Canister Shot Physical Object

Accession Number
Alternate object names
Shot;Cannon Shot;Munition;Ammunition;Column Shot
Creation Date
circa 1620
This lead cylinder is embedded with assorted pieces of iron. It is thought that this piece is a sort of canister shot. In the sixteenth century, the Spanish used a type of shot called bodoques, which were lead balls with an embedded iron cube. The idea behind bodoques was that the iron would increase the penetration of the lead. If this piece is indeed shot, it appears to have been designed with the same principle in mind. 9.0 x 8.0 cm.

9.0 x 8.0 cm.

Exhibition Label
Case Caption (2023):

Defending The Ship

Spain’s fleets were always in danger. English, French, and Dutch privateers, as well as pirates of all nations, lurked in the Atlantic. If they could not capture the whole fleet, they might well seize a straggler. Both the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita were guard galleons—heavily-armed ships ready to defend the flotilla against all comers.

The galleons’ cannons, capable of delivering powerful broadsides, were the first line of defense. Gunners were highly skilled. They would have started out as common sailors, but they received additional pay when they gained expertise.

Aboard the Atocha, Captain Garcia de Nodal was in charge of the ship’s company of soldiers. They were experienced infantrymen, seasoned in Spain’s endless wars, and they considered themselves superior to the sailors as a result. Despite this attitude, some of them decided to learn seamanship. While they would refuse to help with menial tasks, such as scrubbing the deck, they were often knowledgeable enough to help raise the sails. In times of battle, they might assist with the cannon before hand-to-hand fighting broke out.
Object Caption (2023):

Canister Shot and Langrage
Lead (c.1620)
Gift of Jamestown Inc.
1986.008.1826a-b, 1986.008.3027k-u

Canister shot provided the means to deliver anti-personnel munitions from a distance. A cannon could fire it from the distance of almost a mile, with a shotgun shell type of effect. When it hit, the canister would break and the lead balls inside it would fly across the deck, striking crew members individually.

This langrage was made of scraps of iron, often tied together in a canvas bag. By the time it reached the enemy ship, the bag would have burned away, allowing the langrage to spread out somewhat. Sometimes hard-pressed gunners fired old nails and other debris – anything that would cause a wound.