Covey was a brutal slavedriver that Douglass worked for after he was sold away from Baltimore. Covey was sadistic and sneaky in dealing with slaves, often crawling on all fours behind bushes to catch slaves during an idle moment, which he would then punish with a beating. Covey was successful in "breaking" Douglass with physical punishment, but his brutality also elicits a response from the young man. Eventually Douglass decides that he cannot endure the abuse any more, and fights back. He prefaces his description of the struggle with the dramatic line:
You have seen how a man was made a slave; you shall see how a slave was made a man.
In a struggle that lasted nearly two hours, Douglass managed to fight off the brutal overseer, who never treated him with violence again. Douglass remembers the event as a major turning point in his life, second only, perhaps to his learning to read:
This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning-point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom, and revived within me a sense of my own manhood. It recalled the departed self-confidence, and inspired me again with a determination to be free.
Beating up Covey, in other words, made Douglass feel like a man again, rather than, in his words, a "brute." He reached a point where he could no longer tolerate slavery, and after asserting himself against Covey, he eventually decided to run away.