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Jack Daniel’s Revises Its History to Include Slave’s Major Contribution

Food and Drink By
Bottles of Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Select Tennessee Whiskey sit near the bottling line at Jack Daniel's Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. Jack Daniel's is owned by Brown-Forman Corp., which announced a regular quarterly cash dividend of 29 cents per share on its Class A and Class B Common stock last week in a company press release. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bottles of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select Tennessee Whiskey sit near the bottling line at Jack Daniel’s Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Lynchburg whiskey bastion is correcting some facts in its founder’s story. Until this year, the origin story purported Jack Daniel’s namesake learned the distilling craft from a distiller named Dan Call who recognized Daniel’s work ethic. However, the distillery is using the 150th anniversary as an opportunity to give credit to where it’s due: to a slave. Apparently, it was Dan Call’s slave, named Nearis Green, who taught Daniel’s the art of whiskey making back in the 1850s.

The New York Times‘ Clay Risen wrote about Jack Daniel’s recent admission (or longtime omission depending on how you view it). The Tennessee distillery is likely not the only Southern institution to exclude slaves’ contributions. Risen writes:

“Slavery and whiskey, far from being two separate strands of Southern history, were inextricably entwined. Enslaved men not only made up the bulk of the distilling labor force, but they often played crucial skilled roles in the whiskey-making process. In the same way that white cookbook authors often appropriated recipes from their black cooks, white distillery owners took credit for the whiskey.”

Read the full story here. Take a visual tour of the Jack Daniel’s distillery with a selection of images from a historic photo essay by Ed Clark originally published in LIFE magazine in 1949 below.

Tasters testing whiskey at Jack Daniels distillery. (Photo by Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Tasters testing whiskey at Jack Daniel’s distillery. (Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Barrels sitting in warehouse at Jack Daniels distillery. (Photo by Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Barrels sitting in warehouse at Jack Daniels distillery. (Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Tasters testing whiskey at the Jack Daniels distillery. (Photo by Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Tasters testing whiskey at the Jack Daniel’s distillery. (Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Making Jack Daniels whiskey at his distillery, showing the leaching process with charcoal. (Photo by Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Making Jack Daniel’s whiskey at his distillery, showing the leaching process with charcoal. (Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Barrels being rolled on wooden rails at Jack Daniels distillery. (Photo by Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Barrels being rolled on wooden rails at Jack Daniel’s distillery. (Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)