Celia, a Slave

Celia is a teenaged slave living in Missouri, and is the protagonist and title character of the book. Yet very little is known about her: no historical records survive explaining where she was born or where she lived before Robert Newsom bought her in the 1850s. Historians do know that Celia kills Robert Newsom, her owner, after Newsom begins raping her regularly, and that she’s eventually executed for this “crime,” despite the vigorous and at times brilliant defense that John Jameson gives her. As with many of the central characters in Celia, A Slave, very little information about Celia’s character is offered: she’s the central character in the book, yet readers don’t know much about her. Nevertheless, her life and, tragically, her death are important to remember because of what they reveal about the racism and sexual politics of antebellum American society.

Celia Quotes in Celia, a Slave

The Celia, a Slave quotes below are all either spoken by Celia or refer to Celia. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Historical Silence Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Avon Books edition of Celia, a Slave published in 1999.
Chapter 1 Quotes

She was the slave Celia, who, when she arrived in 1850, was approximately fourteen years old, about the same age as Newsom's daughter Mary. Practically nothing is known about Celia's life before her arrival at the Newsom farm.

Related Characters: Celia, Robert Newsom
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 2 Quotes

A healthy sixty years of age, Newsom needed more than a hostess and manager of household affairs; he required a sexual partner. Newsom seems to have deliberately chosen to purchase a young slave girl to fulfill this role, a choice made the more convenient by the ability to present the girl as a domestic servant purchased for the benefit of his daughters.

Related Characters: Celia, Robert Newsom, Virginia Newsom Waynescot, Mary
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

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Anger and resentment was a characteristic response of white women in slaveholding households when faced with the possibility of a relationship between a male in the household and a female slave. Frequently, however, southern white women were powerless to prevent the actions of male family members, a circumstance that sometimes led them to vent their anger at white males upon the slave. Certainly neither Mary nor Virginia was in a position to change her father's conduct toward his slave, even had she so desired. Mary was still an adolescent herself, totally dependent upon her father, and Virginia had three children of her own to consider.

Related Characters: Celia, Robert Newsom, Virginia Newsom Waynescot, Mary
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

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Perhaps they escaped their dilemma through a process of rationalization, as a historian of slavery recently has suggested many plantation women did, viewing Celia as the dark, sensual temptress who seduced their father.

Related Characters: Celia, Robert Newsom, Virginia Newsom Waynescot, Mary
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

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Afraid that an angered Newsom would harm her, Celia raised the club with both hands and once again brought it crashing down on Newsom's skull. With the second blow the old man fell, dead, to the floor.

Related Characters: Celia, Robert Newsom
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 3 Quotes

The response of the six inquest jurors to the testimony presented was predictable. After hearing the witnesses, the jurors quickly arrived at the finding that there was probable cause to arrest Celia and charge her with the murder of Robert Newsom.

Related Characters: Celia, Robert Newsom
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

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Whether Celia's fourth, and emphatic, denial convinced Jefferson Jones that neither George nor anyone else had helped her kill Newsom cannot be ascertained from the evidence. What is clear is that Jones stopped his questioning at this point, probably convinced either that Celia was telling the truth or that it was unlikely that she would implicate George or anyone else under any circumstances.

Related Characters: Celia, Robert Newsom, George, Jefferson Jones
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

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Whatever his reasons, Harry Newsom's response to the Republican, with its emphasis upon facts and its total disregard for motive, anticipated the approach the prosecuting attorney would adopt during Celia's trial.

Related Characters: Celia, Harry Newsom
Page Number: 61
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 5 Quotes

[John Jameson’s] serious interest in religion raised the possibility that he might decide to mount something beyond the usual defense on behalf of a client, who, though a slave, appeared to be morally, if not legally, innocent of the crime with which she was charged.

Related Characters: Celia, John Jameson
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

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Jameson's cross-examination quickly established a key element of a planned defense that became fully evident only after all testimony had been heard. He immediately focused on the sexual nature of the relationship between Celia and Newsom, forcing Jones to admit that Celia had told him that Newsom had raped her on the return trip from Audrain County immediately after his purchase of her, that he had continued to demand sexual favors of her throughout the years she resided on the Newsom farm, and that he had fathered her children.

Related Characters: Celia, Robert Newsom, John Jameson, Jefferson Jones
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 7 Quotes

In whatever language the appeal was couched, Judge Hall's failure to issue a stay of execution order rendered it of no avail unless the supreme court acted quickly. As the defense waited for an answer from the supreme court, Celia's execution date drew nearer.

Related Characters: Celia, Judge William Augustus Hall
Page Number: 123
Explanation and Analysis:

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The evidence suggests that Celia's benefactors were not prepared to ignore Missouri law totally, so once her original execution date had passed and it appeared that the supreme court would have an opportunity to hear her appeal, Celia was returned to jail.

Related Characters: Celia
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:

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Chapter 8 Quotes

Those events also suggest that the psychic cost to whites of the defense of slavery, though paid, was high, just as they suggest that the psychic cost to blacks, though paid, was incalculable and enduring.

Related Characters: Celia
Page Number: 143
Explanation and Analysis:

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Celia Character Timeline in Celia, a Slave

The timeline below shows where the character Celia appears in Celia, a Slave. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Beginnings
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The final resident of the Newsom house is a fourteen-year-old slave named Celia. Little is known about Celia’s life before she begins living at the Newsom house. She... (full context)
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At the time when Celia is living with Robert, Callaway has become a large community. There’s an influential Presbyterian church... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Crime
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...that the boy is related to one of the other slaves he buys. He purchases Celia in a neighboring county. He doesn’t want Celia to help with fieldwork; rather, he wants... (full context)
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At the time when Robert buys Celia, Missouri is engaged in another bitter debate over the expansion of slavery. Southerners, led by... (full context)
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Robert Newsom buys Celia when she’s fourteen years old. As soon as he’s brought her back to his home,... (full context)
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Undoubtedly, Celia is devastated by Robert’s savage sexual acts. Modern research suggests that rape victims go through... (full context)
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Celia probably doesn’t have any friends. She lives with Virginia and Mary, but scholarship suggests that... (full context)
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In the years leading up to 1855, Celia begins a romantic relationship with another slave, George. Although Celia stays in a special cabin... (full context)
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In the early months of 1855, Celia becomes pregnant with another child. However, she’s unsure whether the child is George’s or Robert’s.... (full context)
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Celia now faces her own challenge. She has no power whatsoever over Robert Newsom, and she... (full context)
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...that either Newsom woman speaks to Robert—after all, they’re almost as dependent on Robert as Celia is. Most likely, they choose to do nothing, and rationalize their passivity by telling each... (full context)
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Some time shortly before June 23, 1855, Celia confronts Robert Newsom directly. She tells him that he must stop raping her, but doesn’t... (full context)
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...wishing their father goodnight before they do. Around ten pm, Robert Newsom walks over to Celia’s cabin, where Celia is sleeping with her children. What happens next is unclear. Almost certainly,... (full context)
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Celia’s first reaction is probably to panic—she knows she’ll probably be hanged for killing Robert Newsom.... (full context)
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The next morning, the Newsom family finds that Robert is missing. Celia notices Robert’s grandson, James Coffee Waynescot, and says she’ll give him a present if he... (full context)
Chapter 3: Inquisition
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George is understandably frightened when Powell demands information about Robert Newsom. He wants to protect Celia, but he also fears for his own safety. George probably knows that Celia has threatened... (full context)
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William Powell finds Celia and immediately confronts her about Robert’s disappearance. To his disappointment, Celia doesn’t crack under pressure:... (full context)
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Powell isn’t satisfied by Celia’s explanation. He continues to yell at her and threaten her children’s lives. Celia is frightened,... (full context)
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That morning, Whyte and Howe issue a warrant for Celia’s arrest, and summon witnesses. The inquest jury consists of local Callaway farmers, all of whom... (full context)
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The first inquest witness is William Powell, who explains interrogating Celia on the morning after the killing. James Coffee Waynescot testifies that he moves the ashes... (full context)
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...one report says the murder took place in a kitchen. This report also claims that Celia may have had help from another slave, George, and that she killed “without any sufficient... (full context)
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George is in a precarious situation. Even though Celia has confessed, the Newsom family suspects him of killing Robert. His survival is dependent on... (full context)
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There’s strong circumstantial evidence that Celia didn’t act alone, considering that Celia is a young teenager and Robert was a grown... (full context)
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The Callaway sheriff arranges for two men, Thomas Shoatman and Jefferson Jones, to interrogate Celia about having accomplices. The two men are very different: Shoatman is relatively poor, and owns... (full context)
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During the investigation, Jefferson Jones asks Celia to tell the whole truth. Celia explains that Robert Newsom regularly raped her, and that... (full context)
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...a kitchen. However, he doesn’t correct the single biggest error in the Republican’s account: that Celia killed without cause. His reason is very simple: he doesn’t want to broadcast the fact... (full context)
Chapter 4: Backdrop
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Celia’s trial is set to begin in October 1855. Around this time, a vigorous debate raged... (full context)
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Because of all this, on the eve of Celia’s trial, which is scheduled for October 9, 1855, slavery is rapidly becoming a violent political... (full context)
Chapter 5: The Trial
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The judge at Celia’s trial is a man named William Augustus Hall. Judge Hall grew up in Virginia and... (full context)
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The defense attorney for Celia is John Jameson, the uncle of Jefferson Jones. He’s a respected figure in the county,... (full context)
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...though there’s no evidence that he supports the expansion of slavery. By appointing James as Celia’s attorney, Hall has made a clever move: nobody can deny that Celia has been given... (full context)
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...of a prominent Baptist preacher, admitted to the Missouri bar just months before being assigned Celia’s case. (full context)
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Two other factors make Jameson’s appointment to Celia’s case somewhat unusual. First, there’s the fact that Jameson has two daughters of about Celia’s... (full context)
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It’s impossible to know what Jameson thinks personally about Celia’s innocence. However, he and his aides prepare Celia’s defense. By late September, he’s arranged for... (full context)
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The defense begins by pleading Celia not guilty to the charge of murder. The next day, the prosecution calls its first... (full context)
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...the prosecution focuses on the facts of the murder, rather than asking questions about why Celia would kill Robert Newsom. In cross-examination, Jameson presses Virginia to admit that Celia was pregnant... (full context)
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...in his own bed on the night of the murder. Under pressure, Powell admits that Celia told him about how Robert repeatedly raped her. Powell also admits that Celia stressed that... (full context)
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...final two witnesses for the state are doctors who confirm that the ashes found in Celia’s fireplace most likely belonged to Robert Newsom. The state introduces into evidence Celia’s signed confession... (full context)
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...doctor in the county, would testify for the defense suggests that many people sympathize with Celia. Martin testifies that it’s possible, but extremely difficult, to burn a human body in one... (full context)
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...next witness for the defense is Thomas Shoatman, the man who accompanied Jefferson Jones to Celia’s interrogation. Shoatman testifies that Celia claimed to have feared for her life. This is a... (full context)
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In all, Jameson does a spectacular job in the trial. He presents compelling evidence that Celia acted on the legal right to repel her master’s sexual advances, and that Robert Newsom... (full context)
Chapter 6: The Verdict
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...reach a verdict of not guilty unless it can conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Celia willfully killed Robert Newsom. Furthermore, the defense argues that Robert’s legal ownership of Celia didn’t... (full context)
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...one of the prosecution’s instructions: that the jury acquit only if it can conclude that Celia “acted in self-defense.” However, the prosecution has already requested that the jurors be instructed that... (full context)
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...delays the reading of the verdict. On October 13, however, he reads the jury’s verdict: Celia will be hanged to death as punishment for murdering Robert Newsom. (full context)
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McLaurin then emphasizes a historical ambiguity: it’s unclear if Celia was still pregnant during her sentencing. However, it’s known that Celia delivered a stillborn baby... (full context)
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Celia is sentenced to be hanged on November 16. Her only hope is that the Missouri... (full context)
Chapter 7: Final Disposition
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Celia’s defense team drafts an appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court, but its exact contents aren’t... (full context)
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On the night of November 11, Celia and a fellow slave escape from jail. Shortly afterwards, she’s recaptured, and the state sets... (full context)
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In response to Celia’s upcoming execution, Jameson and his two aides draft a remarkable letter to Abiel Leonard, a... (full context)
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It’s unclear how, exactly, Celia escapes from jail. But it’s possible that white abolitionists, knowing that Celia is going to... (full context)
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...the verge of civil war, the Missouri Supreme Court met in St. Louis to address Celia’s case. The three justices, William Scott, John F. Ryland, and Abiel Leonard, have all ruled... (full context)
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On December 14, the Missouri Supreme Court rules on Celia’s appeal. The court upholds the original decision and orders that Celia’s execution be performed as... (full context)
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On December 20, the night before her execution, Celia is interrogated one final time. For the last time, she denies that she had any... (full context)
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The next day, Celia is executed. It’s likely that many people witness her hanging. One of these people is... (full context)
Chapter 8: Conclusions
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The case of Celia’s life also touches upon another tragedy of the antebellum period: the helplessness of male slaves... (full context)
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Celia’s case also raises some important points about antebellum law. Southern laws recognized slave owners’ right... (full context)
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Above all, Celia’s case raises the fundamental problem with slavery. Abolitionists argued that slavery was an evil institution,... (full context)