This photo—taken at the turn of the century—shows Jack Daniel (in the white hat) seated next to George Green, the son of Nathan “Nearest” Green who was the first Black master distiller in America.
It was long believed that Daniel was taught how to make whiskey by a wealthy landowner and Lutheran preacher named Dan Call. However, his true teacher was Nathan Green who had been rented out by his owners to Call. Green essentially took Daniel under his wing and went on to work for his whiskey business after the end of the Civil War.
Green’s contribution was more of an open secret whose story has been passed down for generations. After more than 150 years, Brown-Forman (the company that owns Jack Daniel’s) officially recognized Green as the first master distiller (Jack as the second). Much of the history behind American whiskey has often been centered around Scots-Irish and other European distilling traditions; however, enslaved men were heavily involved in the distilling process and provided more than just physical labor. Many of the enslaved people in the south had intimate knowledge of alcohol production techniques that originated from West Africa.
Nathan Green’s contribution is now acknowledged on the official Jack Daniel’s website and in their distillery tours in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Interestingly enough, the distillery is located in a dry county and cannot sell any liquor. They get around the law by selling commemorative Jack Daniel’s bottles that just happen to have whiskey in them.