.
"Although they [the Green family] were very well off in terms of finances [in the 1800s] in that time, they were not the owners or co-owners of the Jack Daniel distillery," Benjamin says. "And so, those millions of dollars have been passed down through generations of the Jack Daniel family, and not necessarily the Green family."
Maturing barrels of whiskey in a barrel house on the grounds of the Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. (Photo courtesy Jack Daniel's) Image credit: VOA
Weaver's Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey has joined forces with Jack Daniel's to launch a program that provides support, expertise and resources to African-American entrepreneurs entering the spirits industry.
Staples says her family is thrilled their great-great-grandfather is finally being recognized.
"It's kind of mind-boggling … and we are so proud," Staples says. "And to think that from here to Africa, that recipe goes all the way back. And to think that he played such an important role in establishing this company. It sometimes seems unreal. It really does."
Because of Weaver's tenacity, Green's story, although left untold for more than a century, will not be lost to history. But that's not the case with so many other stories of Black achievement and contributions to the nation.
"Part of telling his story and sharing his legacy is to give credit and to give attention to a person who, if it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have the Jack Daniel whiskey as we know it today," Benjamin says. "It showcases yet another example of how formerly enslaved people, Black people, African American people who have really built this country, are left out of the dominant narrative that we tell." (VOA/RN)
(This article is originally written by Dora Mekouar)
Keywords: Jack Daniel's, Whiskey, Nathan Green, Slavery, Black achievement
Married Hindu women are recognised by a red streak of vermillion in the middle of their foreheads. This is traditionally called 'sindoor', which is derived from the Sanskrit word sindura, meaning 'red lead.'. Sindoor is traditionally powdered turmeric and lime, sometimes red saffron, or red sandalwood. It is also called vermilion, or Kumkum.
Sindoor is traditionally powdered turmeric and lime, sometimes red saffron, or red sandalwood. It is also called vermilion, or Kumkum. Image source: Photo by Gayathri Malhotra on Unsplash
The origin of the practise of wearing sindoor is ambiguous, but historical records from the Harappan civilisation show that women wore sindoor as a sign of being married. Today's generation considers the wearing of sindoor an outdated and patriarchal ritual. However, there is still a large population of women who uphold the ritual of adorning their foreheads with vermilion every day.
Sindoor implies the longevity of a woman's marriage to her husband in the Hindu tradition. The longer the streak, the longer her husband's life is believed to be. Women wear it for the first time on their wedding day, when the husband applies it during the ceremony. As long as he remains alive, the red streak that fills the woman's maang, or hair partition, symbolises her fruitful married life.
When the finger used to apply the sindoor touches the pituitary gland every time, it arouses affection in a woman for her husband. Image credit: Photo by Amish Thakkar on Unsplash
The components of the red powder are believed to improve the sexual energy of the woman. When the finger used to apply the sindoor touches the pituitary gland every time, it arouses affection in a woman for her husband. The mixture that she wears on her head controls her blood pressure and activates her sexual drive.
These days, feminists do not take very lightly to the practice of wearing sindoor, as they view it as a sign of patriarchal dominance. They do not like being branded as 'belonging to a man'. They prefer to wear it as a style statement because it enhances beauty. Fashion designers have recently commissioned models to sport sindoor on the runway. New age feminists are making bids to allow widows and single women to adorn their foreheads with the vermilion streak.
Keywords: Sindoor, Marriage, Symbol, Women, Patriarchy
Nursery Rhymes have been known to teach children many things, functioning as co-curricular exercises at the preschool level. Through certain rhymes, children learn to count, to follow hygiene, and to even say their alphabets. Most of the rhymes, however, have been written with the intent to mask the truth about Reformation England in a form that is non-threatening to any particular group of people. It is one of the ways that certain integral histories have survived in the minds of the people.
Itsy Bitsy Spider is one such rhyme among others. Most of the rhymes written during this time focus on the religious crusades and persecutions carried out by the ruthless monarchy. This rhyme changes the theme a little. It focuses on the people as a society, and it is not about England, but the American Society.
The use of a spider to denote the lower strata of the American Dream is interesting because spiders usually live in dark places, and only come out or climb high to secure food. Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
Known as Incy Wincy Spider in British territories, this rhyme uses allegorical representation to describe the class struggles in America. The lower-class people are depicted as spider who try hard to climb a 'water spout', the social ladder, but have to weather harsh conditions to do so. Often, they are pushed down by rain, or have a tough time because of the upper-class. The use of a spider to denote the lower strata of the American Dream is interesting because spiders usually live in dark places, and only come out or climb high to secure food. They are otherwise a self-sufficient species, spinning webs (homes) anywhere.
The rhyme does not explicitly teach the young children this social truth. Instead, it has been set to music, and turned into a cognitive exercise to enhance muscle movement and cognition in children. They twist their fingers according to the actions of the song, learning to associate the spider's struggle with the initial difficulty to perform the complicated action.
Keywords: Class Divide, American Dream, Rhyme, Spider
The tiny red and yellow insects that serenely sit on green leaves in gardens are considered almost jewels of any botanical space, given their shiny appearance, and biological value. They keep plants healthy by eating the organisms that cause damage to their roots. Farmers are always happy to host ladybirds in their fields. They also serve as a good indicator for fires. When a fire is approaching, these ladybirds fly away quickly.
Ladybirds also serve as a good indicator for fires. When a fire is approaching, these ladybirds fly away quickly. Image source: wikimedia commons
In England, the ladybird is supposedly a symbol of the Virgin Mary, who is depicted as wearing a red cloak in earlier paintings. The seven dots on each wing are believed to represent seven sorrows and seven joys. In other parts of the world, this insect is called a ladybug.
The rhyme that children sing has two meanings. One is to do with the Act of Uniformity that was passed in 1556 and 1662 by Queen Elizabeth I. This act forbade Catholic Mass being held, so priests took to conducting them in secret. The lines in the rhyme that speak about the ladybird flying away to hide are seen as an allusion to this act of hiding. By saying the ladybird is hiding, even under the baking pan, it shows how desperate the Catholics were to hide anywhere, even in little rooms behind the walls of a house.
Ladybirds eat any plant-damaging organisms and therefore are valued greatly by farmers Image source: wikimedia commons
The alternate and more probable meaning to this rhyme is that of an event beckoning fire. In this case, the fire is not a threat but a necessity. The farmers sing to the ladybird to fly away home while they burn the leftovers of their crop to prepare the field for the next sowing. The rhyme holds this meaning particularly in England, where ladybirds are abundant.
Keywords: Ladybird, Farmers, Rhyme, Act of Uniformity