Slave Celia's Story

Missouri Hangs Slave Celia

Missouri Hangs Slave Celia

After four years of Robert Newsom repeatedly sexually assaulting her, the girl Celia killed Newsom as he was about to rape her again

Missouri hung Celia.

December 21, 1855

Missouri Hangs Slave Celia
This may be a picture of the slave Celia
“Spiegel im Spiegel” from Alina by Arvo Pärt
Missouri Hangs Slave Celia


It was 1850 and Robert Newsom owned 800 acres of land in Middle River, Missouri. He also owned five male slaves. During that summer Newsom purchased Celia, a fourteen-year-old girl from a slave owner in neighboring Audrain County

Newsom immediately began to rape Celia. Between 1851 and 1855 Celia gave birth to two children.

In late 1854 or early 1855, George, one of  Newsom’s slaves, began a relationship with Celia.

In early March 1855, Celia was again pregnant.  George told Celia that she must stop Newsom’s abuse. George would later say that  “he would have nothing more to do with her if she did not quit the old man.”

Celia asked Newsom’s adult daughters to intervene. They may or may not have, but if they did, nothing happened. Newsom continued to rape Celia. Celia asked Newsom to stay away while she was pregnant. He refused.

Missouri Hangs Slave Celia

June 23, 1855

On June 23, 1855 around 10 PM, Newsom entered Celia’s cabin. He advanced upon her, but she picked up a large stick and struck him in the head. He collapsed. She hit him again, killing him.

Celia  decided to burn Newsom’s body. She built a  large fire in the cabin’s fireplace, dragged Newsom’s body into it, and kept the fire burning.  Late in the night, with the body mostly ashes, she dispersed them in the outside yard.  She buried larger pieces of bone under the hearth.

Missouri Hangs Slave Celia

June 24, 1855

Noting the absence of Newsom the next morning, the worried family searched for him. Neighbors assisted, one of whom was William Powell. Powell knew of the relationship between George and Cilia (and also likely knew of Newsom’s abuse). Powell questioned George suspecting that George may have sought revenge.

George denied any knowledge and at first did not cooperate, but did eventually tell Powell that the last thing he knew Newsom had done was walk toward Celia’s cabin.  A search of the cabin turned up nothing.

Powell questioned Celia. He threatened to take away her children if she did not cooperate.  She did finally admit that Newsom had come to her cabin and that with him still outside she had hit him and that he had left.

Powell continued to question Celia, She finally confessed to the killing, but as self-defense. A more intense search of her cabin and the area revealed Newsom’s burnt bone fragments, buttons, a pocketknife, and other personal items. Authorities arrested Celia.

Missouri Hangs Slave Celia

June 25, 1855

At the June 25 inquest, Celia insisted that she did not mean to kill Newsom. Nonetheless, a six-person panel found probable cause to charge Celia with murder. She was brought to the Callaway County jail in Fulton, nine miles to the north of the Newsom farm.

Missouri Hangs Slave Celia

October 9, 1855

The trial began in the Callaway County Courthouse. Circuit Court Judge William Hall presided.  Hall chose John Jameson as Celia’s defense lawyer. Jameson was an experienced lawyer, but a slave owner. Hall also appointed two inexperienced lawyers to assist Jameson.

The twelve jurors were all white males (women were not allowed as jurors at the time), all but one married with children, and several were slave owners.

Missouri Hangs Slave Celia

October 10, 1855

The trial

Celia’s defense planned on demonstrating that her actions were in self-defense, but Judge Hall denied many defense requests that would have ameliorated the charge, including the request to instruct the jury that the killing was justifiable if done to prevent a sexual assault.

The jury returned a guilty verdict the same day.

Missouri Hangs Slave Celia

October 11, 1855

Defense lawyers moved to set aside the jury verdict and grant a new trial. Hall ruled two days later.

Missouri Hangs Slave Celia

October 13, 1855

Judge Hall denied the defense’s motion for a new trial and sentenced Celia to be “hanged by the neck until dead” on November 16.  Judge Hall refused to issue an order staying execution until the Missouri Supreme Court could rule on Celia’s appeal.

Missouri Hangs Slave Celia

November 11, 1855

While in jail Celia delivered a stillborn child. By November 11, the Missouri Supreme Court still had not ruled on the appeal. What probably happened next is that the defense team helped Celia escape and kept her hidden until the November 16 execution date passed.  In late November, they Celia returned to jail. Hall set a new execution date of December 21.

Missouri Hangs Slave Celia

December 14, 1855

The Supreme Court ruled against Celia in her appeal on December 14. In part, the state justices said they “thought it proper to refuse the prayer of the petitioner,” having found “no probable cause for her appeal.”

Missouri Hangs Slave Celia

December 21, 1855

Celia died on the gallows at 2:30 P.M.

More: Another source

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