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Found: 200-Year-Old Cannonball From French and Indian War

Potentially still live, the incendiary device has been moved to a safe location to be neutralized

The 1759 cannonball (Lafontaine Inc.)
smithsonian.com

Last week, workers at a building site in Quebec City came across something unexpected: a potentially live cannonball. It was launched in 1759 during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham during the French and Indian War, reports Stephen Smith at CBC News

Weighing in at almost 200 pounds, the rusty projectile was found during a building excavation at Hamel and Couillard Streets by workers from Lafontaine Inc. The workers gathered around the cannonball for pictures unaware that it still had a charge of gunpowder inside.

As Ashifa Kassam at The Guardian reports, it wasn’t until archaeologist Serge Rouleau had loaded the bomb on a trailer and trucked it to his home that he noticed a rusty hole in the center of the shell, indicating it might still be packed with powder. He contacted the Canadian military who sent out a bomb disposal expert.

“With time, humidity got into its interior and reduced its potential for exploding, but there’s still a danger,” Master Warrant Officer Sylvain Trudel tells Smith. “Old munitions like this are hard to predict … You never know to what point the chemicals inside have degraded.”

As Kassam reports, the team has moved the cannonball to a safe locations where they hope to fill it with chemicals to neutralize any remaining explosives. If it works, the shell could be displayed in a museum, but if not they will have to destroy it.

It’s believed the cannonball was an incendiary device launched by the British to set Quebec buildings on fire during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham—a conflict that took place on September 13, 1759. It was a pivotal battle in the French and Indian War, which was the North American theater of the Seven Year’s War, a conflict between Britain and France and Spain as well as a pan-European war between Prussia and Russia, France, Austria and Sweden. Crucially, British forces beat French troops and seized the strategic city of Quebec. By 1760, the British would take over the Colony of New France completely, marking the end of France's power in North America.

While the latest cannonball find may be the oldest, it isn’t the first potentially live cannonball found in North America this year. In April, construction workers in Pittsburgh uncovered about 300 Civil War-era cannonballs that were removed by explosives experts. Also in April, a man in Hull, Massachusetts found a 19th Century cannonball in a box of antiques he’d bought. The state police bomb squad took the relic to a landfill and blew it up.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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