Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Beignets, Whiskey and Coronavirus: A Historical Perspective

Commander K. & Jack Daniel
Lynchburg, TN

March Madness will not being played in 2020.  But another form of March Madness seems to be playing out around the globe.

In the incredibly dark times in which we are now living it is sometimes comforting to get a historical perspective on the ordeal through which we are all enduring.  Coronavirus around the globe has, as of this writing, infected nearly two hundred thousand of people, killed nearly eight thousand people and shut down the global economy.  Listening to our media and social media it sometimes seems that the world is coming to an end.

History tells us that pandemics can be dreadful things.  The Black Death of the Middle Ages, which also seems to have originated in China, is estimated to have killed from 1/3 to perhaps over 50% of the European population.  The Black Death ravaged Asia as well.  The devastation of indigenous populations following the arrival if Columbus in the New World due to the spread of infectious disease has been well documented.  The Spanish Flu of 1918 may have infected around 1/3 of the global population and killed more than all those killed in WWI.  Over 50 million people and perhaps as many as 200 million were killed as a result of this appalling pandemic.

While the potential for massive fatalities is part of our historic record it is also clear, however, tells us that pandemics DO come to an end.  The Black death returned to Europe many times from the 14th to the 17th century.  Eventually, its transmission by means of fleas tied to rodents was identified.  October of 1918 was the worst month of the Spanish flu pandemic but it came to an abrupt en in November of 1918. We in the 21st century far more knowledge about the spread, containment and treatment of disease than our distant ancestors.

We in 2020 know that science and modern medicine will help us reach COVID-19's  "morning after" sooner rather than later.

History teaches us, not only that the Cornavirus will come to an end, but that some amazing new things will come out of this frightful experience.

The shocking truth of history is that some incredibly good things always emerge from crisis and catastrophe.  World War II, the worst war in human history, led directly to the invention of passenger jet travel, FM radio, atomic energy and much more.

Let's consider two other examples closer to the American homeland.

NEW ORLEANS 1862.  1862 was a really horrible year for New Orleans.  In the Louisiana chapter of America Invaded (www.americainvaded.com) we pointed out that New Orleans was invaded in 1862...

David Farragut
Invaded New Orleans
1801 -1870

"Recognizing that New Orleans was the largest city in the South and its most important port, General Winfield Scott of the Union Army proposed the Anaconda Plan, which would strangle the rebellious Southern states by seizing New Orleans and denying access to the Mississippi. Not all of this plan was adopted, but a blockade of the South became a keystone of Union strategy in the war. In April of 1862, David Farragut of the US Navy led a squadron of seventeen ships that would invade New Orleans with far more success than Lord Cochrane’s efforts during the War of 1812.  The Confederates had two forts—Jackson and St. Philip—defending the approach to the city.  They also stretched a chain across the water in order to block the entrance to the Mississippi River. By April 19, the Union Navy broke through the Confederate barriers and began battering the Confederate forts with guns and mortars. Lacking a leader approaching the calibre of Old Hickory, the Confederates surrendered Fort Jackson on April 28. Major General Butler led approximately 15,000 Union troops that occupied the city on May 1, 1862. His harsh treatment of the Louisianans earned him the nickname Beast Butler, but the Confederacy would never regain New Orleans."  (Source: www.americainvaded.com).

Beignets, Coffee and OJ
Cafe du Monde

But also in 1862, as Beast Butler was occupying New Orleans, a store selling coffee and donuts was founded in the French Market-- it would become the World famous Cafe du Monde (https://shop.cafedumonde.com).  This purveyor of delicious beignets and chicory coffee was, therefore, established inside an enemy occupied city during the height of the bloodiest war in American history. In 1942 Hubert Fernandez bought the famous coffee stand from Fred Koeniger.  The Fernandez family continues to own and operate Cafe du Monde to this day.

Jack Daniel
Circa 1849 - 1911
Lynchburg, TN

Now we turn to TENNESSEE in 1866.

The US Civil War, which raged from 1861 to 1865, was the bloodiest war in American history.  Recent scholarship has raised the total American killed to around 750,000.  The infrastructure of the South was devastated by Sherman and other Union forces.  "Sherman's neckties" was the name given to bent and twisted railway ties in Atlanta and other parts of the south.

"In June 1861, Tennessee voted by referendum to become the last state to join the Confederacy. Most of eastern Tennessee, however, opposed secession.  Thirty-one thousand Tennesseans fought in the Union ranks, while many more served in Confederate gray. Over 20,000 freed slaves from Tennessee joined the Union Army.

Tennessee’s geographic location in the Upper Confederacy and its extensive rail and river networks made it a strategic target for both sides during the Civil War. More battles were fought in Tennessee than in any state other than Virginia. Over 2,000 engagements were waged within the borders of Tennessee... "  (Source: www.americainvaded.com)

Jack Daniel
Lynchburg, TN

Jack Daniel was one of ten children born into a poor Scots-Irish family in Tennessee.  The actual year of his birth remains somewhat murky but ranges from 1846 to 1850.  Jack was raised in part by Dan Call, a Lutheran minister who owned a whiskey sill.  It was Nearest Green, one of Reverend Call's slaves, who taught Dan Call and eventually Jack Daniel the secret of the Lincoln County Sour Mash whiskey. The whiskey is leached through coal made of burnt sugar maple trees. The ultimate origins are lost to history but there is some evidence to suggest that it may be derived from water purifications processes that originated in Africa. The Reverend Call, pressured by the temperance movement, sold his whiskey sill to young Jack Daniel.

The Good Stuff

Fortunately for drinkers around the world, Jack Daniel did not serve as a soldier during the US Civil War.  The closing days of the war were exceedingly dangerous for young men of Daniel's age in Tennessee many of whom deserted the Confederate cause forming dangerous criminal gangs.  Tennessee and the entire south were ravaged by the war.  Following the end of the war, the fate of the recently emancipated slaves  was uncertain.  But in 1866 Jack Daniel had the good sense to hire Nearest Green to be his master distiller.  The elderly Green, for his part, was determined "to help 'his Master git back into production.'" (Source: Jack Daniel's Legacy, Green Ben, 1967, p 84, www.amzn.com/0692938486).  While Jack Daniel was a lifelong bachelor, Nearest Green had many children.  Generations of Nearest Greens' descendants, starting with Nearest's sons George and Eli, have worked for Jack Daniel's in Lynchburg.

Jack Daniel founded and registered his distillery (https://www.jackdaniels.com/en-us/visit-us) with the US government in 1866.

Jack's Motto:
"Ye God, Every day we make it, we're going to make it the best we can."

Jack Daniel said, "Every day we make it, we'll make it the best we can."  And so they have from that day to this.

Jack Daniels Distillery
Employs hundreds today in Lynchburg TN

Jack Daniel's distillery was purchased in 1956 by the Brown Forman company who own it today.  It has become an iconic global brand.  Many of the great and good have quaffed Jack Daniel's coal filtered whiskey over the years.  William Faulkner is said to have enjoyed Jack on the rocks. (Source: Jack Daniel's Legacy, Green Ben, 1967, p 253, www.amzn.com/0692938486).  Winston Churchill enjoyed sipping Jack Daniel's whiskey.  Frank Sinatra once famously declared Jack Daniel's whiskey to be "the nectar of the Gods".  Mia Farrow, his third wife, seems to have slipped a bottle of Jack into the crooner's coffin at his 1998 funeral.  Jack Daniel's distillery paid tribute to "old blue eyes" with a premium bottle of Sinatra Select that combines "pleasant smokiness and vanilla finish" and costs over $100 per bottle.


Beignets and a shot of Jack Daniel's Whiskey may not be an effective cure for Coronavirus.  But reflection on their origin in desperately troubled times may give us some hope in our own troubled times.  There will be a "morning after".  Good and even great things are born during times of crisis and catastrophe.  It may be difficult now to discern what great things will come of Coronavirus of 2020 but history teaches us that it is certain that they will emerge in due course.

Tourist notes:  Jack Daniel's Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee is a must see for anyone remotely interested in whiskey (https://www.jackdaniels.com/en-us/visit-us).  Though it is temporarily closed to tourists due to the Coronavirus scourge, the distillery is continuing to make Tennessee sipping whiskey in the old style.

Cafe du Monde in New Orleans continues to turn fried dough and sugar into delicious beignets (https://shop.cafedumonde.com/).  Even in these dark times takeaway is still available.

A new and exciting entrant to the world of whiskey is the Nearest Green Distillery in Shelbyville, Tennessee (https://unclenearest.com/).  This award winning whiskey was founded by Fawn Weaver, a black woman entrepreneur and historian.

The Farragut Folklife Museum in Farragut Tennessee is reminder of the fact that Eastern Tennessee (the home of Admiral Farragut) was overwhelmingly Union in its sympathies during the Civil War.  (http://www.townoffarragut.org/).

You can find signed copies of our books at 
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