Written by Nobly Rogue

In 1855, after years of physical abuse, Celia had been driven to arm and protect herself. Merely nineteen years old, Celia stood her ground against Robert Newson’s attempted sexual assault: “As soon as I struck him the Devil got into me, and I struck him with a stick until he was dead, and then rolled him into the fire and burnt him up,” declared Celia to an interrogator during the Newson murder investigation. 

Newson ignored Celia’s pleas for the sexual violence to stop. He regarded her as nothing more than an object to be owned and exploited for his pleasure. According to Celia, the sexual assaults started immediately upon Newson purchasing her in 1851, at age fourteen. Over the next four years, she gave birth to two children fathered by Newson and was pregnant with a third child from him at the time of her rebellion. 

Days leading up to the incident, Celia approached Newson’s two daughters for assistance in stopping their father violent assaults. Nevertheless, Newson’s daughters did not oppose the toxic rape culture that was so prevalent on plantations throughout the antebellum South. As stakeholders, their interest was aligned with that of their family’s financial benefits from slavery. To summarize money over morals. 

Subsequently, Celia’s pleas and cries were unanswered. This particular evening, while in her cabin, Celia rejected the violent advances of Newson. Determined to neutralize the threat of rape, she grabbed a stick and beat him over the head repeatedly until he was dead. Afterward, she dragged his body into the fireplace to depose of his remains. She collected his bone remnants from the ashes, burying them not far from her cabin. The next day a missing person investigation was launched. It did not take investigators long to suspect Celia in Newson’s disappearance.  

While being integrated by investigators, Celia confessed to standing her ground in self-defense against Newson. Despite Newson’s predatory behavior being well known within the community, law enforcement disregarded the sexual assault accusations and focused on Celia’s murderous act of rebellion and charged her with murder. Though justified in her actions, she knew killing her rapist would result in consequences. The judicial system was designed to ensure the oppression of the enslaved, while simultaneously solidifying the position of power by the dominant population. She faced a guaranteed unjust system yet was empowered by the truth. Revolting against fear, Celia testified on her behalf during her trial.  

Celia’s story is an indictment of the institution of slavery and the harsh realities experienced by the enslaved population. Throughout this entire ordeal, Celia relentlessly demonstrated her revolutionary spirit amid having the odds stacked against her. Her determination to fight back was undergirded by her desire for liberation and independent agency within an oppressive system. 


To learn more about Celia’s story please check out: 

Celia, a Slave By Melton Alonza McLaurin

Brown, DeNeen L. “Missouri v. Celia, a Slave: She Killed the White Master Raping Her, Then Claimed Self-Defense.” Washington Post, 19 Oct. 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/retropolis/wp/2017/10/19/missouri-v-celia-a-slave-she-killed-the-white-master-raping-her-then-claimed-self-defense/.


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