Shotgun houses exist in abundance throughout America, especially in the South. For years historians credited their architectural design to the Greek Revival style of house due to the gabled roof. The shotgun house originates in structure and name from West Africa. The Yoruba word "togun" means "house;" "shogun" means "God's house." Folk etymology explains the word "shotgun" comes from the fact one can shoot a shotgun through the front door and out the back door without hitting a wall. The word shotgun is a creolization of these explanations.

Shotgun houses are one room wide, and two to three rooms deep. The front of the house has a gable and usually a porch. The door on the short side breaks from the Euro-American tradition of having the door on the long side of the house.

....T.........Yoruba............................. ......Haiti........................................American South

The above floor plans detail the transition of the shotgun house from West Africa, to the Caribbean, and into New Orleans. The Yoruba House had the shotgun structure without the porches. During the slave trade, West Africans were brought to the Caribbean for sugar cane production in 1503. The Tainos, the original inhabitants of Haiti, lived in simple houses made of thatched walls and roofs. When the Africans arrived in Haiti they combined the house of the Tainos with their own. These houses, called cailles, were made of mud, straw, wood, and thatch. The caille was usually a thin, narrow building with a gabled entrance, with plastered, stucco walls, a thatched roof, and shuttered windows. Houses such as these may still be found in rural Haiti, where villages without monetary resources are limited to using only natural materials. But more commonly one will find shotgun houses made of wood the next logical transformation.

Restored shotgun housein Haiti.
Restored Shotgun in New Orleans
Shotgun house in South Carolina Low Country
In 1791 the slaves revolted sending plantation owners fleeing with their slaves to America arriving in New Orleans, with many moving north to the Mississippi Delta. At the same time African refugees from Haiti arrived in Charleston, South Carolina. In both South Carolina and Louisiana, the shotgun house soon appeared throughout the countryside.

These houses transformed as the moved from rural to urban. One thing that remained the same was the need to group the houses in rows. This grouping reflects a West African method of houses working together as groups. The "shotgun row" kept the houses cool in the summer time and warm in the winter. West Africans think communal before individual, and the architecture reflects this philosophy. While the construction of these houses deviate from the West Indies, their grouping comes from West Africa. Shotgun rows are used in both rural and urban.

In Charleston, the shotgun house has been transformed into the "Charleston single house."

See Charleston houses
The shotgun house has become a staple of American architecture. In the African American community the shotgun house has taken the place as a symbol for their connection to both Africa and the collective American past. Artist John Biggers uses the shotgun house to express the African American cultural experience and the American past; the images below exemplify this experience.