On the official website of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, it is claimed that their founder Jack Daniel died of an infected toe after kicking his safe in frustration at being unable to open the combination lock. However, there are those – including Jack Daniel’s biographer – who dispute this version of events. Let’s investigate.
The man who would go on to create one of the world’s most iconic sourmash whiskey brands had an inauspicious start in life. Jasper Newton “Jack” Daniel was the youngest of 10 children born to Welsh-Scots Baptists in Lynchburg Tennessee in the middle of the 19th Century. His mother died from complications in childbirth. Jack didn’t get along with his stepmother. He left home in pre-adolescence and was taken in by Reverend Call a preacher and part-time distiller.
The official story goes that Jack befriended Call’s slave Nearest Green and learned the art of distilling whiskey from him. In 1866, a year after the American Civil War had ended, the Reverend decided that making whiskey was an insufficiently spiritual pastime so sold the business to 16-year old Jack, who employed the newly emancipated Green as his master distiller.
Never Let the Facts Get in the Way of a Good Story.
So far, so American Dream. However, Mr Daniel’s biographer – Peter Krass – disputes some of the dates. Jack Daniel’s Distillery was not registered until 1875. The 1866 founding date appears to be a convenient fiction to support the marketing opportunities around the 150th anniversary of the brand in 2016.
And what about that stubbed toe leading to Jack Daniel’s death? Krass has questioned this story as well. The legend tells that he kicked the safe in 1906 – full five years before his death from complications arising from gangrene. Krass concludes that the safe-kicking was not the cause of the infection that led to Jack Daniel’s demise.
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