The Nearest Green Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded by husband and wife team, Keith and Fawn Weaver. In June 2016, while in Singapore, they read the cover story of the New York Times international edition about a slave who was said to have been responsible for teaching a young Jack Daniel the art of making fine whiskey.
In a second article, they were particularly struck by the words of a man identified as a descendant of Nearest (misspelled “Nearis” in the articles), “He never received the credit he deserved.” Those words led Fawn─a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author─to Lynchburg to interview that descendant.
Additional time spent with dozens of Nearest Green’s descendants across the country cemented the Weavers desire to learn more about this legend who had somehow been forgotten over time. Listening to their hearts and desires fueled their passion and spurred them to action. Their desire to see Nearest properly honored around the world is what led to the the Nearest Green Foundation.
While researching, she interviewed more than 100 people and began spending countless hours with the family of Nearest Green. During their times together, it became abundantly clear they all longed for their ancestor to receive the recognition he’d long been denied. Most of them, ironically, knew minimal information about him. Only that their parents and grandparents shared stories about how Nearest and his sons made the whiskey for Jack Daniel’s Distillery in its early days.
“Here was this incredible story of a slave who was the first African-American master distiller on record in the United States, who taught one of the world’s most recognizable men and then following slavery became the first master distiller for what is now one of the top whiskey brands in the world,” said Fawn while discussing her findings.
“So little of the details had been passed down beyond the first few generations that the story of Nearest Green had turned into a bit of folklore.” Seeing the family’s desire to truly know who Nearest was, what he did, and the impact he made during his years on earth pushed Fawn to keep looking for more.
Bringing together more than 20 historians, archeologists, archivists, genealogists, researchers and conservators from 5 different states, she was able to begin piecing together the story of Nathan “Nearest” Green.
The entire community of Lynchburg, Tennessee chipped in on the research offering original documents and artifacts that had been passed down from home to home throughout the generations. By the time everything was gathered, more than 10,000 original documents and artifacts had been reviewed and she could finally share with the family of Nearest Green more about who he was and what he did.
Nearest Green’s triumph over his original circumstances was remarkable and his journey from slavery to one of the wealthiest African-Americans in the area was as much about his spirit of forgiveness and grace as it was about his legacy of excellence.
It is that legacy the Nearest Green Foundation strives to uphold and share with the world. Somehow, some way, Nearest Green’s legacy was once forgotten. Now, we look at it as our responsibility to make sure that never happens again.