This section of Douglass' narrative deals with his year with Edward Covey, a "slavebreaker". This man was too poor to own slaves himself, so he made his reputation on training rebellious slaves to "mind their masters". Douglass was one such slave.
His life with the slavebreaker was harsh and unforgiving. He was beaten horribly on several occasions for minor offenses, the first being that, being a city slave, he did not know how to handle oxen, and he broke a cart and a gate when gathering wood for Mr. Covey. The beating was so severe that welts on his back were sore and bleeding for weeks afterwards. He said of the beating:
I lived with Mr. Covey one year. During the first six months, of that year, scarce a week passed without his whipping me. I was seldom free from a sore back. My awkwardness was almost always his excuse for whipping me.
Most importantly though, is Douglass' tragic admission of how Covey succeeded in breaking his spirit, and the reader is reminded of how absolutely crushing the weight of slavery must have been, to take away the spirit of a man with such great intellect and potential. Admitted Douglass:
If at any one time of my life more than another, I was made to drink the bitterest dregs of slavery, that time was during the first six months of my stay with Mr. Covey... I was somewhat unmanageable when I first went there, but a few months of this discipline tamed me. Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold a man transformed into a brute!