Life of a Callaway County Slave
Celia was a new slave in the county when Paul Newsome bought her about 1850.
"[A] heroic figure, brave, intelligent, abused, a symbol of freedom, terribly sad, affectionate, she loves her children," summed up Gary Kremer of the State Historical Society. "I think the adjective I would use to describe Celia most in those last few weeks would be lonely."
She must have felt abandoned by everyone.
"Newsome purchased her at an auction after his wife had died," said playwright Thomas Pawley III. "And all the indications are that he purchased her primarily for sexual reasons."
After two years of living on a farm near Fulton, Celia already had two children by Newsome.
"As a widower, he wanted a woman," said Pawley. "And what did he decide to do? Go get himself a slave woman. And the slave woman had no way to protect herself."
While still a teenager, Celia fell in love with one of Newsome's other slaves, George. Black men like George were forced to watch white men rape the slaves' wives or lovers. So, George told Celia to end her relationship with Newsome.
"That, in itself, is an incredible dilemma for Celia. What does she do? The man she loves is giving her an ultimatum, but she has no control over her master's ability to sexually abuse her," Pawley explained.
Celia pleaded with Newsome's two adult daughters to help her, but they ignored her cries. So Celia confronted Newsome. She told him not to come near her or she would hurt him. When he did, she hit him with a log and killed him. In desperation, she tried to cover up the crime by burning his body. The coverup worked for a while but, in the end, it was her true love who turned on her.
"Ultimately George, her lover, became worried that no one would believe that this fragile, still-teenage women, the mother of two children and somewhat sickly because of her pregnancy, could have done this by herself," Kremer said. "He feared that he would be implicated, and so George apparently went to the authorities and told them that it was Celia who did it."
Celia admitted the murder, some said to save George. Missouri Congressman John Jameson, a slave owner himself, tried to offer self-defense at her trial.
But, the court did not let Celia testify before a jury of 12 white men, including six slave owners.
The old Callaway County Courthouse is long gone, but that's where jurors sealed Celia's fate. On Dec. 15, 1855, she was hanged. The Civil War was only six years away and, within the decade, slavery ended in Missouri. Newsome's family sold Celia's children to another slave owner. There are no records of her children after the war.