Slavery is something that has been around since the beginning of time. Even with all attempts to stop it, slavery still exists. Nowadays, we have human trafficking, where it’s modern slavery for sex or hard labor. In the United States, slavery started around 1619 when the first slaves landed in Jamestown. Slaves were treated like animals, even sometimes worse. They were branded, separated from their families, beaten, tortured, and even raped. This is what caused a slave named Celia to snap and murder her slave owner one night.
Before the Murder
In 1850, in Callaway County, Missouri, slave owner Robert Newsom bought a 14-year old slave-girl named Celia. She was the first female he bought after having five male slaves. If you have ever seen any documentaries, movies, or read any books, you know that one thing that slave owners usually did was rape their female slaves. It didn’t matter if they were 14, 20, 30; slave owners thought they owned these women and would repeatedly rape them. This is what happened with Celia. A little bit after arriving, Robert Newsom started to do so. He spent five years doing so. In 1851 and 1855, Celia gave birth to two babies. It was evident that both were mixed, and their father was the slave owner Robert Newsom. In 1855, Celia started dating another slave, George. Shortly after that, she became pregnant. According to testimony during the trial, George said that he told Celia that “he would have nothing to do with her if she did not quit the old man.” This is interesting to me that George would demand this of her when he was a slave himself. A slave who did not have any rights, so George’s expectation would is a bit perplexing.
But George demanded it, so Celia went to Robert Newsom’s daughters and begged them to talk to their dad to stop him forcing himself onto her. The court papers don’t have it in there if his daughters tried talking to him, but one thing it does say is that the rapes continued. She tried imploring Robert Newsom to at least leave her alone until she gave birth. He didn’t care. Celia then warned him that if he didn’t stop, she would hurt him. Even then, he didn’t listen. He should have listened.
The Fateful Night
On June 23, 1855, Robert Newsom went to Celia’s cabin a little after 10 PM. When he came in ready to force her to have sex, Celia huddled in a corner. Even seeing her fear, Robert Newsom continued approaching. He didn’t expect that Celia would carry through with her threats. She had placed a stick in the corner she was now in. When Robert Newsom came close enough to her, Celia swung the stick and struck him on the head. Robert Newsom fell to the ground. While he was down, Celia hit him a second time over the head. Robert Newsom died.
Celia decided to burn Robert Newsom’s body in the fireplace. After his body was burnt, Celia dragged the body outside and lit a bonfire. The fire kept on an entire night. The next morning she took the remaining bones and smashed them.
At Rober Newsom’s house, his family was wondering where he was. They started looking for him. Celia asked his grandson Coffee Waynescot to help her shovel the ashes out of her fireplace. Not knowing that those ashes were of his grandfather, Coffee shoveled them out of the fireplace and into a bucket to throw out in the stables. During his testimony, Coffee said, “she would give me two dozen walnuts if I would carry the ashes out.”
Robert Newsom’s family were still searching for him during all this. They at first thought he had drowned but couldn’t find him in the creek. A search party was found and nothing. Not sure if they questioned the slaves, but it came about that George probably was the one who got rid of Robert Newsom. Another slave owner in a nearby farm named Willliam Powell questioned George. He denied knowing anything, but he started getting deadly threats, so he added that he saw Robert Newsom heading towards Celia’s cabin.
The search party went into Celia’s home but didn’t find anything suspicious, so they went to question her. Celia told them that she had no idea where he was. They kept pressing her. Celia added that he had sex with her the night before he disappeared. After the questioning continued, Celia told them to send Robert Newsom’s sons out of the room. When they left, Celia confessed to murdering him.
She told them to look for his ashes in the stables. They found bone fragments and the parts of his clothes that couldn’t burn to a crisp.
A year before the murder took place, Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed settlers to decide if they wanted to have slaves or not. This is a little less than ten years before the Civil War would take place, so there were rising tensions between people who were pro-slavery and those who were against it.
So when Celia’s trial started on October 9, 1855, a community split into two and the politics as well. Judge William Hall knew that this trial would be important. One side wanted Celia executed, and the other wanted her free.
The judge appointed John Jameson as Celia’s attorney. One of the reasons he did was that John Jameson was not involved in either side so that no one could contest it. John Jameson had two young attorneys supporting him. Isaac Boulware and Nathan Kouns. It was said that the jurors were all farmers, male, and a few were slave owners.
Investigator Jefferson Jones was the first witness. He said that she admitted to murdering Robert Newsom and how she got rid of the body. He also said that he had heard that Robert Newsome was repeatedly raping Celia from another farmer. Jefferson said that when he talked to Celia, she had told him that she didn’t want to kill but hurt him.
The second witness was one of Robert Newsom’s daughters Virginia Waynescot. She testified, “I hunted on all of the paths and walks and every place for him.” When asked why Celia would hurt her father, Virginia said she had no idea why. She offered that it was maybe because she “took sick.” She never once said that Celia had gone to her and her sister to have their father stop raping her.
The last witness after Coffee Waynescot, who said he had no idea he was shoveling his grandfather’s ashes, was the slave owner Wiliam Powell who questioned Celia. He admitted to threatening her by separating her from her kids. He said that Celia told him that Newsom was repeatedly raping her, and she tried talking to his daughters and talking to him. He testified like Jefferson that Celia said she never meant to kill him.
As a slave, Celia was not called as a witness.
Judge Hall rejected
The defense tried to offer a non-guilty verdict because of self-defense. Judge William Hall rejected it. He rejected all attempts by the defense to make it impossible for no plea but guilty of murder. On October 10, Celia was found guilty of first-degree murder.
Judge William Hall sentenced Celia to be “hanged by the neck until dead on November 16, 1855.” The defense team appealed the decision to the Missouri Supreme Court.
The baby Celia was pregnant with was born stillborn. Five days before she was meant to be executed, someone took Celia out of prison and then returned her when November 16 passed.
The Missouri Supreme Court denied the appeal, and Judge William Hall set the new execution date to December 21, 1855. The day before her execution, Celia told a Fulton Telegraph journalist, “as soon as I struck him, the Devil got into me, and I struck him with a stick until he was dead, and then rolled him into the fire and burnt him up.”
Celia was hung on December 21, 1855, at 2:30 PM. It was said in the newspaper that Celia “hanged until she died.”
Poor Celia. What would you do if someone kept coming into your home to rape you repeatedly? Your home is supposed to be your haven where you feel at peace and relaxed. Celia was not able to have that like many female slaves back then. I assume that her two surviving children were slaves, but I am hoping that they at least could get their freedom after the Civil War. George is one piece of work. I have no words for him. Celia was a reluctant female killer who didn’t deserve the injustice that she had to endure in her short life.