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Roger Buccolo

Celia

November 8, 2009

It was the summer of 1855 in Callaway County, Missouri, there was much happening in the world. The issue of slavery was in the news, civil war was about to erupt in neighboring Kansas over being a free soil state or slave state. Another story in the news was about a murder in Callaway County, a slave girl had killed her master; Celia a nineteen-year-old slave girl murdered her master and burnt his body. This paper is an examination of the book Celia, A Slave by Melton A. McLaurin, what her motivations were and the feelings of the community on the issue of slavery at the time. In addition, how these views and feelings may have affected the outcome of Celias murder trial. The story starts in 1850 with Robert Newsome purchasing a new slave. Not uncommon at the time except for one thing: he was purchasing a fourteen-year-old female. This was even normal at the time, but Newsom had two daughters who did the household work a female slave would normally do. Therefore, it was an unusual purchase, but could be overlooked as a gift for his daughters, to help around the house. This in fact was not what he had purchased Celia for and she would soon realize what her new position on the Newsom farm would be. It was about a year earlier that Robert Newsomes wife had died and he had purchased Celia to fill a void, as she found out on the dreadful trip to her new home. Robert Newsom raped Celia for the first time on the trip back to his farm. This seemed to have no moral impact on Newsom for he continued to rape Celia for the next five years. The use of slave women in that time for sexual gratification by the masters was not uncommon. Though shunned, it was mostly overlooked or not reported. For some, this posed a moral dilemma to overlook the sexual abuse of women. Unfortunately, many had no choice due to their status in society. Status played a big part in southern society back in the 1850s. There were the plantation owners and others of exceptional wealth at the top, men like Robert 1|Page

Roger Buccolo

Celia

November 8, 2009

Newsome, very well to do farmers. Then down through the ranks. Towards the bottom, you had women and children who had little rights and did not dare question the man of the house. Below them, male slaves and at the very bottom women slave, who were property of the master, to do what they liked with. Newsomes daughters Virginia and Mary were made aware of the sexual abuse by Celia in a request to make him stop. They overlooked this request, either because they did not believe Cilia or most likely, because they would have been stepping out of place to confront their father regarding the issue. This most likely would have had led to much moral dilemma for the girls, especially because Celia had threatened harm upon their father if it did not stop. If the girls did confront their father, they could have been kicked out of the house. In addition, they may have blamed Celia for seducing their father and looked at the situation as her fault; many women of the time saw black women as very seductive and blamed them for the masters raping the slaves. This is one way women may have coped with the guilt and moral dilemma imposed by not intervening in the sexual assault of slave women. Celia had begun seeing one of the male slaves at this time in 1855. His name was George and he had been the one to ask Celia to break off the relationship with Robert Newsome. Celia used the fact that she was pregnant and sick when she confronted the Newsome girls to request they have their father stop abusing her. Some males slave would have confronted the master themselves, but for some reason, maybe due to fear of the master beating him, George requested that Celia call off the relationship. This would have left George feeling emasculated or less than a man, because he could not protect his woman. This was the goal of slavery, to dehumanize the slaves, to treat them like a

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Roger Buccolo

Celia

November 8, 2009

tool or farm animal. By doing this, masters such as Robert Newsom would be able to cope with the reality of slavery much easier. Making slaves inhuman made the moral issue of keeping slaves much less burdensome. On June 23, 1855 Robert Newsome went to Celias cabin yet again to rape her. Celia refused but her master continued; in his eyes Celia was his property and it was the masters right to do what he liked with his property. He continued to advance and Celia struck her master with a stick on the head. He fell to the floor, as he reached to grab Celia she struck him again killing him. Celia at this point must have been frantic, at the same time she was probably relieved that her master would no longer violate her. Still she had the dilemma of her dead master in her cabin. Her hatred for this man was so great that she decided to burn his body in her fireplace, and then the next morning had his grandson empty the ashes. The search for Robert Newsome led to George; he was confronted by Newsomes neighbor Powell and the Newsome family, Harry, David, Virginia and Mary. Powell had taken over the search for Newsome; he himself had slaves and even a young female slave. The interrogation of George was intense, he was threatened with being beaten and even being hung; this convinced George to lead them to Celia. For George to suggest Celia must have left him tormented, that he gave up his love to save his own life. He may have thought since Celia was pregnant they would not harm her or he may have been beaten. No matter what led to his decision it most have burdened him for the rest of his life. When the group confronted Celia: Powell questioned her she denied everything knowing if she told the truth she would have been hanged. After hours of interrogation and threats of harm

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Roger Buccolo

Celia

November 8, 2009

to her and her children, she admitted to the crime and led the family to the remains. At this point Newsomes daughters must have felt terribly distressed, for they had been warned and could have prevented the murder. If they had intervened in the sexual assaults, as Celia had asked, their father might still believe. Celia was indicted for murder the next morning. The story hit the news like a ton of bricks. Residents in Calloway started to wonder if this was a lone act or part of another slave rebellion. The fact of Celias sexual assault was conveniently left out of the news, not to tarnish the good Newsome name. The fact that a slave girl killed her master raised many questions about the sanctity of slavery, that this institution could drive a young girl to murder. This incident also made the citizens look at Celia as a human, and to give her a proper trial. The fact that Celia was receiving a trial posed many problems; it showed she was not just an animal or common tool. If Celia were a horse or a shovel, she would not be tried. This made the people question if slavery was right and it proved slaves were human. At a time when the North and the heated debates in politics were raising many questions about slavery, Celias case was much more significant. Celias trial was set for October of 1855 to be heard in front of Judge Hall. Hall was a Democrat with strong Unionist sentiments. This was very fortunate for Celia. If he had been a Confederate sympathizer her trial would have just been a technicality before her hanging. Judge Hall assigned a lawyer named Jamison to defend Celia. By this time, even slaves had the right to defense in capital crimes, even under the extremely limited rights slaves had. Slave law stated that Celia could not testify in her case, so all the evidence would be given through white witnesses.

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Roger Buccolo

Celia

November 8, 2009

Slave law said that slave women could not press charges against a white man for rape or any man for that matter. When Jameson decided to use this as a defense for Celia, it posed many issues. If a slave were allowed to kill a white man in defense for her life and or use force to protect her honor, would undermine the entire system of slavery. To say a slave could refuse her masters sexual advances would cause many dilemmas. This would have put the slave women, above white women. Even a white woman was to submit to her husbands request for sex and he could not be charged with the rape of his wife. Even though the law did protect Celia, there was no precedence of it ever being used for a successful defense. The trial began and Judge Hall sided with the prosecution to the point of leaving Celia no chance of winning her case, even though Jameson and his team went to extraordinary lengths with her defense. The three men were very compassionate to Celias position going far beyond the required task of defending a slave, showing the sympathy they had for her situation. Much of the community was divided over this case due to the fact of the sexual assault and the murder. Judge Halls decision to leave Celia with no defense was against his past political positions. He may have done this due to fear of retaliation from advocates of slavery such as the Sons of the South who were causing a ruckus over the issue of slavery in the area. He may have done it to prevent slave law from being elevated above the law that protected white women. Allowing her defense of killing a white man to prevent sexual assault would have also given slave women the right to refuse breading mates the masters picked for them. This would have had financial implications for slave breeders, who bred slaves like farm animals and sold the offspring at market. Whatever reason he came to the decision he did, it left Celia destine, to be hanged. 5|Page

Roger Buccolo

Celia

November 8, 2009

When Judge Hall refused Celias request for a miss-trial and a stay of execution, until the Missouri Supreme Court reviewed her case, the citizens of Callaway County showed their view of the trial. Days before Celia was to be hanged she was broken out of jail under a planned escape. She remained out of jail until after her sentence, was to be carried out and then Celia was returned. Local citizens to prevent the unjust death sentence from being carried out, until the Supreme Court had a chance to review Celias case, performed this act of defile. This act shows the sympathy and the dilemma that the citizens had regarding the slave laws that existed at the time. Celia was ultimately hanged; the Supreme Court judges who reviewed the case were Confederate sympathizers and had no moral dilemma with authenticating the trail as just, confirming Celias execution.

The case of Celia shows the many moral dilemmas that were posed by keeping humans as chattel, even more so by using them as sex slaves. The laws that were in place to protect slaves were at most there to appease the abolitionists. As seen in Celias case, the laws teetered on the moral turpitude of the residing court members and had no real foundation. The people involved in this case held various positions related to the issues of slavery and the sexual abuse of slaves. Virginia, Marry, and other women may have had real moral dilemmas with the keeping of slave, definitely with the sexual abuse of a young slave girls, but really had no way to counteract these injustices. The men like Judge Hall and the Supreme Court Justices who had the power to stop it, but did not for either any care to do so or for personal advancement. Then there are the honorable men like Jamison and his staff who went well beyond their required duties to defend Celia under the possibility of self-persecution. In addition, there are the people of Callaway County who broke Celia from jail to postpone her death sentence. The story of Celia 6|Page

Roger Buccolo

Celia

November 8, 2009

shows the vast spread of values and points of view that people had on the issue of slavery in 1855. It also shows the specific moral turpitudes slavery had and how people would degrade slave to make them seem less than human, so they could cope with the fact of treating other humans as they did.

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