Did you know? As early as the 17th century and as late as the 19th century, some people used a specific dog breed to turn roasting meat in kitchens like those here at Tryon Palace. The British developed a breed, called a turnspit, which was a terrier akin to a large dachshund — long and low to the ground, but sturdy and strong. Turnspits trotted either on a treadmill or in a cage with a wheel that was connected to the spit. As the dog walked or ran, the meat turned and cooked evenly.
Though they were used widely in Great Britain, there are few examples of turnspit dogs being used in the American colonies. Later in the 18th century, mechanized devices like the clock jack, as seen in the Tryon Palace Kitchen Office, took the place of turnspit dogs.
The 1853 image of a turnspit dog is from the Rev. John G. Wood’s “Illustrated Natural History (Mammalia),” and shows that the breed looked similar to a dachshund or a Welsh corgi.
For more info, listen to the story below, “Turnspit Dogs: The Rise And Fall Of The Vernepator Cur,” below, which originally aired May 13, 2014 on NPR’s Morning Edition.