State of Missouri v. Celia, a Slave was an 1855 murder trial held in the Circuit Court of Callaway County, Missouri, in which an enslaved woman named Celia was tried for the first-degree murder of her owner, Robert Newsom. Celia was convicted by a jury of twelve white men and sentenced to death. An appeal of the conviction was denied by the Supreme Court of Missouri in December 1855, and Celia was hanged on December 21, 1855.
Sometime around 1819, Robert Newsom left his home state of Virginia and traveled west, eventually settling in Callaway County, Missouri with his wife and children. By 1850, Newsom had established himself as a prosperous man in his new home, where he owned eight hundred acres of land, a successful farm, and five male slaves. Newsom's wife died sometime in 1849, and, less than a year later in 1850, Newsom travelled to Audrain County to purchase Celia, his first female slave. It is likely that Newsom raped the then fourteen-year-old Celia for the first time on the journey from Audrain County back to Callaway County. Back on Newsom's property in Callaway County, Celia was given her own cabin, about fifty feet away from the main house, where she lived separately from Newsom's male slaves. Between 1850 and 1855, Newsom repeatedly raped Celia, and she bore two children over the course of those five years, at least one of whom was fathered by Newsom. At some point before 1855, Celia began a romantic relationship with George, one of Newsom's other slaves. In 1855, Celia was pregnant for a third time with a child that was likely fathered by either George or Newsom. At some point, George gave Celia an ultimatum, telling her "he would have nothing more to do with her if she did not quit the old man." After this, Celia attempted to plead with Newsom's family members and with Newsom himself. Sometime on or around June 23, 1855, Celia begged Newsom to leave her alone because she was sick and pregnant. Newsom refused, and told her "he was coming down to her cabin that night." Celia threatened Newsom, telling him that she would hurt him if he tried to rape her again. After her conversation with Newsom, Celia went and found a large stick, which she placed in the corner of her cabin.
On the night of June 23, 1855, after the rest of his family had gone to bed, Robert Newsom came to Celia's cabin, as he had told her he would. Celia made an attempt to reject his predatory advances, and when he refused to back down, she clubbed him over the head with the stick that she had brought into her cabin earlier that day. After she hit him the first time, he reached out his arms as if he was trying to grab her and she clubbed him a second time, killing him. She then moved his body into her fireplace and spent the rest of the night burning his remains. She crushed some of Newsom's smaller bones with a rock, and hid the bones that were too big to crush "under the hearth, and under the floor between a sleeper and the fire-place." The next morning, Celia enlisted the help of Newsom's grandson, twelve-year-old Coffee Wainscott, in scattering the ashes of Robert Newsom. According to Coffee's testimony, Celia told him "she would give [him] two dozen walnuts if [he] would carry the ashes out."
On the morning of June 24, 1855, Robert Newsom's daughters began to worry when he didn't show up for breakfast. They began to search for him around the property, and enlisted the help of some neighbors when their search was unsuccessful. William Powell, owner of the farm next to the Newsom's, and Robert Newsom's sons, Harry and David, were among those who joined the search party. Powell questioned George about Newsom's whereabouts, and he told the search party "it was not worth while to hunt for him any where except close around the house." Upon further questioning, George also stated that "he believed the last walking [Newsom] had done was along the path, pointing to the path leading from the house to the Negro Cabin."[14 After a search of Celia's cabin turned up nothing, William Powell interrogated Celia, who made no attempt to flee after killing her "owner", and instead resumed her normal activities. Celia initially denie any knowledge of what had happened to Newsom, but Powell continued to interrogate her, using accusations and threats to get her to confess. Eventually, Celia confessed that she had killed Newsom and attempted to dispose of his body, although she maintained that "she did not intend to kill him when she struck him, but only wanted to hurt him." After obtaining Celia's confession, the family gathered evidence of Robert Newsom's remains and collected them in a box.
The next day, June 25, 1855, David Newsom filed an affidavit and a warrant for inquest was issued. A six-man inquest jury was summoned to Robert Newsom's estate to hear testimonies from William Powell, Coffee Wainscott, and Celia. After hearing the testimonies, the inquest jury determined that there was probable cause to arrest Celia for the murder of Robert Newsom. Celia was arrested and sent to Callaway County jail to await her trial in October. After her arrest, Celia was interrogated once more in her cell by Jefferson Jones, in order to determine whether she had been acting alone in her crime. Despite Jones' insistent questioning, Celia repeatedly denied having had any assistance in killing Robert Newsom or in burning his body.
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