By Tony Connors, President of the Westport Historical Society
We see her name on the street sign in the center of Westport: Charlotte White Road. She is mentioned in local history books as a healer, a midwife, a poet. But what do we really know about Charlotte White?
Let’s start with her name. The typical pronunciation of the name Charlotte is “Shar-lot” but there is a local oral tradition that it was pronounced “Sha-lot-ee.” How did Charlotte herself pronounce her name? The first clue was found a few years ago when the late Bill Wyatt, former president of the Historical Society, was researching the 19th-century account books of the Westport physicians Eli and James Handy. Bill found an entry for “Charlotty White,” a phonetic spelling of her name that indicates a three-syllable pronunciation. The second clue can be found in the town records regarding early poor relief in Westport. Several town records from 1812-1813 refer to her as “Cholata” White, which drops the “r” (as most locals from Massachusetts and Rhode Island do) and flattens the final “e” to “ah,” but clearly shows the three-syllable form. Based on this evidence, it is most likely she was called “Sha-lot-ah.”