By Breana Pitts

GRAFTON (CBS) – It happens here, in Grafton, where we went back in time to the Grafton Historical Society to solve a 200-year-old dispute – who brought the Valentine card to America?

Norman Taft, Jr. says it was his great, great uncle, Jotham Taft.

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“Jotham Taft was generally thought of as the father of the American Valentines,” Taft told WBZ.

Legend has it Jotham and his wife took a trip to Germany in 1839 and brought home a European Valentine Card.

“When they came back, they decided they could do it here in Grafton,” explained Nancy Therrian, President of the Grafton Historical Society.

Jotham eventually expanded to a factory, selling cards with the logo “NEVC” for New England Village Company.

“There was another person he helped to mentor which was Esther Howland. I think their relationship was professional. I think they were on friendly terms, but at some point, they became competitors too. When she branched off from him, we could say she was ahead of her time. She was a real go-getter gal,” Taft said.

Howland, a Mount Holyoke Graduate, converted the third floor of her Worcester home into a mini assembly line. And she didn’t exactly distinguish herself from Jotham either, calling her business “New England Valentine Company.”

Rumors started flying.

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People said Esther brought the Valentine Card to America and they started calling her “The Mother of the American Valentine.” Author Ruth Webb Lee published A History of Valentines and gave all the credit to Esther! Norman’s family even wrote to Miss Lee, but she wouldn’t change it.

A newspaper clipping from the Blackstone Valley Tribune. (Photo credit: Breana Pitts – WBZ-TV)

“We wanted to set the record straight and, for Jotham, we wanted to get credit where credit is due. What drove my father’s and grandmother’s interest was the slight. Here’s an expert, writing a book who couldn’t be bothered with completing her research,” Taft explained to WBZ.

Taft says while it’s unfortunate, he’s moved on. Plus, he’s got the Valentines to prove he’s right anyway. No matter who started the Valentine Card tradition in America, one thing is true.

Valentines made by Jotham Taft at the Grafton Historical Society. (Photo credit: Breana Pitts – WBZ-TV)

“I think it shows that people care deeply about each other and I think that’s why the tradition has continued,” said Therrian.

The Grafton Historical Society keeps a small exhibit with Valentine Cards created by both Jotham and Esther so you can judge for yourself.

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Many of Esther’s cards have been preserved in the Mount Holyoke College Archives, where she was a graduate. They are displayed on campus every Valentine’s Day.

Breana Pitts