BY Stephen Nartey, 5:00pm October 28, 2022,

The shotgun houses of New Orleans that arrived with African slaves from Haiti

Small "shotgun" style house, old residential neighborhoods of New Orleans. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

The New Orleans shotgun houses did not pick their name from any weapon or named after a gun manufacturer. The shotgun house simply derived its name from the idea of navigating through the narrow rooms of the structure and shooting small pellets at a bird through the front door and out of the rear without touching the wall. 

The name came up strongly in the late 19th century but made it into the dailies in the early 20th century, according to Preservation Resource Centre Headquarters. A typical shotgun house has one spacious room, with a high one-story on top which has two or more rooms with its front door facing the road. One towering feature about the shotgun house is that its exterior is thinner and longer than usual.

It has no hallways, so it would require invading the privacy of others to make it out of the shotgun house. Owning a shotgun house is not the preserve of those who cherish privacy in their rooms. The origins of the shotgun houses have engaged the minds of historians and academics for ages. 

In 1930, geographer Fred B. Kniffen sought to explain with the theory that the demand for real estate tax-based frontage in New Orleans is what gave rise to the springing up of the shotgun houses. Checks with the tax codes reveal that no such demand ever existed since the setting up of the tax office. 

Some have sought to link its origins to the palmetto and choctaw huts in the Caribbean. The Caribbean connection betrays this claim. Others were of the view that the advent of the shotgun houses could be the work of Robert’s & Company in 1856. They probably had a state housing contract and built it across New Orleans in the mid-1800s.  

This position was defeated by the presence of French Quarter long houses in 1810. John Michael Vlach in his research ‘The shotgun house: an African architectural legacy’ said the origins of the shotgun houses can be traced to the enslaved African people of Saint Domingue in present-day Haiti who were brought from Guinea and Angola. 

He drew a link to the architecture of building in Yoruba in Nigeria and that of the ones found in Haiti with rectangular shapes. He concluded that the slave revolt of 1791 in Haiti caused the mass exodus of many Haitians to New Orleans and brought about the rectangular houses there. The same structure began springing up when the Haitians moved to Louisiana, with many replicating the shotgun houses of Port-au-Prince in New Orleans.

Another researcher Kniffen explained that the shotgun houses that were erected were close to the waterways characteristic of Francophone culture. The researchers indicated that the presence of shotgun houses from Africa to Haiti to New Orleans was a result of the diffusion of technology.

What probably informed such structures was a result of poverty, and the desire to conserve resources and make the shotgun houses appealing to low-income earners.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: October 28, 2022


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