Celia was 14 the first time Robert Newsom raped her, on the way home from the slave auction where he purchased her for such duties. Five years later he would go missing, his bones found buried near Celia’s cabin and a few of his buttons found in her fireplace.
Celia was raped repeatedly by Newsom between age 14 and 19. She bore 2 of his children. During her third pregnancy, not knowing if the child was Newsom’s or another slave’s she had started a relationship with, Celia had enough. She fought off Newsom’s advances and hit him in the head with a big stick twice, killing him. She burned parts of his body in her fireplace and buried the rest. After he went missing, she eventually admitted to the murder and was arrested.
She was defended by two white men who tried to argue Celia’s rights under a law that allowed white women to use deadly force to fight off rape. Her case was appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court, where a jury of white men found her guilty (explaining that the law did not apply to slaves) and she was hung in December 1855.
No one knows where Celia is buried, but the Newsom family cemetery and location of the farm is on land managed by the National Forest Service and can be visited along BB Highway south of Fulton. The Newsom house is no longer standing.
Celia’s story has been well written in a book, Celia, A Slave, and developed into a play, Song of the Middle River, by Thomas Pawley. There is a candlelight vigil held annually on December 21st, the anniversary of her death in Fulton.
Link to Newsom farm location
Circuit Clerk file on Celia file no. 4496 (Large PDF file)