Why Celia Couldn’t Claim Self-Defense After Killing Her Rapist

No Such Thing as Self-Defense for the Enslaved

William Spivey
ZORA
Published in
6 min readSep 30, 2023

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By © Vyacheslav Argenberg / http://www.vascoplanet.com/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=127717310

In either 1819 or 1820, Robert Newsome left Virginia with his wife and children, eventually settling in Callaway County, Missouri, where he purchased 800 acres of land. Newsome raised livestock, including horses, pigs, milk cows, sheep, and two oxen. Missouri had been admitted to the Union as a slave state as part of the Missouri Compromise in 1820. By 1850, Newsome had five enslaved men helping him work his farm. It was that year he purchased his first female slave, a fourteen-year-old girl named Celia.

Newsome bought Celia from a neighboring Audrain County, and when he got Celia home, he promptly raped her. For five years, Newsome kept Celia in a remote cabin, raping her as he pleased. Celia gave birth to two children during those years, one of them Newsome’s son.

Sometime during that fifth year, Celia began a relationship with another enslaved person named George. Celia got pregnant with no way of knowing before giving birth if the father was George or Newsome. Newsome was still “visiting” Celia regularly during her pregnancy.

George, also owned by Newsome, began to feel some kind of way about the potential mother of his child having regular sex with the master. George told Celia, “he would have nothing more to do with her if she did not quit the old man.” Celia went to Newsome’s two daughters to see if they could get him to quit while she was pregnant, but Newsome paid no attention. On June 23, 1855, Newsome told Celia he was coming by that night. Celia set aside a wooden club, and when Newsome came to her cabin and would not stop, she struck him with the club on the head and killed him. Celia was charged with murder and interviewed by Jefferson Jones to ascertain whether she had any accomplices.

“I went to the jail to convene with Celia (defendant) at the request of several citizens. The object of my conversation was to ascertain whether she had any accomplices in the crime. This was 8 or 10 days after she had been put into the jail. I asked her whether she thought she would hang for what she had done. She said she thought she would hang. I then told her to tell the whole truth. She said the old man (Newsom, the deceased) had been…

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William Spivey
ZORA
Writer for

I write about politics, history, education, and race. Follow me at williamfspivey.com and support me at https://ko-fi.com/williamfspivey0680