Note: Robert Newsom owned a farm, not a "plantation"



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NOTE: Robert Newsom owned a farm, not a "plantation".
original location of text: http://www.lawbuzz.com/can_you/celia/celia.htm (broken link)current archive of link http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/APG/2000-12/0977046698

THE CASE OF CELIA, A SLAVE


1855

The state of Missouri [United States] had a law against rape in 1850. It


prohibited anyone from taking "any woman unlawfully against her will and by
force, menace or duress, compel her to be defiled." Missouri had another law
that allowed slaves to fight for their own lives, even if it meant they had
to use deadly force.
The court would apply neither of those laws to Celia. This is her story.

When she was just fourteen [14 years of age], Celia was sold to Robert


Newsom, a recently widowed slave owner. On the way home, Newsom raped Celia
for the first time. He raped her many more times after that. As a result of
two of the rapes, Celia had a child. Both children became Newsom's property.

By 1855, Celia had a relationship with George, another slave on Newsom's


plantation. When she became pregnant again, Celia wasn't sure about the
father. It had to be either George or "the master."
George told Celia he would have nothing to do with her again unless she told
Newsom to leave her alone. She did that on June 23, 1855. But Newsom was the
master. A slave didn't tell the master what to do. Newsom came back to
Celia's cabin that night.

Ready for Newsom this time, Celia struck him with a heavy stick when he


refused to leave her alone. She hit him again when Newsom came back at her.
She had tried to hurt him, to keep him away. She ended with a result she
had not intended. Newsom was dead. Frightened at what she had done, Celia
tried to burn Newsom's body in her fireplace. She didn't know it takes a
long time to burn a human body. She didn't realize her fireplace wouldn't be
hot enough. Her efforts left all kinds of incriminating evidence.

At her trial, Celia's lawyers could not adequately defend their client. How


could Celia tell her story when slaves could not testify? How could Celia
defend her actions when the judge said the law prohibiting rape did not
apply to slaves? How could Celia's lawyers say that Newsom was the wrongdoer
when Missouri law held that a slave was owned property? In fact, the only
person protected by the law when it came to rape of a slave was the slave
owner. He was allowed to sue a rapist for trespass on his property!

During Celia's trial, time-honored rules of evidence were ignored. Hearsay,


which is absolutely forbidden to prove the truth of an assertion, was used
to tell her story. But even hearsay was twisted to suit the prosecution's
side. The judge threw out all testimony on Celia's reasons for striking
Newsom. On October 10, 1855 Celia was convicted of murder. She was sentenced
to be hung the next month.

With such blatant error in the record, the defense team tried to hold up


Celia's execution while they appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court. While
the high court agreed to hear Celia's case, it refused to grant a stay of
execution. Some outraged citizens tried to take matters into their own
hands. They "kidnapped" Celia before the date she was to hang and returned
her only after the date had passed. It was an effort that did not save
Celia. She was hung [sic - hanged] from the neck until dead on December 21,
1855.


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