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Kelly Boyer Sagert

Edward Covey, about twenty-eight years old in 1834, lived with his wife and infant son, Edward, on a rented farm of 150 acres located about seven miles from Saint Michaels, Maryland. The Covey home was small, unpainted, and hidden nearly a mile from the main road. Before setting up as a small farmer, Covey worked as an overseer, where he may have gained his reputation as a “Negro breaker.” In 1834 he rented the services of Frederick Douglass for an entire year. Douglass, nearly sixteen years old, initially submitted to the regular whippings but he eventually fought back and later recorded that this was when he finally felt like a man.

Douglass's owner, Thomas Auld, leased his slave's services to Covey; through this arrangement, Covey would receive low-cost farm labor and Auld could expect a more submissive slave in return. On 1 January 1834 Douglass traveled the ...