Haitian Roots in New OrleansBy
As our profound sympathies and prayers go out to the victims of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that devastated Haiti yesterday afternoon, we at the Preservation Resource Center are reminded of the very personal connection that New Orleans has to this small Caribbean country. Our historical pasts have intertwined more than once over the past 300 years as the movement of colonists and slaves occurred frequently during the 18th and 19th centuries. Beginning with the Haitian Revolution of 1804, white and free people of color (gens de coulour libres) began to arrive in New Orleans, often with slaves. In fact, 90% of the immigrants escaping the violence from the Revolution settled in New Orleans. With them, they brought a distinct culture and architectural tradition. New Orleans would not be what it is today without these contributions.
A significant impact of the influx of Haitian immigrants and free people of color in New Orleans is the establishment of the Treme neighborhood. Faubourg Treme was among the first predominately African American neighborhoods in the country, and is still an important center of African American culture. After all, one can hardly imagine New Orleans without the brass bands and second line traditions that continue to center in this neighborhood.
Haitian immigrants also contributed significantly to the iconic New Orleans architectural landscape. The Creole cottage originated in the West Indies, and was brought to the city by refugees from Haiti in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. Creole cottages were the most popular housing type during this time.
The shotgun house is another Haitian contribution. This housing type was believed to have originated in West Africa and then brought to Haiti via the slave trade. Shotguns began to appear in New Orleans in the 1830’s, and within 20 years they overtook the Creole cottage as the most dominant housing type.
It is clear that New Orleans would not be what it is today without the intermixing of culture that occurred between New Orleans and Haiti. Unfortunately, New Orleans now shares a new connection to Haiti, as this country will struggle greatly to overcome a natural disaster that threatens to tear their country apart at the seams. They will need outside support and guidance to get through the immediate crisis of search and rescue and housing the newly homeless, as well as when they move into the recovery phase of this disaster. It is our hope that New Orleanians will recognize our very real connection to Haiti and will do what they can to assist.
Learn more about the devastation in Haiti at Architectural Record’s website.
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