Beads of sweat dripping from her head, a slave girl sat in a court room, scared and worried over what was being resolved, her life. Terrified of what was to become of her life, she was forced to sit while others debated over her fate. What was her crime? She was guilty of murdering and burning the body of her master. This was the most forbidden crime that a slave could commit. What could have driven this youth to perform such horrific actions?
In Callaway County, Missouri, slavery was second nature. Robert Newsom, one of the county’s respected members, purchased a replacement for his recently deceased wife. Already owning four male slaves, Newsom’s replacement was a fourteen year old, black girl named Celia. The same day Newsom purchased Celia, he raped her for the first of many times to come. Living in a small cabin near Newsom’s house, Celia was forced to serve this sexual purpose for five years. In those five years, Celia bore two children. The first was by Newsom, but the second was indefinite. This is because Celia was also having relations with one of Newsom’s slaves, George. Knowing of Celia and Newsom’s affair, George gave Celia an ultimatum: he would not continue seeing her if she did not stop her relations with Newsom. Not wanting to lose George, Celia agreed. That night, Newsom came to Celia for another sinful rendezvous. When Celia refused him, Newsom attempted to force himself on her. Prepared with stick, Celia struck Newsom in the head. Newsom staggered towards Celia and she struck again, killing him. Hysterical, Celia disposed of Newsom’s body in her fireplace. Celia’s actions were quickly found out, and she was brought to trial. The attorneys appointed to Celia put up a vigorous fight for her life by stating that state laws allowed women the right to defend themselves in acts of rape. This plea fell on deaf ears, as the court ruled Celia guilty of murder and put her to death by hanging.
McLaurin’s Celia, A Slave gives an historical account of slavery in southern states during the 1800s and exposed the guilt that whites felt during Celia’s trial about slavery. The book concentrates sharply on the roles of women, slave or not, in society; the sexual exploitation of female slaves; and how the male slaves were powerless in defending their women.
The woman's role in the 1800s was that of domestic worker, who could bear children. Depending on the males for money, housing and security, they turned their back on many immoral acts committed by the male members of the family. It was not their place to object. Newsom's daughters are good examples. They did not agree.