Celia, A Slave Major Character Analysis

Melton A. McLaurin

Celia, A Slave

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Celia, A Slave Major Character Analysis


Celia is a slave about whom little is known other than the facts of her purchase by Robert Newsom and her killing him five years later.  We know that she was purchased some time in 1850 at around 14 years old, that her master raped her on the way home from the sale, and that she had two children by him.  By her own admission, she killed Newsom in June of 1855 by repeatedly hitting him on the head with a large stick.  To cover up her crime, she burned his body in her fireplace.  She stood trial for this crime in October, and was hanged for it in December.  Her story illustrates what McLaurin calls, citing historian Charles Sellers, “the fundamental moral anxiety” caused by slavery.  Thus, though we know little about Celia herself, her story tells us a lot about the moral reality of slavery and what it meant to be an enslaved woman. 

Robert Newsom and family 

The historical record reveals more about Robert Newsom and his family than it does about his slave, Celia.  Robert Newsom emigrated to Missouri from Virginia with his wife and two young children sometime around 1819. He was one of many settlers who had a hand in creating Callaway County and became prosperous as a slaveholding farmer, maintaining a comfortable middle-class existence for himself and his family.  By 1855, the year he was killed, he had assets worth nearly $5000.  He was a widower, his wife had been dead for about six years, and his two daughters ran his household.

Virginia, Newsom’s older daughter, had married a man named Waynescot, but for reasons unknown—perhaps Waynescot died—Virginia had returned home to live with her father and her four children, James Coffee, Thomas, Amelia, and Billy.  Newsom’s younger daughter, Mary, was about the same age as Celia and had not yet married.  Both of Newsom’s sons, Harry and David, were married and lived on their own farms nearby.  All of Newsom’s children were involved in the search for him when he went missing and later, after Celia confessed to his murder, for his remains.  After…

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Chapters 7-8