Hand-forged by the enslaved blacksmith Solomon Williams, the robust iron bits and shafts were used to drill water wells at Bermuda/Oakland Plantation in 1823. According to oral tradition, construction of the well-drilling equipment was commissioned by Planter Jean-Pierre Emmanuel Prud'homme and designed by a French engineer. Operation of the well-drilling equipment purportedly required a human labor force at least 15 enslaved workers. The Bermuda/Oakland Plantation well-drilling equipment is speculated to be the earliest American example of a one-of a-kind set of French design and slave manufacture.
"With the above tools rotated by hand, at least three and possibly four 400-ft holes were bored on the Prud'homme Oakland Plantation in 1823. No water was encountered in sufficient quantity to serve useful purposes. Consequently, the holes were abandoned. Small quantities of a combustible gas called ’damp’ or ’fire damp,’ probably ’marsh gas’ or methane, were encountered ... A heavy timber tripod and a windlass are said to have been used to handle the square, wrought iron drill rods, which weighed about 3,000 lbs. at the maximum well depth of 400 feet. The rods were 15 ft. long thus requiring a tower of at least 20 ft. high."
Brantly, J.E. History of Oil Well Drilling. Houston: Gulf Publishing Company, 1971.
This double-helix shaped well-drilling bit was likely a worm or fishing tool, attached to a drilling stem and designed to remove the drill stem, extraneous debris, or to collect lost tools from within the subterranean shaft. Oakland Plantation, a National Bicentennial Farm and National Historic Landmark, is a unit of Cane River Creole National Historical Park in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana.