New Orleans Shotgun Houses That Arrived With African Slaves From Haiti

Photo via Wikimedia Commons
Photo via Wikimedia Commons


The shotgun houses in New Orleans were not named after a weapon or a gun manufacturer. The shotgun house got its name from the idea of navigating through the structure’s narrow rooms and shooting small pellets at a bird through the front door and out the back without touching the wall.

According to the Preservation Resource Centre Headquarters, the name was popular in the late nineteenth century but only made it into the dailies in the early twentieth century. A typical shotgun house has one large room on the ground floor, with a high one-story on top with two or more rooms and its front door facing the road.

The shotgun house’s exterior is notable for being thinner and longer than usual. Because there are no hallways, leaving the shotgun house would necessitate invading the privacy of others.

Owning a shotgun house is not for those who value their privacy in their bedrooms.

For centuries, historians and academics have debated the origins of shotgun houses.

In 1930, geographer Fred B. Kniffen proposed a theory that the demand for real estate tax-based frontage in New Orleans was what caused the shotgun houses to spring up. According to the tax codes, no such demand has ever existed since the establishment of the tax office.

Some have attempted to trace its roots back to the Caribbean’s palmetto and choctaw huts. This claim is belied by the Caribbean connection. Others believed that the introduction of shotgun houses in 1856 was the work of Robert’s & Company. In the mid-1800s, they most likely had a state housing contract and built it all over New Orleans.

In 1810, the presence of French Quarter long houses defeated this position. According to John Michael Vlach’s research ‘The shotgun house: an African architectural legacy,’ the origins of shotgun houses can be traced back to enslaved African people brought from Guinea and Angola to Saint Domingue in present-day Haiti.

He made a connection between the architecture of Yoruba buildings in Nigeria and those found in Haiti with rectangular shapes. He concluded that the slave revolt in Haiti in 1791 caused a mass exodus of Haitians to New Orleans, resulting in the rectangular houses there. When Haitians moved to Louisiana, the same structure began to spring up, with many replicating the shotgun houses of Port-au-Prince in New Orleans.

Another researcher, Kniffen, explained that the shotgun houses were built near waterways, which are common in Francophone culture. The presence of shotgun houses from Africa to Haiti to New Orleans, according to the researchers, is a result of technological diffusion.

Poverty, as well as the desire to conserve resources and make shotgun houses appealing to low-income earners, most likely informed such structures.

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